The War Nerd: Boko Haram and the Demon Consensus

By Gary Brecher , written on January 28, 2015

From The War Desk


Suddenly everyone’s talking about Boko Haram and the massacres it’s committing in Northern Nigeria.

There are two reasons for this: First, Boko is making some genuinely scary gains, cleansing the flatlands south of Lake Chad of any community it suspects of disloyalty, burning Churches and killing Christian villagers on the Cameroon border, and pushing against the provincial capital, Maiduguri—not with suicide bombings or quick raids, but a sustained conventional assault.

They’ve withdrawn for now, but it won’t be their last attack on Maiduguri. Boko is getting stronger. The attacks will continue, increasing in scale and skill, and eventually, they may well take Maiduguri. Although it’s kind of naïve to talk about BK (I mean Boko, not the Home of the Whopper) “attacking” or “taking” Maiduguri. It’s their home turf, and there’s plenty of evidence that a lot of the people who count in that part of the world are backing BK all the way.

So yeah, the military situation is worth discussing. But that’s not the only reason Boko is suddenly being mentioned by people who couldn’t find Maiduguri on a map. This other reason is the old military/persuasive strategy called distraction. Boko turned out to be a very useful distraction, after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. Suddenly a lot of Leftie bloggers used it, after their first strategy, which was “Pity the Poor Jihadis”, failed to win hearts and minds. When they realized the “poor, troubled mass murderers” take wasn’t the ticket, they switched to Boko as a way of diverting everyone’s attention: “Why, O whyyyy doesn’t anyone care as much about the victims of Boko Haram as they do about those dead (and ideologically suspect) Frenchies?”

Yeah, good question. Or at least most of these articles raised a good question. The Quora article with the “Ouch!” headline, “Why are people chanting je suis Charlie and not je suis Boko Haram?”—Uh, that’s not such a good question.

The rest bring up what seems like a good question. But not an honest one. Nope, a very sleazy, disingenuous, belated question. I should know; I’ve been trying to get people interested in massacred Africans for what feels like half my life. And you know who was NEVER interested? Those same jihadi-sucking lefties who are now claiming to be so concerned with Boko’s victims.

I’ve been trying to get somebody to pay attention to black African victims of Sahel jihadi massacres day in day out, with about as much success as an English major standing on the corner waving a giant sign advertising a new furniture store. Here’s a sample—an article I did on Boko Haram back in March, 2013:

A few days ago, a suicide bomber got on a luxury commuter bus in Northern Nigeria and blew himself up, along with 60 people who were heading home from work.

It didn’t get much publicity. African casualties rarely do, especially when there’s a depressing religious angle. The suicide bomber came from the Northern Nigerian Islamist group "Boko Haram." The name is interesting: "Boko" comes from the English word "book," as pronounced by the Hausa, the biggest northern ethnic group. "Haram" ("forbidden") is an Arabic word, the Wahhabis’ favorite word of all. When people talk about "Northern Nigeria" they mean "Muslim Nigeria." There are three big divisions in the country: The Muslim/Hausa North, the Christian/Igbo South, and the Yoruba West. (The Yoruba are the only big group that’s mixed, with Christians and Muslims). Boko Haram blew up those buses because the people on them were going to an Igbo/Christian neighborhood of Kano, a Muslim/Northern city.

That’s already more than most squeamish Westerners want to know. "Ah, it’s religious…" is about all they need to hear before settling back into their comfy stances. Conservatives figure it’s just one more proof that all Muslims are crazy. The left mumbles "Islamophobia" and tries to change the subject to Palestine. So from left to right on your radio dial, there’s not a lot of what my social-studies teacher called "hunger for knowledge." Damn, I’m sick of being right. But that last paragraph of the quote really does sum up online attitudes, in 2015 as much as it did two years ago. My article got politely ignored by the same people who are whining now that nobody pays attention to those poor, poor Africans. I’ve been trying to get some attention for the bodies piling up along the southern edge of the Sahel for more than a decade, and if you ask me, there’s even less interest in murdered black Africans from the left than from the right. That may seem weird; you’d expect the Left to have more compassion, right? Yeah, but the thing is, they invested all their compassion capital in Islam and just plain don’t have any left over for Africans, especially the ones killed by…uh, Muslim jihadis. See, the US Left just recently got around to ditching Israel and hugging Muslims—all Muslims, including the Sunni jihadi assholes who have been murdering black Africans.

