Protesters march in support of the girls kidnapped by members of Boko Haram in front of the Nigerian Embassy in Washington May 6, 2014. Suspected Boko Haram...
© Gary Cameron / Reuters

Even Boko Haram’s brutality can be politicized

The world is still coming to grips with the recent actions of Boko Haram, the Nigerian group responsible for kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls. The radical cult’s violence has been “too much” for fellow militants and jihadists, with even al Qaeda keeping its distance from the group.
 
This week, the scope of Boko Haram’s brutality came into even sharper focus.
Islamist insurgents have killed hundreds in a town in Nigeria’s northeast this week, the area’s senator, a resident and the Nigerian news media reported on Wednesday, as more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by the militants, known as Boko Haram, remained missing.
 
The latest attack, on Monday, followed a classic Boko Haram pattern: Dozens of militants wearing fatigues and wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers descended on the town of Gamboru Ngala, chanting “Allahu akbar,” firing indiscriminately and torching houses. When it was over, at least 336 people had been killed and hundreds of houses and cars had been set on fire, said Waziri Hassan, who lives there, and Senator Ahmed Zanna.
 
The missing schoolgirls have grabbed the world’s attention, and more offers of help poured in to the Nigerian government on Wednesday from Britain, China and France. But Boko Haram’s deadly attack on Gamboru Ngala was similar to many others in the past several years that drew little or no notice beyond Nigeria. Bodies still lay in the street on Wednesday night, said Mr. Hassan, a cement salesman.
The scale of the violence and bloodshed is gut-wrenching, and by all appearances, intensifying.
 
And yet, as the world watches these events with horror, some American conservatives have decided to use this as an opportunity – to condemn Hillary Clinton.
 
I’ll confess that I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to exploit Boko Haram as a domestic partisan tool, but here we are.
Following the kidnapping of Nigerian school girls by terrorist group Boko Haram, right-wing media are rushing to smear former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not designating the group a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), insinuating that the kidnappings might have been prevented had the State Department issued the designation earlier. The baseless attack ignores the facts around FTO designations and foreign affairs.
The cast of “Fox & Friends” told viewers this morning that were it not for Hillary Clinton’s actions, we “could have saved these girls earlier.” National Review went with the tried and true “appeasing Islamists” line of criticism. In an apparent attempt at self-parody, Newt Gingrich today demanded congressional hearings to determine why Clinton’s State Department “refused to tell truth about radical Islamist Boko Haram.”
 
There’s something inherently troubling about a group of Americans who see a violent tragedy unfolding in Nigeria and, almost on instinct, begin looking for ways to use the developments for political advantage.
 
As for the substance, it’s true that the State Department declined to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization a few years ago, but as Hayes Brown explained very well, the reasoning matters.
“Designation is an important tool, it’s not the only tool,” a former State Department official told the Beast. “There are a lot of other things you can do in counterterrorism that doesn’t require a designation.” This includes boosting development aid to undercut the causes of unrest and deploying the FBI to assist in tracking down Boko Haram, both of which the U.S. actually did.
 
In addition, Clinton didn’t act in a vacuum to determine not to designate Boko Haram back in 2011. Scholars on Twitter who focus on the region, terrorism broadly, and Islamist groups in particular were quick to point out that not only were there few benefits and many possible costs to designation, many of them had argued against listing Boko Haram several years ago. In a letter to the State Department dated May 2012, twenty prominent African studies scholars wrote Clinton to implore her to hold off on placing Boko Haram on the FTO list. Acknowledging the violence Boko Haram had perpetrated, the academics argued that “an FTO designation would internationalize Boko Haram, legitimize abuses by Nigeria’s security services, limit the State Department’s latitude in shaping a long term strategy, and undermine the U.S. Government’s ability to receive effective independent analysis from the region.”
For the record, in 2013, the State Department reached the conclusion that the designation could no longer be delayed and Boko Haram was added to the list of entities considered by the United States to be a foreign terrorist organization.
 

Africa, Conservative Media, Foreign Policy, Hillary Clinton and Nigeria

Even Boko Haram's brutality can be politicized