Boko Haram: Nigeria's Islamist Insurgency
Boko Haram: Nigeria's Islamist Insurgency
Virginia Comolli
Hurst, 2015
208 pp., $27.95

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Philip Jenkins

The Nigerian Jihad

Boko Haram.

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Such a prospect is a nightmare for Nigerians, who recall the hideous civil war of 1967-70, which claimed over a million lives. But although the secessionists of that era were mainly Christian, the resulting war did not turn into a straightforward religious confrontation. Many of the key commanders of the Nigerian federal army were themselves Christian, including Olusegun Obasanjo himself. The thought of a future secession war based purely on religious loyalties is horrible to contemplate, and preventing it should be a key goal of the international community.

Defeating or containing Boko Haram is vital, and as Comolli shows, they are by no means the jihadi supermen they like to depict in their propaganda materials. They can and have been beaten. Indeed, some of their most flagrant atrocities are committed at precisely such moments of withdrawal and maximum vulnerability, as a means of reasserting strength and prestige.

That sensible perspective is helpful, and yet Comolli concludes her account with a quote from Nigeria's Chief of Army Staff, who warns that "We should not think of Boko Haram alone because when Boko Haram goes, another one may come." Ultimately, the Islamist danger can only be resolved by far-reaching economic development and a sweeping restructuring of the Nigerian state.

Philip Jenkins is Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion. He is the author most recently of The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand-Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels, coming this fall from Basic Books.

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