One of the most recent trends to appear in internet governance is the tightening of control over online content. And it was China and Russia that set the wheels for this in motion. The trend has extended across the globe – just look at the impressive list of states that supported the Christchurch Call to Action to eradicate terrorist and violent extremist online content. France, the United Kingdom, India, Japan, Indonesia and many other states endorsed the call, questioning the right to spread information online without any restrictions.
It is no secret that terrorists today strive to use the benefits of the nascent digital age for nefarious purposes, namely, to spread dangerous content, recruit new foot soldiers, finance terrorist groups and broadcast terrorist attacks using various internet resources. This is why many governments, fearing the radicalization of their population, demand that global internet platforms step up measures to counter extremist and terrorist content. For example, in May 2017, the Parliament of the United Kingdom criticized Twitter and Facebook for their inability to remove extremist content. At the 2018 G7 Summit in Toronto, security ministers demanded that tech companies step up the fight against dangerous content.
The Christchurch Call to Action
The Christchurch Call to Action to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online came in May 2019 from the Government of New Zealand as the peak of governmental demands for radical measures to be taken in this area.
Speaking to CNN, Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern said, “This call to action is not just about regulation, but instead about bringing IT companies to the table saying you have a role, too.”
The Call came after the tragic events of March 15, 2019, when a terrorist used Facebook Live to run a 17-minute broadcast of a mass shooting in Christchurch mosques. The video was accessible for 29 minutes on Facebook itself, and for several hours on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. The delayed reaction of global digital platforms meant that millions of users throughout the world watched the broadcast.
For New Zealand and for many other states, this tragedy signalled the need to take drastic measures. New Zealand and France spearheaded a summit held in Paris on May 15, 2019, that was attended by the leaders of 17 states, representatives of the European Commission and eight tech companies (Amazon, Daily Motion, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc.) . The Christchurch Call is essentially an action plan calling upon its signatories to prevent using the internet as a tool for terrorists.
As of today, 48 states, UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the European Commission and eight tech companies have joined the call to action.
Curiously, three important actors remained uninvolved with the Call to Action: Russia, China and the United States. Beijing and Moscow did not officially comment on their refusal to join. Washington cited its respect for freedom of speech while generally supporting the overall goals of the document. The United States counters dangerous content at the state level, but it employs different methods. Instead of blocking information, the United States, according to the White House, promotes credible, alternative narratives to “defeat” terrorist messaging.
A Pure PPP
The Christchurch Call is a pure PPP. The document envisions a clear delimitation of duties between government bodies and businesses.
For instance, governments must:
-counter the drivers of terrorism and violent extremism;
-increase media literacy;
-ensure the effective enforcement of applicable laws;
-encourage media outlets to apply ethical standards when depicting terrorist events online.
Technical solutions, including content control (content filtering and blocking), are left to tech companies that, among other things, are mandated to:
-develop technical solutions to prevent the upload of violent terrorist and extremist content;
-provide greater transparency in detecting and removing content;
-implement regular reporting;
-ensure that algorithms developed and used by the companies do not lead users to extremist content.
The Call also lists several joint commitments for government and online service providers, including:
-accelerating research into and developing technical solutions;
-ensuring appropriate cooperation with and among law enforcement agencies for the purposes of investigating and prosecuting illegal online activity;
-developing processes allowing governments and online service providers to respond rapidly, effectively and in a coordinated manner to the dissemination of terrorist or violent extremist content.
GIFCT to the Rescue
Global tech companies began to respond to the governmental calls to flag dangerous online content long before the tragedy in Christchurch. For instance, in June 2017, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube formed the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) under the auspices of the United Nations. The Forum’s participants pledged:
- to develop and share technology to responsibly address terrorist content across the industry;
- to fund research and share good practices in order to develop viable methods of countering dangerous content.
The European Commission supported the Forum, allocating €10m in funding to it. Additionally, a $5m joint innovation fund was launched jointly with Google.org for countering hate and extremism. This fund financed non-profits combating hate both online and offline.
GIFCT is based on a multi-stakeholder governance model and actively cooperates with small internet companies, civil society, scientists, and governmental and non-governmental organizations. Through the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism and the Tech Against Terrorism programme spearheaded by the United Nations, the Forum has worked with over a hundred tech companies throughout the world. Conferences for stakeholders have been held in Europe, the Asia Pacific and Silicon Valley. Additionally, GIFCT members attend G7 ministerial meetings and actively interact with Europol.
