Hydra-headed contemporary terrorism calls for many approaches in the war against the global scourge – D.H. Habeeb

April 23, 2013


When is an act of violence that of terrorism and when is it just a plain heinous one? This is one question that does not lend itself to rigid answers. In fact, the flexibility of the answers had better make room for the many shades of different global legal and political interpretations of the twin acts of violence.

For their part, heinous acts are unambiguous, and are readily evident in the barbarity of their execution and in the sheer lack of rationality in their motives. They usually speak to a depravity of mind that is located in the outer fringes of sanity. The problem however, with defining terrorism is that the word is emotionally and politically charged. While there are specific legal definitions of terrorism found in different variations of several countries’ laws, generally, terrorism is not just an act of violence but, one conducted with a particular purpose of intimidating a population or, to coerce or affect a government policy.

The two acts of violence are only similar in effects but, they elicit vastly different reactions from different people. Most countries the world over, have evolved realistic and competent legal systems to handle heinous acts of violence. Long incarcerations to protect societies from the sheer enormities committed by these bestial human beings provide some kind of preventive and punitive measures against repeat-crimes. However, the globalization of terror nowadays has presented a daunting challenge for most nations whose policy thrusts are seen to be antithetical to the ‘avowed interests’ of the terrorists.

Terrorism, as a political tactic, has a long history that dates back to hundreds of years and has been consistently used by activists when they believe that no other means will bring about the kind of change they desire. The change is so badly desired that failure to achieve it is seen as a worse outcome than the collateral deaths of non-combatant people; oftentimes, this paves the way for the interrelationship between terrorism and religion. When a political struggle is integrated into the framework of a religious struggle such as fighting over the control of ancestral homeland or holy site as in the Arab-Israeli conflict, political goals become equated with spiritual imperatives and the mix produce inflammable and often intractable terror campaigns.

In the United States, the term “terrorism” has political, legal and national security implications. In contemporary times, the country has had a fairly long experience in battling with acts of terrorism over what has been fairly or unfairly perceived as her unconditional support for Israel and the latter’s Zionist policies. It has therefore not been unusual for Islamic Third World countries with the usual traditional concerns of cultural imperialism and frustrations with their various governments, to shape their angst around some fundamentalist beliefs through the help of local clerics, and to turn these into some hate messages against the sole symbol of western imperialism, viz. the United States of America.

The hydra-headed nature of contemporary terrorism continues to defy the national security ingenuity of many countries. It is not helped by the fact that even the very bestiality of acts of terrorism almost the world over, is often vitiated by political colourations that attract sympathies from many groups. From recent history, even few of the liberal democracies of the world have the capacity to fight terrorism to a standstill.  

The United States more than any country, is fighting terrorism even though with some limited success. It is virtually the US that has forged that sense of zealous unity (from an unbelievable welter of races and ethnicities) and determination that can take the fight against terrorism to the perpetrators’ door-steps.  Unlike in the rest of the world, terrorism neither befuddles the average American sense of liberty and freedom, nor does it blur his socio-political worldviews; it is seen for what it is: an external and misguided attempt through some indoctrination to change the American way of life. It is therefore, fought relentlessly because the Americans believe that to foist an alien socio-political paradigm on them, will be tantamount to the end of American Civilization as the whole world knows it!

In Nigeria and other less-powerful nations, terrorism has not been as effectively fought as it has been in the United States. In the resurgence of nationalism that swept Europe after the Second World War, nationalist identities became a focal point for many people in erstwhile colonial empires. Members of ethnic groups, whose states had been absorbed by others or, had ceased to exist, saw opportunities to realize nationalist ambitions and several of these, chose terror as a method of their struggle. The Irish and the Macedonians had terrorist campaigns as part of their struggle for independence.  Even former Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, was an arrowhead of “The Irgun” in their terrorist campaigns against the British for the creation of a Jewish state

To illustrate the complexity and nuances involved in fighting global terrorism, the case of the Irish Republican Army, IRA, provides a good example. When the British government labeled them terrorists, the IRA continued to enjoy some measure of sympathy because certain people could identify with their political objectives. However, this sympathy and empathy evaporated as soon as the same government was able to establish that the IRA was an organization of cold-blooded career murderers!

Except for the case of the United States where there have been demonstrated efforts by terrorists not only at changing US policy thrusts, but at a more fundamental restructuring of her way of life, acts of terrorism in most countries carry some political distortions that tend to lessen the severity of the punishment than for heinous acts of violence perpetrated by individuals. In Nigeria, despite the heinous bombings by the Boko Haram, despite their advertised goal of wanting to change the Nigerian way of life that is concretized in a heterogeneous and multi-religious society, the federal government is presently fashioning out an amnesty programme for the members of this strange sect. This may be perplexing when one views the scale of destruction and the loss of lives that were attendant to the reign of the members of this cult.