The big pivot was Israel/Palestine, so suddenly all Muslims were Palestinians—victims, in other words. Well, that’s crap. Palestine is a very unusual, atypical corner of the Muslim world. There’s a whole latitude, around ten degrees north, where Islam is the aggressor, and black Africans are the victims.

But asking people who’ve just made one big U-turn to make another, to care about black African victims of Muslim jihadi massacres of black Africans—well, that would be like asking a 1980 Chrysler LeBaron to make a two U-turns in a row, in a downtown alley: Hopeless.

I’ve tried writing about the pattern of Sahel/brown/Muslim aggression against Southern/black/”Kaffir” cultures—in Sudan, in Nigeria, in the Central African Republic, in Mali (oh God, don’t get me started on Glenn Greenwald and Mali), in Chad, in Cote d’Ivoire...and right across that line that wavers around ten degrees north of the Equator, right across Africa.

I can go on and on about the racism of Sahel Muslim raiding cultures, the Sudanese atrocities, the Janjaweed chanting “You are black, you are ugly” at the villagers they’re raping and burning; the way that “abeed” is used in many Sahel cultures to mean both “black” and “slave”; but none of America’s anti-Fox bloggers want to know. They committed to that turn down Anti-Islamophobia Alley, and they’re gonna gun it to the end. Careers are involved here, and that makes for a heavy foot on the gas and no turns.

The info is out there, if anybody wanted it. Has been for over a decade. It was back in 2004 that Amnesty published a report on the flat-out monstrous racism of Sahel Muslim militias against people they saw as “abeed,” black Africans fit only to be slaves:

“During an attack on the village of Disa in June last year, Arab women accompanied the attackers and sang in praise of the government and scorning black villagers. According to an African chief quoted in the report, the singers said, ‘The blood of the blacks runs like water, we take their goods and we chase them from our area and our cattle will be in their land…The power of (Sudanese President Omer Hassan) al-Bashir belongs to the Arabs and we will kill you until the end, you blacks, we have killed your God.

“The chief said that the Arab women also racially insulted women from the village, saying: ‘You are gorillas, you are black and you are badly dressed.’

“The Janjaweed have abducted women for use as sex slaves, in some cases breaking their limbs to prevent them escaping, as well as carrying out rapes in their home villages, the report said. The militiamen ‘are happy when they rape. They sing when they rape and they tell that we are just slaves and that they can do with us how they wish,’ a 37-year-old victim, identified as A, is quoted as saying in the report, which was based on over 100 statements from women in the refugee camps in neighboring Chad…” And you can find similar accounts of Sahel/Muslim cruelty toward Southern black peoples dating back to 1870.

But as I’ve discovered, not many people want to know. If you look at the links to each of the African countries I named a few paragraphs up, you’ll see a sad record of all the times I tried to get people interested in what light-skinned Muslim invaders from warlike Sahel cultures were doing to non-warlike black farming cultures to the south. Know what I got? Crickets.

That’s one reason Boko Haram crept up so stealthily on what you might call mainstream consciousness. Easy to sneak up on someone when they’re going all out to pretend they can’t see you.

Boko has snuck up so successfully that they’re now the big power in the northeastern corner of Nigeria, and by the time this is published, they may own a chunk of Maiduguri. In a place as corrupt and cruel as Nigeria, the elite, the people who matter, could shrug as long as Boko was just killing villagers and burning little market towns. But when they threaten a place like Maiduguri, which is inhabited by real people—rich people, connected people—that’s a sign the sleazy string-pullers have lost control of their puppet, and this Frankenstein’s monster/Pinocchio is out of control.

Boko Haram is what you get, if you play sleazy games for centuries, keeping the people of Northern Nigeria poor, isolated, paranoid, and pious for the benefit of the local elite and their international sponsors. What we’re calling “Northern Nigeria” was a grim chunk of real estate long before the Brits came along—a world where slave raids were the favorite pastime, sometimes against other Sahel people but pursued with particular delight against the “blacks” to the South and toward the coasts.

The core of Boko Haram’s power comes from Borno province, dominated by a people called the Kanuri.