At the same time, the Forum is not open to everyone. In November 2019, China’s rapidly developing internet platform TikTok was denied membership because it did not meet the established criteria, including compliance with certain human rights requirements and the publication of transparency reports. The Forum’s members are concerned that TikTok may be collecting data and engaging in censorship.
Methods of Countering Dangerous Content
The principal method of countering dangerous content is the constant updating of the general industry “hash” database. “Hashes” are unique digital “fingerprints” of terrorist and extremist content (photos and videos). This database allows any Forum member to automatically detect and remove illegal content from their digital platforms prior to it going public. In the two years since its launch, GIFCT has accumulated over 200,000 unique hashes. In addition to this database, Forum members have been able to share URLs linked to terrorist and extremist content securely with their sectoral partners since January 2019.
As of today, 13 companies and services have access to the database: Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Ask.fm, Cloudinary, Instagram, JustPaste.it, LinkedIn, Verizon Media, Reddit, Snap and Yellow. As we can see, access has mostly been granted to companies based in the United States.
To support the Christchurch Call, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft released joint statement on expanding the GIFCT’s activities and listing nine steps on countering terrorist and extremism content online. Nearly half of these steps need to involve government agencies and other stakeholders. These actions include, among other things:
- creating better feedback methods for reporting illegal content
- enhancing technology through additional investment
- cooperating with the sectoral, governmental and non-governmental bodies with a view to developing a protocol for rapid response to illegal actions
- publishing regular reports on transparency concerning flagging and removing terrorist content
More New Initiatives
The Christchurch Call also generated new institutions, instruments and forms of business cooperation with governmental agencies and civil society bodies.
In September 2019, GIFCT was transformed into an independent organization. The Forum’s participants announced that they would be expanding cooperation between companies, governmental agencies and experts.
To support the “call to action,” the companies agreed to take additional steps:
-set up formal channels of communication so they can share intelligence and content with non-GIFCT companies and other stakeholders;
-introduce joint content incident protocols to enable and empower companies to more quickly and effectively respond to illegal online activities (such a protocol describes steps companies could take for a rapid response to an attack).
The Christchurch Call Advisory Network will be set up to ensure that the measures adopted to counter dangerous content do not violate human rights. The network will comprise civil society organizations that aim to “integrate a broad range of perspectives and live up to the commitments in the Call around supporting human rights and online freedoms, as well as the rights of victims of terror.”
It is also worth noting here that, in September 2019, Microsoft, Hewlett Foundation, MasterCard and several other large IT corporations, together with a number of charity foundations, launched the CyberPeace Institute intended to aid victims of cybercrime.
“Occupational Aptitude” Test
A tragedy in Germany served as the first major occupational aptitude test for the overhauled GIFCT. On October 9, 2019, several shooters opened fire in the vicinity of a synagogue in Halle and uploaded a video of the attack. The video remained on Twitch for 65 minutes and was seen by 2200 people. Copies were distributed via Telegram, 4chan and other services (none of which are GIFCT members).
The video of the shooting was not spread via larger online platforms, such as Facebook and YouTube, which GIFCT saw as a positive shift in countering extremist content. This was largely due to the abovementioned Content Incident Protocol (CIP). Actions taken under the protocol include: a) promptly uploading hashes of the attacker’s video, its derivatives, and other related content into the shared GIFCT hash database; and b) promptly notifying Europol and the government of Germany about the incident.
The official website of the Forum notes that the incident uncovered vulnerabilities where additional work on mechanisms for countering dangerous content is needed. Moreover, the Forum’s members intend to simplify the decision-making process, step up the exchange of information with various stakeholders and ensure that the blocking system is continually improved.
One Goal, Different Approaches
Russia was not involved with the Christchurch call and the new institutions and mechanisms it generated. The media reported that Russian companies had not been invited to sign the document.
At the same time, representatives of Russian online platforms said that their own rules generally comply with the contents of the Call. The Odnoklassniki social network welcomes the introduction of rules for handling extremist content. Additionally, the network continuously improves its tools for the rapid detection and blocking of prohibited content. For this purpose, it primarily uses so-called neural networks that have learned to identify depictions of violence in accordance with set patterns and hide dangerous content from public access. Another social network, VKontakte, also uses neural networks to automatically detect and block extremist content. Pursuant to requests from users or governmental agencies, dangerous posts are blocked within minutes.