In the context of the American experience of the war on terror, this column believes that the United States President, Barrack Obama, was right to narrow down his focus and pick his fights before declaring the Boston Marathon bombing a terrorist act. Although links to the Chechyn separatists may be tenuous, the fact that the two brothers could have been radicalized by political Islam is a reasonable possibility.  

What works in the United States may not work in Nigeria but it would be unimaginable for the USA  or other Western nations to want to grant amnesty to members of a sect like Nigeria’s Boko Haram.  While tactics of fighting the menace may vary, the sheer scale of destruction to lives and properties on the scale that Nigeria’s Boko Haram has wrought makes one wonder what an amnesty would bring about.  For example, the USA has reportedly changed the classification of the surviving Boston bomber from “enemy combatant” which would bring less severe sentence, no death penalty.  Many options must be available that could have been looked at for BH in Nigeria rather than their getting an amnesty after all the people they murdered and the properties destroyed.

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2 Comments on “Hydra-headed contemporary terrorism calls for many approaches in the war against the global scourge – D.H. Habeeb”

  1. deleola Says:

    Truth be said, whoever concieved the idea of Amnesty for the BH sect is not only unfair but wicked! The politicians milking the country’s resource keep selfisly justifying the Niger-Delta’ militants amnesty, yet, the poor lads keeps terrorising because they aren’t getting enough from the ‘cake’.

    After BH’s amnesty, who will be next to demand the same: Egbesu, OPC and kidnappers, the new terrorists kidnappers? They will ask for amnesty and we are bound to give since we have sort of instituted the amnesty culture, thereby setting dangerous precedents.

    If we are going to confront this menace, we need sincere inward evaluation of our collective commitment to justice. You can not kill my child and expect that I pay you to ensure you won’t come again. Doing that is telling my neighbors that the only way you can get part of my benevolence is to terrorize me!

    Those guys being used are youths. We are not limited to creating jobs for them; how about being responsible to them by: ensuring that money and resources allocated for education get used judiciously; get entrenching various sports’ endeavors? Nigerians love soccer, government, corporate and individuals should invest in our national league. In the past, almost all cities had matches that fans trooped out to different stadia to support their clubs. Leventis United, IICC, BCC Gboko, Stationery Stores Lagos are few clubs that engaged the free time of the youth. They paid to attend even training sessions during the week. There was the Principals’ Cup Competition for Secondary Schools all over the country which helped foster a spirit of healthy rivalry and provided good and fun times for youths then.

    The point am trying to make is that if we keep our youths busy by engaging them with extra-curricular activities, especially sports which unite us far more beyond religion sentiments, then we would be solving a part of what sends youth to religious fanaticism. If it won’t eradicate total senseless killings by these youths being used as tools, it would reduce the availability of their being shelf-ready-made products!



    • emotan77 Says:

      I agree with you. Dele because the hatching ground for religious fanaticism and other societal ills can be blamed partly on lack of engaging our youth in gainful extra-curricular activities. There are also a myriad of other problems.

      “Western education” which the BH condemns is what got Northern leaders into their political and social positions and yet a few of these elites are supposedly the ones sponsoring the mayhem for political gains. When kids lose out in the early part of life by not getting educated, especially considering the low level of female education in that part of the country, it’s a set-up for wide-ranging negative future problems. There has been an upper-crust Northern kid, the “underwear bomber” who chose terrorism based on narrow religious belief but generally speaking, education and subsequent gainful employment would discourage the indoctrination that leads to the springing up of BH-type renegades.

      I must have written in support of an inevitable National Conference that Nigeria has run away from many times in the last several years because it is at such a gathering that a workable template of what we desire as a country that wants to grow into nationhood would be discussed and concluded. Other abuja – a tongue-in-cheek word that means shortcuts in Yoruba; strange that it is the modern capital of Nigeria – will never work.

      At such a gathering, we should decide whether we want to continue to pay lip service to the Constitutional provision of secularism. Contrary to what President Jonathan may continue to say, I believe corruption IS the country’s Number One Problem – gotten worse under his watch – followed closely by religion. You want to become a Jerusalem Pilgrim (JP tag) or an Alhaji, great, but you’ve got to have 100% finances. Imagine the tons of money wasted on the various pilgrims’ boards in every state to cater to two religions.




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