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Confusion on Boko Haram and Terrorism

Boko Haram’s explicit goal is the imposition of sharia law, first in Nigeria (because that’s where they are) but ultimately worldwide. Even then-Secretary Clinton, despite failing to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, acknowledged in congressional testimony that Boko Haram shared al Qaeda’s “jihadist” ideology (see the clip Bret played last night—jihadist is the word Clinton used … no doubt because the Obama administration was being criticized at the time for suppressing it). This jihadist ideology does not recognize national borders, so it is foolish to portray it as content to wage local wars for political control of this country or that. It sees the world as Dar al-Harb (the realm of war) versus Dar al-Islam, in which the latter must conquer the former. In fact, as I noted here at Ordered Liberty a few days ago—citing Tom Joscelyn’s Long War Journal partner, Bill Roggio—Boko Haram’s leader, Abubaker Shekau, explicitly threatened the United States (in sympathy with al Qaeda) in 2010: “Do not think jihad is over. Rather, jihad has just begun. America, die with your fury.” Like al Qaeda, Boko Haram sees itself as at war with the West and non-Muslims generally, not just with the Nigerian government.

I will be presumptuous again regarding what George Will may be thinking because I have expressed a similar frustration for many years. I’ve always objected to the term “War on Terror.” My problem with it is not just that “terrorism” is a tactic rather than an identifiable group of people, and therefore that the term “War on Terror” conveys a reluctance to name the enemy we are fighting against. It is also that the imprecision of the term “War on Terror” easily lends itself to mission creep: You start out fighting jihadists who mass-murdered Americans and the next thing you know you’re in a (now) thirteen-year-old futile experiment to bring Western democracy to sharia societies—a mission that very few Americans would have supported using our troops for but one that slipstreamed behind the effort to fight “terror.” After a while, under the same spell of political correctness that produced the term “War on Terror” in the first place, the government is institutionalizing procedures that undermine liberty under the guise of combatting “terror”—e.g., intrusive, non-particularized, unreasonable searches of everyone who wants to get on a plane or enter a building, 99.999 percent of whom clearly pose no threat to anyone.

If what George Will is saying is that we should be clear in what we mean by “terrorism” so that we have an accurate understanding of who the real enemy is, he is right. But you do not advance your understanding, or your security, by failing to call real terrorists terrorists. Boko Haram jihadists are real terrorists and their organization should have been designated as a terrorist organization several many years ago.