The Russian government was also not involved with the Christchurch Call, since it had not been invited to join the discussion of the document and endorse it.
We can assume that the Call in its current form, despite its good intentions, would hardly suit the Russian side. We have already mentioned that the Christchurch Call is a pure public-private partnership that assigns significant responsibilities to private companies. Russia, on the other hand, invariably emphasizes the importance of public-private partnerships while maintaining the leading role of the state in handling security issues. Other stakeholders (non-governmental organizations, private companies, etc.) are assigned supporting roles. Western companies, on the contrary, stress the leading role of businesses in this issue. For instance, Tom Burt, Corporate Vice President for Customer Security and Trust at Microsoft, noted in his blog, “The internet is the creation of the private sector, which is primarily responsible for its operation, evolution and security.” He believes that governments should play an important role in observing and enforcing standards of conduct in cyberspace and in preventing harmful attacks by other nations.
Despite these different approaches, there are certain common points where Russian and Western interests overlap:
- Tightening control over online information flows.
- Involving various stakeholders in the process of resolving the problem.
The danger of illegal content spreading over the internet is a global cross-border threat. Russia does not censor the internet like China does with its Great Firewall. Millions of Russian citizens use Western internet platforms, browsers and messengers, and the dangerous content spread there is our problem too. What matters in this regard is the dialogue between parties, even if Russia (through the government or private companies) was not a signatory to the Christchurch Call to Action and is not a member of the organizations affiliated with it. It is important that we make use of those areas where Russian and Western interests overlap, since we travel different roads to the same goal – cleansing the information space of dangerous content.
Communication channels between Russian and Western stakeholders need to be set up, and agreements need to be reached on the means of interacting and cooperating. Criteria need to be defined for flagging extremist and terrorist content to prevent misidentification. And technical solutions need to be shared.
An open-ended intergovernmental expert committee could serve as a platform for sharing opinions on the problem with a view to drafting an international convention on countering the criminal use of information and communication technologies.
 A total of 17 states supported the Christchurch Call At the Paris Summit on May 15, 2019 (the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, India, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Senegal, Spain and Sweden), as did the European Commission and eight tech companies (Amazon, Daily Motion, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Qwant, Twitter and YouTube).
From our partner RIAC
Pakistan is Not Duplicitous When It Comes to Militancy – It is Just Trapped
Pakistan being labeled as duplicitous today when it comes to militancy by external governments and the international media is not only misinformed but outrageously inaccurate. When it comes to tackling militancy and extremism, Pakistan is one of the only countries that has successfully defeated major terrorist groups (whilst keeping in line with humanitarian standards) and has thwarted a massive insurgency.
Nonetheless, it is also true that the country remains stuck between a rock and a hard place. This predicament originates because of militant groups that are not inherently anti-Pakistan. Pakistan has conducted various military operations against numerous terror outfits, of which the most recent Operation Zarb-e-Azb was, and continues to be, the most successful in undermining terrorist efforts in the country – the security condition has vastly improved in the country in recent years. Unlike the Sri Lankan counterinsurgency model which militarily defeated the Tamil Tigers using indiscriminate means (leading to countless civilian casualties), Pakistan’s Zarb-e-Azb adopted a more humane approach, and was praised by US commanders and the Pentagon. The process in Zarb-e-Azb was generally as follows: A militant-infested area was cordoned off while the villagers/townspeople were conveyed to leave the area. After this, the village elders, the local government, and the military screened exiting people to ensure that no insurgents were trying to escape in the guise of civilians. The civilians were then relocated to internally displaced people (IDP) camps until the battle had ceased – the army and air force fought against terrorists only when all civilians had left.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb, led by the Pakistan Army and supported by the Pakistan Air Force, “broke the backbone” of the biggest purveyor of terrorism in the country, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). As peace and security return to the country, there still exist small pockets of radical groups in certain areas that are not anti-Pakistan, but target other countries and forces instead.
The issue, therefore, is how to engage such residual groups, specifically the Lashkar-e-Taiba or LeT (now known as the Jamat-ud-Dawa) and the Haqqani network, which comes under the umbrella of the Taliban, both of whom have enjoyed Pakistani patronage in the past. The operative word being “past”.
