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The ‘Post-Covid-19 World’ Will Never Come

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On May 3rd, the New York Times bannered “Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe” and reported that “there is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever.”

In other words: the ‘news’-sources that were opposing the governments’ taking action against Covid-19 — libertarian ’news’-sites that oppose governmental laws and regulations, regardless of the predominant view by the vast majority of the scientists who specialize in studying the given subject — are looking wronger all the time, as this “novel coronavirus” (which is what it was originally called) becomes less and less “novel,” and more and more understood scientifically.

The “herd immunity” advocates for anti-Covid-19 policies have been saying that governments should just let the virus spread until nature takes its course and such a large proportion of the population have survived the infection as to then greatly reduce the likelihood that an uninfected person will become infected. An uninfected person will increasingly be surrounded by people who have developed a natural immunity to the disease, and by people who don’t and never did become infected by it. The vulnerable people will have become eliminated (died) or else cured, and so they won’t be spreading the disease to others. That’s the libertarian ’solution’, the final solution to the Covid-19 problem, according to libertarians.

For example, on 9 April 2020, Forbes magazine headlined “After Rejecting A Coronavirus Lockdown, Sweden Sees Rise In Deaths” and reported that, “Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has continuously advocated for laid back measures, saying on Swedish TV Sunday that the pandemic could be defeated by herd immunity, or the indirect protection from a large portion of a population being immune to an infection, or a combination of immunity and vaccination. However, critics have argued that with a coronavirus vaccine could be more than a year away, and insufficient evidence that coronavirus patients that recover are immune from becoming infected again, the strategy of relying on herd immunity and vaccinations [is] ineffective.”

The libertarian proposal of relying upon “herd immunity” for producing policies against this disease has continued, nonetheless.

CNN headlined on 28 April 2020, “Sweden says its coronavirus approach has worked. The numbers suggest a different story”, and reported that 

On March 28, a petition signed by 2,000 Swedish researchers, including Carl-Henrik Heldin, chairman of the Nobel Foundation, called for the nation’s government to “immediately take steps to comply with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations.”

The scientists added: “The measures should aim to severely limit contact between people in society and to greatly increase the capacity to test people for Covid-19 infection.”

“These measures must be in place as soon as possible, as is currently the case in our European neighboring countries,” they wrote. “Our country should not be an exception to the work to curb the pandemic.”

The petition said that trying to “create a herd immunity, in the same way that occurs during an influenza epidemic, has low scientific support.”

Swedish authorities have denied having a strategy to create herd immunity, one the UK government was rumored to be working towards earlier on in the pandemic — leading to widespread criticism — before it enforced a strict lockdown.

FORTUNE magazine headlined on 30 July 2020, “How parts of India inadvertently achieved herd immunity”, and reported that, “Around 57% of people across parts of India’s financial hub of Mumbai have coronavirus antibodies, a July study found, indicating that the population may have inadvertently achieved the controversial ‘herd immunity’ protection from the coronavirus.” Furthermore:

Herd immunity is an approach to the coronavirus pandemic where, instead of instituting lockdowns and other restrictions to slow infections, authorities allow daily life to go on as normal, letting the disease spread. In theory, enough people will become infected, recover, and gain immunity that the spread will slow on its own and people who are not immune will be protected by the immunity of those who are. University of Chicago researchers estimated in a paper published in May that achieving herd immunity from COVID-19 would require 67% of people to be immune to the disease. Mayo Clinic estimates 70% of the U.S. population will need to be immune for the U.S. to achieve herd immunity, which can also be achieved by vaccinating that proportion of a population.

On 27 September 2020, Reuters bannered “In Brazil’s Amazon a COVID-19 resurgence dashes herd immunity hopes”, and reported that, “The largest city in Brazil’s Amazon has closed bars and river beaches to contain a fresh surge of coronavirus cases, a trend that may dash theories that Manaus was one of the world’s first places to reach collective, or herd, immunity.”

Right now, the global average of Covid-19 intensity (total cases of the disease thus far) is 19,693 persons per million population. For examples: Botswana is barely below that intensity, at 19,629, and Norway is barely above that intensity, at 20,795. Sweden is at 95,905, which is nearly five times the global average. Brazil is 69,006, which is around 3.5 times worse than average. India is 14,321, which is slightly better than average. USA is 99,754.  

However, the day prior, on May 2nd, America had 30,701 new cases. Brazil had 28,935. Norway had 210. India had 370,059. Sweden’s latest daily count (as-of May 3rd) was 5,937 on April 29th, 15 times Norway’s 385 on that date. Sweden’s population is 1.9 times that of Norway. India’s daily count is soaring. Their population is four times America’s, but the number of new daily cases in India is twelve times America’s. Whereas India has had only one-seventh as much Covid-19 intensity till now, India is soaring upwards to become ultimately, perhaps, even worse than America is on Covid-19 performance. And Brazil is already almost as bad as America, on Covid-19 performance, and will soon surpass America in Covid-19 failure.

There is no “herd immunity” against Covid-19, yet, anywhere. It’s just another libertarian myth. But libertarians still continue to believe it — they refuse to accept the data.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Pakistan is Not Duplicitous When It Comes to Militancy – It is Just Trapped

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Pakistan’s Dilemma

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”.

Historical Context

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.

Conclusion

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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US-led ‘Psychological Wars’ Against Russia, China Lead to All Lose Situation

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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

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Boko Haram: Religious Based Violence and Portrayal of Radical Islam

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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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