The Kanuri have always been considered a grim people, even by the other northern Nigerian tribes, the Hausa and Fulani (who are not exactly bleeding hearts themselves). The German explorer Heinrich Barth, who wandered all over this dry plain south of Lake Chad in the mid-19th century, found the Kanuri pretty tough going: “[Barth] preferred the dispositions of Hausas and Fulanis to Kanuris, calling the former cheerful and vivacious, the latter dour.”

The Kanuri sultanate of Bornu was among the few the Fulani jihadis couldn’t conquer. There was no mercy to be given or expected on either side in this long war:

“Early in the 19th century, when the Fulani scholar Usman dan Fodio led the jihad that brought much of central Sudan under his control, he was unable to conquer Bornu. His brilliant son, Muhammed Bello, fared no better. Nor had Bornu been able to overthrow dan Fodio. For much of the century, the two kingdoms alternated between tense détente and slave raids into each other’s territory. If either kingdom had managed to defeat the other, the vanquished would have become the conquerors’ slaves.”

In this part of the world, even the jokes are about enslavement: “You guys are MY slaves!” “Ha ha, no, YOU’RE all gonna be MY slaves!” It’s a Sahel sense of humor, very different from the warmer black people to the South. Bornu, like all the Sahel Islamic empires, was organized on strict top-down military lines I described in my article a few years back:

“The North, in Nigerian terms, is usually called "Hausa," or "Hausa-Fulani," but it includes the Kanuri of the Northeast, who are the most remote from the coast and the fiercest opponents of anything coastal, Christian, or modern. These were all war-forged Sahel caliphates, with no tradition of local loyalties like the Yoruba, or egalitarianism like the Igbo. They had the traditional Sahel-Muslim organization, top-down all the way: Sultan gives orders to Omda, Omda gives orders to Sheikh, Sheikh gives orders to commoners. And commoners obey.”

This was a hard, unforgiving world before the Brits came. But of course, they managed to make everything much worse—and then disappear, avoiding all blame, which is by far their most impressive skill. I swear to God, I don’t know how they managed to invade and maim just about every country on the planet, then show up with a shit-eating Hugh Grant grin and pretend to be harmless little…aw, what’s the use? I’ve said this before and no one listened. Here’s my summary of what happened:

“The British crushed the Northern caliphates early in the 20th Century, but found that they liked the North best of the three heads this Nigerian monster had. The second sons who were booted out of England to run the colonies always got on best with aristocratic, warlike desert people. They took to the Hausa-Fulani, with their cataphracts and caste system, like they were an unguarded tray of cucumber sandwiches. Most of all, the Empire appreciated the ease with which all of Northern Nigeria could be bought. Thanks to the strict, militarized hierarchy of the North, all the local British agent had to do was buy the Sultan and the whole people would fall into line.

“It was a very different matter when they tried to tell the argumentative Igbo and localist Yoruba what to do. If you remember Chinua Achebe’s great novel 'Things Fall Apart,' you’ll get an idea of what it was like when the Brits met the Igbo. And in a way, you can get a sense of what the Brit-Yoruba encounter was like from Amos Tutuola’s amazingly weird, cool books: 'The Palm Wine Drunkard' and 'My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.' There weren’t any novels like that from the north, because the North didn’t take to Western education and books. The Hausa had walled off their world from the corrupt coasts.” So the Northern Sultans just loved British rule, while the lively, democratic South wanted freedom. And the British loved the northern sultans in return—partly for being so conveniently bribe-able and docile, but it went deeper than that. There’s a pattern you see across the Empire at its peak in the early 20th century: British colonial officials loved Islamic absolutism, for all kinds of creepy reasons, and that love comes out in weird ways. I mean, we’ve all seen Lawrence of Arabia, but how many people know that Winston Churchill himself had to be talked out of converting to Islam by his family?

There was something these guys truly loved about desert autocrats, and their unforgiving, masculine God. The original pantheons of the Yoruba and Igbo were typically chaotic, democratic clans, deities of place and character; the god of the northern desert was like the Empire itself, unitary and unrelenting. They took to each other right off, and stuck together to the day the Empire was finally forced to withdraw from Nigeria: 1960, when all of Africa was pushing for independence.