Some historical context here is required to cognize why the country is between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”. Since the 1947 partition of the subcontinent, which led to the newly formed states of Pakistan and India, Kashmir’s territorial dispute has become the raison d’être for the hostility between both countries, with each claiming jurisdiction over the former princely state. To undermine India and counter Indian hostilities in Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan (post-independence) initiated a policy of empowering and funding non-state militias such as the LeT. Although Pakistan once supported these groups, it clamped down on such efforts since 9/11 and the war on terror due to international pressure that proved disastrous for the country. Regardless of this suppression by Pakistan, some groups remain active as they view themselves as freedom fighters similar to Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon. These groups could attack India with or without the authorization or complicity of state authorities in Pakistan. India cites Pakistan as the oxygen for the Kashmiri freedom movement and maintains that it supports militancy in the valley, while Pakistan claims that it does not support any proxy groups anymore and that Indian barbarities against Kashmiris are the true fuel.
Many international commentators today agree with the Pakistani stance, that is, that Pakistan had supported militant groups such as the LeT in Indian Administered Kashmir (IAK) in the past, but it has significantly reduced these efforts and therefore the current resistance and the anger of Kashmiris against India is considered homegrown. Indian scholars like Mridu Rai also state that “the oft-asserted contention that Pakistan has created the turmoil in Kashmir ab nihilo is unconvincing”.
Pakistan, with material and financial aid from the United States and Saudi Arabia, trained and assisted Mujahideen forces to combat the Soviet invasion from 1979-1989. The strategy proved successful and the Soviets were defeated. In a continuation of this policy, Pakistan supported the Taliban (and the Haqqani network), helping them seize power in Afghanistan (1996-2001) as they showed promise of being pro-Pakistan.
Pakistan’s woes, however, began when the September 11 attacks took place. After 9/11, President Musharraf faced a stark choice when America arrived with essentially two options: help America or risk war with it. Choosing to side with the Americans or else face a potential war, the country had to publicly rescind their support of the Taliban as they were hosting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and other groups like the LeT. This led to a massive blowback of unfathomable proportions as it plummeted the country into a state of mass internal conflict. Although the LeT and few other groups did not turn anti-Pakistan, many like-minded militant groups did as they discerned the government to be a puppet of America. Pakistan has since then been fighting a predominantly U.S. war that has led to negative spillovers and repercussions for its internal security. India took spectacular advantage of Pakistan’s bleak security situation and poured fuel to the fire, that is, India, akin to Pakistan in the past, initiated its own proxy warfare in the country.
Since the mid-2000s, India has and continues to use Afghanistan to carry out attacks in Pakistan’s Balochistan province – this was proven by the confession of the apprehended Indian spy, Khulbashan Jadav. The Armed Forces of Pakistan have been fighting these extremist elements since 2001, with terrorism only declining to record lows in recent years. As earlier mentioned, the country has fought and militarily defeated various militant groups such as the TTP, Punjabi Taliban, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkestan Islamic Movement, etcetera. Other than these anti-Pakistan groups, there remained certain groups that displayed no or a lack of hostility towards the country regardless of events unfolded – the two most influential being the LeT and the Haqqani network. The absence of anti-Pakistan inclinations in these groups due to them still maintaining relations with the country’s intelligence agencies has been heavily debated. The international community especially America and India see both these entities as terrorist groups that must be neutralized – with India especially mentioning the LeT and America mainly identifying the Haqqanis.
What is the “Rock” and What is the “Hard Place”?
Fingers have repeatedly been pointed towards Pakistan’s alleged support to both groups, which the country has vehemently denied ad nauseam. The question then arises: why not target these groups if the allegations are faux? The answer is rooted in history and its acrimonious reminder to Pakistan, that is, the country cannot antagonize these outfits and risk staring down the barrel of another mass insurgency as was the case after 9/11 – this is the “rock.”
