Via Meadia has been keeping a watchful eye on the violence unleashed in Nigeria by Boko Haram, the Islamist group responsible for more than 900 killings in the past two years. In its battle against the Nigerian state, Boko Haram has preyed on “police and army officers, elected officials, high-ranking civil servants, United Nations workers and other perceived supporters of the Nigerian government”, according to the New York Times.
Now comes word from the Grey Lady that Boko Haram has added schools to its list of targets. At least eight have been set alight in recent weeks, although in a rare departure from Boko Haram’s modus operandi no one has died in the attacks. Nevertheless, the Times reports that if the group’s goal is to win hearts and minds, then this latest tactic may be backfiring:
Yet the destruction of Maiduguri’s schools has bewildered and demoralized students, parents and teachers here in a way that the near-daily attacks, including one on a crowded market in February that killed 30, have not. The targeting of children, even indirectly, is seen as a new and sinister twist.
“I can’t even explain this,” said Musa Adam, a teacher at the Gwange III school, which endured a firebombing attempt but was not destroyed. “Is it an act of wickedness, or what? How can somebody destroy a school where children come to learn?”
Back in 2010 Via Meadia identified “hot religion” as one of the top global trends of this decade. We’re following events in Nigeria closely because we believe that relations across the Christian-Muslim divide in Africa may do more to shape its future than all the democracy NGOs and aid workers the secular west can send. Nigeria, almost evenly split now between Christians and Muslims, is one of the places where the future of Christian-Muslim relations on the continent is being worked out.
Boko Haram’s attempt to launch a religious war in Nigeria has so far been unsuccessful, we are pleased to report, and increasingly it is discovering what other terrorist movements have learned: the very atrocities that put you on the front page erode your support among decent and sensible people. But the deep fissures and the potential for explosive inter-communal violence remain; this is one of the stories we will continue to pursue.