But the Empire had a last evil little gift to bestow on Nigeria, dooming it for good. Sir James Robertson, the last Governor-General of Nigeria (described as “a thug” by a subordinate), decided to rig the first elections in independent Nigeria in favor of the Islamist sultanates of the north, making sure the uppity blacks from the Yoruba and Igbo regions would be denied power. It worked; and in a classic demonstration of the power of British officials’ code of silence, this didn’t come out ‘til Robertson’s former deputy, Harold Smith, was on his deathbed. I’m telling you, the Mafia in its prime had nothing on the Brits in keeping up Omerta.

The Brits hated the Igbo most of all, because they were not good, docile colonial subjects. On the contrary; the Igbo are the most assertive, democratic, annoying, uppity, inventive, and educated, impressive group in West Africa. If you’ve read Things Fall Apart by the Igbo novelist Chinua Achebe, you have a sense of the difficulties the British officials and their autocratic Northern sultan allies had with the uppity, thorny Igbo.

Thanks to their rigging of the first election, the Brits and the sultans were able to control the new country, keeping the Igbo out of power. But individual Igbo traders moved north to the new markets in Hausa and Kanuri territories, looking for commercial opportunities.

The northern peoples, especially the dour Kanuri of Borno, had no business skills of their own. The northern sultans preferred to keep their subjects isolated, uneducated, pious and obedient.

Sound familiar? Igbo peddlers were very much like Jewish peddlers in Tsarist Russia. And with the same results: Pogroms.

The biggest slaughter of Igbos in the North came in 1966, with something like 20,000 Igbo hacked or clubbed to death in northern cities and towns.

And just like in Tsarist pogroms, the cops and soldiers usually took a leading role in beating the alien peddlers to death. The Igbo, seeing their people slaughtered with the eager assistance of the Nigerian Army, decided they needed their own country, and seceded in 1967, forming a new country, Biafra. The 250,000-man Nigerian Army, run by generals from the Muslim north, adopted a simple strategy: Avoid battle (because the Igbo won every battle fought on anything like equal terms), isolate the Igbo areas, and starve the whole people to death.

The northern generals had help, of course, from their old friends, the British officer corps. The UK had a huge investment in Nigerian oil by this time, solidifying the old alliance with the northern Sultans. The PM, Harold Wilson, actually accused Biafra of “trying to win sympathy” from the world by, uh, pointing out that it was being starved to death. But British help for the Nigerian Army against the Igbo went way beyond public relations:

“In…1968, Britain approved the export of 15 million rounds of ammunition, 21,000 mortar bombs, 42,500 Howtizer rounds, 12 Oerlikon guns, 3 Bofors guns, 500 submachine guns, 12 Saladins with guns and spare parts, 30 Saracens and spare parts, 800 bayonets, 4,000 rifles and two other helicopters. At the same time Wilson was constantly reassuring Gowon of British support for a united Nigeria, saying in April 1968 that ‘I think we can fairly claim that we have not wavered in this support throughout the civil war’.”

With this imported weaponry offsetting the Igbo’s superior fighting skills the Nigerian Army managed to wall off and starve out the Igbo regions. It worked very well, horribly well. Starvation always works well, because it kills young men and children first. That means you’ve wiped out the first line of defense—but even better (from the sick perspective of the Nigerian army brass), you’ve killed most of the next generation of Igbo. And the Igbo kids who manage to survive will be crippled for life, because childhood starvation destroys people for the rest of their lives.

Talk about “attacking the second echelon”—this took out a whole generation before they could make trouble. Two million Igbo died. Or three. Or three-point-six. Nobody knows, because nobody cares except a few Igbo diehards, and nobody listens to them.

That’s what it is to be a REAL despised majority, meaning “not beloved of every progressive blogger on earth.” It feels mostly like being a nobody. Nobody counts your dead, most especially not the cool lefty bloggers who love to cuddle Sahel jihadis. They’d be the last people on earth to worry about dead Igbo. I wish people could see—better yet, could feel—this difference. I’ve seen it so many times, and it makes it real hard to keep…you know, not despising people, not wanting to puke on certain bloggers’ sanctimonious faces. But it’s got a limited social utility, you might say, the ability to feel that difference. It’s kind of the opposite of adaptive, in fact. Can’t blame people for not wanting to hang a jinx around their necks.