Groups like LeT have a significant popular base in Pakistan as they engage in social work (schools, hospitals, rehabilitation, and so on) besides militancy and the country would not want to cause a civil uproar in certain areas by targeting them. Conversely, the Haqqani network is well connected to various extremist groups including ones that the military has targeted and fragmented due to its operations – hence antagonizing the Haqqanis will not only bring forth their wrath but also might reinvigorate fragmented extremist groups if they align themselves or get subsumed by the Haqqanis. Secondly, since the Haqqanis are a part of the Taliban umbrella, targeting them could mean the withering away of the America-backed intra-Afghan peace process in which Pakistan has played a pivotal role. It would frankly be an exercise in absurdity if the Haqqanis are targeted while the Taliban is negotiating with the Afghan government and the United States. Simultaneously, however, Pakistan cannot afford to be constantly labeled as duplicitous by the international arena despite previous and ongoing counterterrorism endeavors and sacrifices made by thousands of its soldiers and citizens.
The pressure after Trump taking office augmented spectacularly on the country, and Pakistan was publically called out by Trump for harboring terrorists; in January 2018, the White House moved to block $2 billion in military aid allocated to Pakistan – therefore international pressure to “do more” is the “hard place”. Although, since Imran Khan’s visit to America and the inception of the previously mentioned intra-Afghan dialogue, relations seem to have relatively improved between the two countries – however, international pressure still remains and Biden’s stance is yet to be ascertained. One avenue this pressure is manifested through is the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – the FATF is a global watchdog that combats money laundering and terror financing. Pakistan has been on the FATF’s (Financial Action Task Force) grey list for over two years. Pakistan obviously wants to exit this list and improve its global image. The worst-case scenario would be for the country to descend into the blacklist.
Stuck within these limitations of not being able to militarily engage such groups because it could initiate another insurgency and being internationally called out for not neutralizing all militant groups, Pakistan is at a crossroads. Pakistan must engage the LeT and Haqqani network in such a manner that it demilitarizes them without any repercussions for the country itself. For countries to doubt Pakistan’s motivations to eliminate militancy, after so much blood has been shed, signals that a departure from this rigid mindset is required.
Pakistan has proven to be one of the few countries in the modern world to have militarily defeated a terrorist insurgency (without indiscriminate means) – although much remains to be done on the non-military level. Behind Afghanistan, Pakistan has suffered the most in terms of lives lost as well as economic damage due to the American-led war on terror – therefore Pakistan understands better than most the ignominious consequences of an insurgency. This rightfully indicates that Pakistan does not want to act precipitously and antagonize militant outfits which might lead to another bloody war, especially with a frail economy and IMF loans to pay off. On the other hand, Pakistan must also show the world that its targeting of militant groups is not selective but extends to all others.
Pakistan is walking a tightrope regionally and internationally and will have to continue to do the same until a permanent solution can be found. Currently, the Hindutva-oriented India of the BJP and Pakistan are more likely to go to war than to achieve any kind of rapprochement. However, if Pakistan can find a way to dismiss this opinion of being duplicitous and that it supports militancy, then things could improve between India (assuming the BJP’s Islamophobic and pro-Hindu policies also change) and Pakistan as well as Pakistan augmenting its international image. Although offering solutions is beyond the scope of this article, one possible way would be to politicize the LeT and Haqqani Network, the former of which already has a political party. History is full of examples of militant groups disarming and becoming a part of the political arena; from the Sinn Féin/IRA (Irish Republican Army) in Northern Ireland to the Nelson Mandela-led uMkhonto we Sizwe in South Africa. There is even an example as recently as 2017 when the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) unarmed itself and started a political party in Colombia. Lastly, the two primary takeaways from this article are:
- The international arena should give Pakistan the credit it deserves in dismantling one of the biggest terror groups in the world and discern that Pakistan’s support for militancy is a thing of the past.
- Concurrently, Pakistan needs to stop the tightrope walk and create an implementable plan that disarms the remaining militant groups, or else the “do more” rhetoric of the Americans and Indians will never cease.
US-led ‘Psychological Wars’ Against Russia, China Lead to All Lose Situation
Andrei Ilnitsky, an advisor to Russian defense minister, said in an interview at the end of March that the US and the West are waging a “mental war” against Russia. Why does the West resort to the psychological war? How will Russia cope with the psychological war? Global Times (GT) reporters Wang Wenwen and Lu Yuanzhi interviewed Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, on these issues by email.
What are the features of such a psychological war?
