This piece originally appeared at Huffington Post UK
According to the US State Department, Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTOs) are:
foreign organizations that are designated by the Secretary of State in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended. FTO designations play a critical role in our fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business./
This week, the Boko Haram organisation has claimed responsibility for a bombing in April, when a suicide bomber drove a car filled with explosives into a church congregation, murdering twelve people. A spokesman from Bffoko Haram stated in an email,
“We thank God for giving us victory. We successfully carried out a suicide bombing on a church at Yelwa in Bauchi state”
“We launched these attacks to prove the Nigerian security wrong and to debunk their claim that we have been weakened by the military crackdown. The Nigerian state and Christians are our enemies and we will be launching attacks on the Nigerian state and its security apparatus as well as churches until we achieve our goal of establishing an Islamic state in place of the secular state”.
Boko Haram’s leader is Abubakar Shekau, whose face is rarely seen in public, but whose pronouncements inspire Boko Haram ideology. Shekau succeeded the group’s late founder Mohammad Yusuf, who according to the Council on Foreign Relations is a trained Salafist, strongly influenced by radical Islamist strains of thought.
Boko Haram ( = “Western education is a sin.”) is popularly known in the country as Nigeria’s “Taliban”. And with fair reason.
Since 2010, Boko Haram have claimed responsibility for various terrorist attacks. In November, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for bomb and gun attacks in Nigeria which left 63 dead. On Christmas Day, Boko Haram boasted of bomb attacks in churches which killed 40 worshippers.
Last month, EuroNews reported that the US State Department is giving “serious consideration” to a letter sent by a group of US academics, urging the Obama administration not to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation. The letter is hosted on the website of American University professor Carl Levan, who is also the letter’s first signatory.
The letter begins:
As scholars with a special interest in Nigeria and broad expertise on African politics, we are writing to urge that you not designate Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). We are acutely aware of the horrific violence perpetrated by Boko Haram, including attacks on both Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, whether government officials or civilian targets. We share your concerns about the impact of extremist violence on Nigeria’s democratic progress and security in general.
The letter cautions:
An FTO designation would internationalize Boko Haram’s standing and enhance its status among radical organizations elsewhere.
It warns that:
Should Boko Haram be designated an FTO through this regime, it would be illegal for nongovernmental organizations to interact with members of Boko Haram – even if the purpose of such contact was to persuade them to renounce violence.
The letter appears to be arguing that although Boko Haram commits acts that other designated terrorist groups commit, labelling it an FTO would increase its standing (presumably only amongst other such terrorists).
Yet surely the point of FTO status is not to worry about how FTOs will react to their label. Rather, FTO status is there to call a spade a spade, and a terrorist a terrorist.
Indeed, if FTO status is to have any credibility at all, then it must be given to all groups which meet the definition offered by the US State Department.
Those who admire Boko Haram, will encourage the group whether it “only” continues to drive explosive-ridden cars into Sunday morning services, or whether it continues to so whilst being able to show off also, that America is calling Boko Haram “terrorists”.
The signatories make for interesting reading. A name that leaps off the page, is John Campbell of the Council on Foreign Relations. Campbell appears to deny that Boko Haram has any leadership or structure or official spokespersons, writing that:
the name “Boko Haram” is a label applied only by the Nigerian government, press, and security services, usually to describe the violence occurring (daily) in the north of the country
Global media coverage of recent Boko Haram atrocities have proven this to be untrue.
John Campbell also writes:
The uniting feature of Boko Haram is its focus on Nigeria. Its rhetoric does not include international jihadist themes. With the isolated exception of the UN headquarters bombing in Abuja, which is viewed in Nigeria as a collaborator with the Nigerian government, its targets have all been Nigerian, usually police, military, places of worship, and drinking establishments. Notably, most of Boko Haram’s victims have been Muslim.
A terrorist organisation can be recognised as such, even if its targets are within the group’s own country. An FTO does not have to have global or even anti-American intentions, to be considered an FTO. An FTO is simply a terrorist organisation that operates abroad.
Besides, the “exception” Campbell provides of Boko Haram targetting the UN headquarters, is hardly reassuring. You don’t just mistakenly attack such targets. The fact that Campbell sets a context of using the word “collaborator” to describe how the UN is portrayed, suggests a degree to which this is a rationalisation of the attack itself.
Campbell also argues that most of Boko Haram’s victims have been Muslim, yet he also notes that the group targets “places of worship” without mentioning that these are, invariably, Christians. And it is mainly Nigerian Christians whom Boko Haram seek to kill.
Christians ought to enjoy the freedom of worship all over the world, which is a basic and fundamental human right. To the extent by which Boko Haram denies Nigeria’s Christians this right by terror and murder, Boko Haram should be declared an FTO. Hillary Clinton must act speedily, and without equivocation.