Much more adaptive not to remember Biafra at all, which is what nice, normal people all over the world decided to do. As Achebe, the great Igbo novelist, said in his very gloomy last book, There Was a Country:

"For over half a century the Federal [Nigerian] Government has turned a blind eye to waves of ferocious and savage massacres of its citizens — mainly Christian southerners, mostly Igbo."

Achebe died a sad old man, appalled at the racism he saw in the West and horrified at what had been done to his people…while Ben Okri lives to commit further crimes. I’m telling you, don’t start researching Biafra; you’ll lose your sense of humor. It’s not funny, the way the world always lines up with the cruelest, against warmer and more humorous people. You’re much better off turning that ol’ blind eye on this stuff.

A blind eye was SOP not just for the Nigerian government, but for everyone who matters in this rotten world. Trouble is, that left Nigeria torn apart, with its most advanced people, the Igbo, disemboweled, and the very worst people in the country, the northern sultans, sheikhs, and army generals, in charge.

That’s where the country stands now. Same creeps in charge. And what those creeps want is for everything to stand still. They want the money from the oil being pumped out of the Niger Delta sent north to their accounts, sure. But they don’t want any social changes to accompany that money. So they’re quietly funding Boko Haram, because Boko ensures that nobody in their senses will invade these provinces. It’s the same old deal they made with the Brits: Isolation in return for collaboration.

You can see the consequences of that collaboration in Maiduguri today. All the alien modern stuff like the Maiduguri International Hotel is wrecked or deserted, but the palace of the sheikh (shehu) of Bornu is in fine shape, not worried at all about Boko Haram attacks. A suspicious person might think that the rumors of local rulers funding Boko are, as they say, “not unfounded.”

It’s that isolation that gives these old networks, sheikhs and generals, their power. And jihad fits very nicely into that design, because (like I’ve written several times) jihad is that it’s a defensive campaign—not intended to Islamize the whole world but to keep things as they are, or were, or were in a dreamworld that never existed.

The trouble is, fighting for reactionary dreamworlds is expensive, and the people who pay the price are always those outside the dream, the ones who aren’t entitled to any share in it. In Nigeria, that always means the people further south, of darker skin, who always turn out to be expendable, forgettable, born to be “abeed”—slaves, “even though they are free” for the moment. What’s going on with Boko now fits all too well into a pattern of reactionary rage from the Sahel raiders, asserting their traditional military power against a world in flux right across the continent from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.

And what’s saddest of all is the way the cool bloggers line up with these ultra-reactionary hierarchs, against the mere black Africans. I’ve seen that over the past few years, the way cool people always choose jihadis over mere kuffar black southerners, and it seemed like such surplus, gratuitous cruelty that I asked Mark Ames, who knows Western opinion way better than I do, why it always seems to work out that way. We were talking about Glenn Greenwald’s virtuous indifference to what happened to the peaceable riverine black people of Mali, which horrified me in a way not much does.

The usual explanation is that people just don’t care about poor Africans as much as famous white Europeans. Which is true, but something else is involved here, something much nastier. For years, after watching people get outraged at everything with an anti-Muslim or anti-Arab angle, while ignoring atrocities against Africans, I began to wonder if this was something more like bias than mere indifference—if there was an agenda to the policy of ignoring hundreds of thousands of black Africans killed by lighter-skinned jihadis from the Sahel.

Here’s what Ames said:

“Yup, in today's inverted-neocon Left dumbery, it's assumed you're a *reactionary* if you care about sub-Saharan African victims of Arab/Muslim religious jihadis…It goes something like this: The US is the most powerful on the planet, and power is evil. So anything at all that is anti-American is good because it's fighting Power; anything that distracts from that is evil; and anything that America professes to care about is even eviler, because of America's monstrous hypocrisy.

“It makes you dumb just writing that down, but it's Assange's worldview and it's pretty much the dominant Left's as well.” Yes, that makes a horrible kind of sense, but the worst part is the way it fits into a centuries-old pattern where the black Africans always lose.

Generation after generation, right or left, every time. Today’s reactionary-Islamist Left is just the latest incarnation of this demon-consensus. Achebe saw deep into it, I think. Too deep. He fled the West, after being offered fat professorships, said he couldn’t take the cruelty. I’m starting to see what he meant.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]