[ by Charles Cameron — burn the boys & let the girls get married? — ]
Lizz Pearson pulls all the right details together to paint a vivid and nuanced picture of Boko Haram and their actions and attitudes with regard to gender differences in an interview with Woman’s Hour on BBC4. It’s a stunning story:
This is something that has developed really in the last year, and it’s an explicit evolution, really, in the tactics of Boko Haram. The abductions earlier this week in Chibok have made the headlines because of the scale which is particularly audacious, but they have been kidnapping and abducting schoolgirls and other women really since 2013. [ … ]
The Nigerian government began at the end of 2011 to arrest and detail women and children related to senior leading members of Boko Haram. This is perceived by Boko Haram as a very provocative act. Women are not regarded as combatants by Boko Haram, but they are a way of getting at an enemy, of humiliating an enemy, and they have become pawns, really, in this conflict, in a way that they have been used, both by the Nigerian government security forces in terms of the arrests of women related to Boko Haram — there’s no reason to arrest them for anything they’ve done themselves — and in Boko Haram’s response.
For Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, this has been a real grievance, and has motivated him in making many statements in video messages of his intention to, in retaliation, kidnap and abduct Christian women and women related to government officials.
So far the strategy is different. It’s right that the Taliban has been explicitly targeting girls and with execution. With Boko Haram it’s a bit different. They have in fact been sparing women from execution in contrast with the Taliban policy. There was an attack, for example, on a school in Yobe state in February in which they similarly drove into the school in a convoy of jeeps, very heavily armed, everyone was asleep, they were very vulnerable. They locked the dormitories of male students, set fire to those dormitories, and then slit the throats of many men that they found escaping through the windows — but in this instance they spared the women, they said explicitly, Go home, get married, don’t come back here. In that sense they’re not executing them, but they do have this policy now that Shekau has explicitly ordered, of abducting women instead.
That’s some excellent background — and surprising nuance — to bring to our understanding of the 107 young women recently abducted from their school in Borno State by Boko Haram.
Ms. Pearson doesn’t mention it, but I suspect there’s a Qur’anic verse somewhere in back of Boko Haram’s notion of retaliation — the same verse which I noted provided the framework for a major bin Laden speech, Qur’an 2.194:
For the prohibited month, and so for all things prohibited, there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.
The “western” mindset sees certain actions as acceptable and others as unacceptable, and international law and various treaties set forth the accompamnying ruleset. Much of Islamic law sets similar limits, eg concerning the treatemnt of prisoners of war, but this verse — like Torah verses about “an eye for an eye” — specifies a diferent method of assessing what is and is not permitted — one which permits the otherwise impermissible on those occasions on which it has been visited upon one.
In essence, the rule becomes mirroring — with moderation.
That a particular class of actions taken by one party in a conflict may in this way serve as a grant of permission for the same treatment to be returned is a feature of human psychology as well — and may be something worth bearing in mind in considering the introduction of any new class of methodologies or targets in warfare or politics. Do as you would be done by…
What I do may appear to me to be an action: what I may miss is that it is also a potential invitation.
I’m not sure whether that’s so obvious as to be a tautology, or so obscure as to bear frequent repetition. It’s certainly an aspect of human nature, variously formalized as tit for tat or proportionality — and in Islam, it is embedded both in scripture and in cultural understanding, in Qur’an 2.194.