Why I’m Learning More About “Boko Haram”

Somalia Al Shabab

My social media timeline is filled with intelligent, like-minded people (*mental note: as painful as it might be, I must start following those with differing viewpoints) and there’s been constant chatter regarding mainstream media’s coverage of Paris’s Charlie Hebdo attack compared to the massacre of 2000 people in Baga, Nigeria.

Being of Arabic descent, I understood the “Haram” part of Boko Haram implied what they believe they’re fighting against is considered forbidden or sinful. This turns out to be true. Boko Haram (founded in 2002) means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language that’s spoken in northern Nigeria and surrounding countries. Declared a terrorist group by the United States in 2013, it was years earlier in 2009 that the organization first launched military operations to create an Islamic state (taking their initial stance against Western education to a whole new level).

Numerous current-day African countries have stark differences in their northern and southern regions. Nigeria is one of them, with Boko Haram prevalent in the country’s north (known to have some of the world’s worst health and economic statistics). Twelve states there are under Sharia Islamic law and “regional solidarity” has always been a focal value.

Some three million people have been affected by Boko Haram thus far, with Western attention finally piqued just eight months ago via the #BringBackOurGirls campaign centered on the 219 female students¬†abducted by the group in the northeastern village of Chibok. The girls are still missing, with the only consistent voice protesting their return being the demonstrators who rally daily in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital; cries which are sadly falling on deaf ears. I shudder to think of the atrocities they’re experiencing throughout this traumatic time.

Women react during a protest demanding security forces to search harder for 200 abducted schoolgirls, outside Nigeria's parliament in Abuja

As BBC News reports, it’s tough to find out exactly how many innocent people died in this latest Boko Haram massacre in Baga as it’s far too dangerous for anyone to stick around for a body count. Embattled Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan felt comfortable making an official statement condemning the Paris attacks, but is yet to speak at length on his own people’s tragic misfortune.

The most recent update on Boko Haram is they’ve seized a military base in neighboring Cameroon, signaling expansion efforts. While the Nigerian government released a statement earlier this week saying “the number of people who lost their lives during the Baga attack has so far not exceeded about 150,” the ability for anyone to “audit” this figure (and know the truth, whether it’s 150, 2000 or even more) is next to impossible.

Be it one or one million, too many lives are being lost to senseless violence in Nigeria and across the world. Those of us watching, feeling helpless must continue to pray for peace (if that’s your thing) and continue to spread awareness.