There is nothing new about psychological wars – they have always been a part of standard military operations. The goal has been to demoralize both your enemy’s army and its population at large in order to break down the will of your opponent to fight and to resist. Ancient kings, emperors and warlords broadly used over-exaggeration, deception, disinformation, mythology, and so on. However, today states commonly use these instruments of psychological wars not only during military conflicts, but in the peacetime as well. Moreover, new information technology offers plenty of innovative ways to get your message to select target audiences in a foreign country; you can customize and focus this message as never before. Each of us is a target in this warfare, even if we do not feel it.
The US-led West used to wage color revolutions on countries they deem as adversaries. What are the differences between the color revolution and the psychological war? Why does the West resort to the psychological war?
A color revolution is an unconstitutional regime change caused by sizeable and sometimes violent street activities of the radical opposition. Western leaders usually welcome such changes and arguably render them diverse political, organizational and financial assistance. Nevertheless, a regime change cannot come from nowhere. There should be significant political, social, economic or ethnic problems that, if remain unresolved for a long time, gradually lead to a color revolution. Psychological wars help to articulate unresolved problems, deprive the leadership of a target country of legitimacy in the eyes of its own population and, ultimately, prepare a color revolution.
What are the likely outcomes for the West’s psychological war on Russia? How will Russia cope with the psychological war?
Russian authorities are trying to limit opportunities for the West to wage the psychological war by exposing Western disinformation and imposing restrictions on select Western media, NGOs and foundations that are perceived as instruments of waging the war.
Is the West capable of launching a military offensive on Russia?
Russia remains a nuclear superpower with very significant military capabilities. A nuclear war with Moscow could lead to the annihilation of the humankind and therefore cannot be considered a feasible option. Even a full-fledged conventional conflict between Russia and the West in Europe would turn into a catastrophe of an epic scale for both sides. It does not necessarily mean that we can rule out such a scenario, but I think that if there were a war, it would erupt because of an inadvertent escalation rather than because of a rational decision to launch a military offensive.
The West has never dropped the illusion of changing China’s and Russia’s systems to that similar of the West by adopting the tactic of “peaceful evolution.” How could Russia and China join hands in face of such Western attempts?
Indeed, many in the West still believe that their system has a universal value and that eventually both Russia and China should move to Western-type liberal political systems. These views are less popular now than they were twenty or thirty years ago, but we cannot ignore them. Moscow and Beijing have the right to defend themselves against the Western ideological and psychological offensive. Still, I see the solution to the problem of psychological wars in a “psychological peace” should be based on a common understanding on what is allowed in the international information exchange and what is not. Russia and China could work together in defining a new code of conduct regulating the trans-border information flows. In the immediate future, the West will be reluctant to accept this code, but we should keep trying. In my view, this is the only way to proceed; if psychological wars continue, there will be no winners and losers – everybody will lose.
From our partner RIAC
Boko Haram: Religious Based Violence and Portrayal of Radical Islam
Modern-day global and domestic politics have set forth the trend that has legitimized and rationalized the use of religion as a tool to attain political gravity and interests. Similarly, many religion-oriented groups use religion to shape their political agenda and objectives, often using religion as a justification for their violent activities. Most of these mobilized groups are aligned with Islam. These groups have promoted religion-based violence and have also introduced new waves and patterns in global terrorism. Some prominent organized groups that attain world attention include Boko Haram, ISIS, Al- Qaeda, and the Taliban. These groups have potentially disrupted the political establishment of their regions. Although, a comparative insight delivers that these various organizations have antithetical political objectives but these groups use Islam to justify their violent actions and strategies based on violence and unrest.
The manifesto of Boko Haram rests on Islamic principles i.e. establishing Shariah or Islamic law in the region. A system that operates to preserve the rights of poor factions of the society and tends to promote or implement Islamic values. Hence, in this context, it negates westernization and its prospects. However, the rise of Boko Haram was based on anti-western agenda which portrayed that the existing government is un-Islamic and that western education is forbidden. Hence, the name Boko Haram itself delivered the notion that western culture or civilization is forbidden. Boko Haram has a unique political and religiously secular manifesto. Boko Haram was formed by Mohammad Yusuf, who preached his agenda of setting up a theocratic political system through his teachings derived from Islam. And countered the existing governmental setup of the Christians. The violent dynamics surged in 2009 when an uprising against the Nigerian government took the momentum that killed almost 800 people. Following the uprising, Mohammad Yusuf was killed and one of his lieutenants Abu Bakar Shekau took the lead.
