Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Boko Haram, Islam and the Left.

with 3 comments

From One Jihad to Another.

European recruits to the jihadist cause in Syria are in the news again.

Apparently some of them, native French speakers, were the gaolers and torturers  of the French journalist hostages released this week (French journalists describe tortures by ISIL militants in Syria. Mock executions, hunger, thirst, cold, beatings a makeshift chess game, and a “surreal” snowball fight with their jailers).

It is hard to see how anybody can find anything progressive in those going to fight and kill Syrian Muslims, Alwaites, Christians and non-Believers in a Holy War.

Liberals who try to find excuses for Islamism face wider problems.

How do they explain the actions of the Nigerian Boko Haram?

This April we have already seen,

The streets of Nigeria are covered in blood. Boko Haram Islamists have attacked and killed hundreds of people since Wednesday, April 9th. Targeting students and any semblance of Western influence, they viciously gunned down some 200 university students. Many students traveled to the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, UTME, in Borno State. As reported by the National Mirror,”The UTME, conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) was held nationwide yesterday.” It was here that Boko Haram Islamists ambushed the innocent students and viciously slaughtered them.


More than 180 Nigerian schoolgirls remain missing after being snatched from their classroom in Borno State last week.

Islamist group Boko Haram is suspected to be behind the kidnapping but has not issued any statement.

Footage has now emerged from inside the school, which was torched afterwards.

Last year the SWP’s Nigerian allies (Socialist Workers Bulletin) attempted to offer an explanation for the rise of Boko Haram.

 Beyond President Jonathan’s war on terror June 9, 2013 – 2:53 am

by Baba Aye.

There is a lot of detail about Nigerian politics which we are in no position to judge.

But this element in Aye’s article stands out.

Boko Haram, Ansaru and co, like most of the new militant Islamist sects that have blossomed in the period of neoliberal globalism have a contradictory nature.

On one hand, they involve sections of the ruling elite for whom religion-as-politics is a tool for mobilisation of mass support for their aims. These include electoral aims of winning gubernatorial and other political positions or as bargaining chips for access to state power (and with it the treasury). We saw examples with the political Shari’a wave that swept through twelve northern states in the early 2000s. Specifically, it has been established that Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, courted Boko Haram in his successful bid for the governorship of Borno state in 2003. Apart from mass mobilisation, Boko Haram supporters played the role of armed hirelings not unlike that which some Niger delta “militants” played for Peter Odili and co, that same year.

On the other hand, elements of the anti-establishment demands of Boko Haram and its sister organisations, find resonance in the hearts of many poor and dispossesed people within their localities that are fed up with the corruption and flamboyant lifestyle of the elites, in the face of their own poverty and hopelessness. At the earlier point before it went underground after the murder of its founding leader, Boko Haram had also aided the spread of its ideology’s influence with social work, very much like Hezbollah in Lebanon. It had provided housing, (Koranic) education, healthcare and the offsetting of debts for hundreds if not thousands of the wretched of the earth, winning hearts and minds, as much as souls to its standpoint.

While a nominal roll of Boko Haram membership might not be something we could secure, the group’s membership including its armed insurgents and unarmed supporters cannot but be in the thousands, if not tens of thousands, with a significant proportion of these being poor and working people. This would dwarf the numbers of “radical” or “revolutionary” groups in the country added up together, several times over, and could equal the sizes of many a trade union.

Of course, the large presence of the poor and oppressed people in an organisation does not make it, pro-workers, talk less of being revolutionary. Fascist parties such as the Nazis in Germany or Mussolini’s National Fascist Party, did have significant mass following while pursuing anti-workers’ causes. It is also not being suggested that Boko Haram is in anyway a revolutionary or “progressive” group.


“Radical “Islamism”, with associated spontaneous and organised violence, has come to stay as one of the macabre symptoms of the period we are living in i.e. where the capitalist system has become a putrid living-corpse holding down the progress of human society, on one hand, but the poor and working class have not risen to consuming the task of overthrowing it, due to the weaknesses of revolutionary forces’ influence within it.”

