Foto: Trond Waage

Living next door to terrorists

The absence of peace concerns every country nowadays. Technology has made distance imperceptible, opened new opportunities and at the same time turned the world into a diminutive land. Consequently, distance problems do not exist anymore. Each country could influence the rest of the world. Boko Haram is a terrorist organization located in northeastern Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Northern Cameroon. What are the factors that determine the violent acts of Boko Haram? How does this organization get support? What role does Islam play? These and many other questions were considered during the conference “Internal Paradise” (held at UiT from 6-8th of April), which gathered together people with long-term socio-professional experience.

Text: Elizaveta Lamova

Photo: Trong Waage
Photo: Trond Waage

Boko Haram translates to “Western education is forbidden”. Until the death of founder Mohammed Yusuf, the group was also reportedly known as “Yusifiyya”. After the end of British occupation, people from the mainly Islamic northern regions of Africa have expressed their fundamental opposition to Western education. They have found a parallel between education and corruption in government structures and from their point of view, western education leads to a gap between rich and poor. Boko Haram also struggle against “Sufism” – the inner mystical dimension of Islam. The organization wants to establish shariah, but nobody knows exactly what this means. A religious legal system is practiced in many countries, each differing from each other, for example Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, etc. So what form of governance do Boko Haram want? It is interesting to mention that some conference speakers are convinced that Boko Haram has lost its original goal and its members have turned to crime. Local populations are suffering from neglect and exploitation, either from Boko Haram or government authorities. Constant fear and the necessity of finding ways to survive depletes people. For example, after Boko Haram occupied Lake Chad, locals lost the opportunity to fish. Professor Gilbert Lampin Taguem Fah thinks that the terrorist organization isn’t even connected with Islam, while methods (such as kidnapping, killing and bank robberies) have nothing in common with pure religion. If you are caught by Boko Haram, there is no way back, since the government will consider you a terrorist. Despite this, youth often support the organization and become members willingly. Why? Partly because they lack a perspective on life and Boko Haram gives them a kind of stability and certainty. So, is it possible to consider members of this organization as separate from the rest of the population? At the conference it was mentioned that even family members could not trust a person who was unpredictably absent for a few weeks. Everybody is scared. Much of the world learned about Boko Haram after they kidnapped 276 school girls in April 2014, but these terrorists are steadily attracting recruits and sowing fear among the population.

Photo: Trond Waage
Photo: Trond Waage

During a three-day conference, researchers from different fields provided a multidisciplinary perspective of this terrorist organization. For those who thought that Boko Haram was far detached from Norway, the film “Life with Boko Haram” was shown. Made by Mouazamou Ahmadou and Trond Waage, it tells the story of a family-man living in Oslo, who receives information that his brother has been kidnapped by Boko Haram: a powerful story based on real events. There were also lectures dedicated to the genesis of Boko Haram, pastoral and sedentary realities in Nigerian Borno, and the regional and international response to the organization. The purpose of the conference was to better understand the complexities that underlie the success of Boko Haram, and in my mind, it succeeded in doing so. The problem of terrorism in Africa is closely connected with poverty and lack of infrastructure. In northern Nigeria, for example, it is hard to get access to education and according to educational statistics (World Bank), in 2008 only 66,4% of the population was found to be literate. Corruption and political crises create favorable situations for expansion of radical ideas, such that terrorism in Africa could be called a symptom of a chronic disease. These conferences are attempts to examine this and who knows, maybe examinations will one day turn into a cure.