Boko Haram used another violent strategy to gain world attention by bombing the UN Compound in Abuja that killed twenty-three people. The incident led to the declaration of Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organizationby the United States Department. Thus, the group continued the process of violence and also started to seize several territories like Bama, Dam boa, and Abadan. They also extended their regional sphere in terms of occupation using violent strategies. The violence intensified when in the year 2014, 276 girls were abducted from Girl’s school in Chibok. This immediately triggered global outrage and developed an image of religious extremism and violence. This process continued over the years; one reported case articulated that a Christian girl ‘Lean Shairbu’ was kept in captivity for a prolonged period upon refusal to give up her religion. Ever since, the violence has attained an upward trajectory, as traced in the case of mass Chibok abduction and widespread attack in Cameroon in the years 2020 and 2021.
After establishing a regional foothold Boko Haram improvised new alliances especially in 2015 after the government recaptured some of its territories that pushed the militant group near Lake Chad and to the hilly areas. Consequently, Abu Bakar Shekau turned towards international alliance and pledged its allegiance to IS. This created two branches of Boko Haram called Jamat u Ahlis Liddawatiwal Jihad (JAS) headed by Abu Bakar Shekau and Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) lead by Musab Al Barnarwai. The ISWAP developed strong social, political, and strategic roots in the region. It has embedded itself socially in the hearts and minds of people by establishing their caliphate and judicial system.
The pattern of religion-based conflicts has transformed the global religious conflicts. That is often referred to as extremist terrorism based on religion. Hence the rise of Boko Haram also involved demographics that complimented their political objectives. As the state of Nigeria is an amalgamation of Christians and Muslims; and has been constructed as a distinct ethno-lingual society, historically. The Christians resided in the South of Nigeria while the Muslims were located in Northern Nigeria. The northern side suffered from poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and public health issues under the government of Goodluck Jonathan. His government was centrally weak and marginalized the Northern side. This also contributed as one of the major factors that granted an edge for the influence and legitimacy of Boko Haram. Therefore, the main reason that triggered the organization and its move was based on Islamic principles of Jihad and Tajdid. This presents new notions of religion to recruit and incorporate more people into their community. The concept of Jihad has been historically driven which reflects and justifies acts against the unjust state and its authority. It also expands the capacity for social hostilities against the non-religious entities promoting hatred and non-acceptance. This also breeds religious extremism and rigidity that further validates the use of violence on their behalf. Hence Jihad acts as a driving force to strive against the un-Islamic state structure for Islamic religious social fabric. Moreover, this religiously derived conception of violent confrontation has always been legitimized in terms of the historic concept of war and terms of self-defense.
As a radical and contemporary religious belief; Jihad is regarded as the manifestation of religious violence and extremist terrorism. The establishment of the caliphate and state-like institutions represents a radical Salafist view regarding the establishment of the Islamic state structure. The ISWAP acts as a pseudo-state or state with in state that has established its authority and control. The reflection of another religious proclamation ofTajdid refers to the renewal of religious norms that aims at reconstruction or reset of social structure in accordance with Islamic values. Jihad and Tajdid collaboratively serve to generate notions about the reset of the political framework as an Islamic state system. The socio-religious reconstruction is particularly divergent from the western one. As western societies are often pluralistic, while Boko Haram’s vision aims as establishing Islamic social composition. Moreover, the western setup provided constitutional provisions to women in terms of rights, freedom, education, and liberty. This completely contradicted their conceptualization of women. Hence, this also generated gender-based violence as means to protect Islamic values. This was closely witnessed during the abduction of girls from their school. Furthermore, Islamic radicalization has been pursued through different channels that have extensively contributed to narrative building amongst the population, propaganda, and the development of a religious mindset in the African region. One of the most prominent tactics used for the purpose has been achieved through the propagation of literature. The scholars started to preach about Jihad and its implications since the 15th Century. The channel continues to date where the teachers preach about these scholarly findings that further encourages the youth to turn towards radical Islamization. The degree of radicalization elevates as Boko Haram propagates the concept of exclusivism that tends to oppose other value systems and beliefs. This creates a rift the society and deteriorates the sense of co-existence. As a result, Boko Haram represents a destructive paradox that promotes religious extremism and violence through misinterpretation of Islamic principles. Pursuing the political agenda of Boko Haram under the banner of Islamic law; which is power-oriented and would help them maintain dominance politically, economically, and territorially in the African region.
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