“But” (there’s always got to be a ‘but’) “only one-dimensional thinking would sum all these up to mean that the sect “is nothing but a set of foot soldiers of sections of the Nigerian ruling class that went berserk” or worse still conclude that “Boko Haram is part and parcel of Nigerian ruling elite”.

So, apparently in some ill-defined way Boko haram is linked to the economic and social conditions neo-liberalism have created. It is a ‘result’ of the failure of groups like the Nigerian SWP to grow and take a lead. A group backed by some sections of the poor and working population has arisen. They are  murdering large numbers of people. They they “dwarf” the size of the left.

Boko Haram, then,  claims to be, and indeed is Islamist. Whatever the conditions that encouraged its growth it  is hard to find anything that relates this ideology directly  to the conditions created  neo-liberalism. Their objective is the Sharia: forcing a cowed population to the yoke of Islam. They have a religious mission, not just to reflect suffering but to create it.

The material presence of Boko Haram, a material force, is rapidly becoming a central political and social problem in Nigeria.

The issue is: What is to be Done?

So what do they advocate doing? “In principle, working class activists have to be against any form of “state of emergency” and the curtailment of democratic rights of the poor and working people.”

Following Chris Harman (the Prophet and the Proletariat)  they state,

The point of departure on this matter, as we see it is that: we cannot support either the institutional terror of the Nigerian state, nor can we support the non-state group of Boko Haram and co. From a working class standpoint, we would say, we stand for“neither the FGN state of emergency or Boko Haram insurgency”. Such an approach is not new as the correct line, in or out of Nigeria. We stood for neither Washington nor Moscow during the “cold war”, as workers were exploited and oppressed in both the Western “democracies” and the Eastern “socialist” states.

So, “The most urgent task at this hour might be the establishment of a united front to stop the state of emergency. “

We have seen what a success that strategy has been.

Islamism, embodied in groups like Boko Haram,  is rapidly becoming a major enemy of all progressive  peoples.

The issue  now is simply: how to fight it?


Written by Andrew Coates

April 24, 2014 at 11:56 am

3 Responses

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  1. […] By Andrew Coates […]

  2. This post forms the basis of this,

    220 schoolgirls haven’t been ‘abducted’ by Boko Haram, they have been enslaved
    Boko Haram is a vile manifestation, yet the liberal press stays silent, fearful of ‘demonising the other’

    Nick Cohen. Obsever.

    “Turn from today’s papers to the theoretical pages of leftwing journals and you find that the grounds for understanding Boko Haram more and condemning it less were prepared last year.

    Without fully endorsing Boko Haram, of course, socialists explained that it finds “resonance in the hearts of many poor and dispossessed” people, who are revolted by “the corruption and flamboyant lifestyle of the elites”. Islamism is recast as a rational reaction to local corruption and the global oppression of “neoliberalism”, one of those conveniently vague labels that can mean just about anything.”


    The phrases taken are now underlined in the post.

    I, however, was referring to the views of a small SWP affiliate, not the “left”.

    Andrew Coates

    May 5, 2014 at 12:38 pm

  3. I am afraid that you will find that the SWP’s view of the situation will broadly reflect that of the left generally. My unfortunate experience of these creatures is that are sad inadequate people who are trying to give some meaning to their lives by revolutionary rhetoric.

    A good example of this is a Tower Hamlets Trotskyist, Stuart Madewell who has made the transition from Uber leftist to apologist and propagandist for for the Islamic Forum Europe and who has also criticised those who oppose female genital mutilation on the grounds that they are white supremacists who do not understand the complexities of African societies and that the whole thing is a ” Neo colonialist plot to enslave Somalis in Tower Hamlets”. Yes he has said this!

    A distinction needs to made between the ” theoretical” journals of the left and what the same organisations actually say when they are trying to sell their papers. The line outside the Somalis Mosques on the Mile End Rd in the East End is that opponents of girls having their clitorises cut off are racists and wicked Imperialists. Don’t believe me, try it after Friday prayers one week.


    May 5, 2014 at 4:07 pm

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