State Dept. Official: 'Just Not Accurate' to Characterize Boko Haram as Muslim
A State Department official told a Senate hearing on terrorism in Nigeria this morning that "Boko Haram is trying to portray its philosophy as being a Muslim philosophy, and that's just not accurate."
Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs Chairman Chris Coons (D-Del.) referenced a hearing that he held two years ago, in which lawmakers learned that Boko Haram was training with Al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in an area the size of Texas.
"The hearing that we conducted two years ago could almost literally be repeated today in terms of ongoing structural challenges that have led to this insurgency and have created the conditions and sustained, and in some ways accelerated, the conditions for Boko Haram," Coons said.
Ambassador Robert Jackson, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, stood in on the panel of witnesses for Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who was reportedly traveling. Thomas-Greenfield acknowledged to a House panel last November that while Boko Haram has a "religious bent to what they do, they are non-discriminating in their attacks on people.”
"We join the world, the people of Nigeria and the parents of these children in expressing our outrage at Boko Haram's shocking acts and its perverse ideology," Jackson said. "This tragic kidnapping calls us to redouble our efforts to defeat a malicious terrorist organization that has troubled Nigeria for more than a decade."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) questioned Jackson about whether the administration is properly characterizing the threat.
"Is the prime motivator here of this instance, in your opinion -- is the prime motivator the desire to deny young women access to education and empowerment?" Rubio asked.
"Senator, I actually think the prime motivator is to raise more funds for Boko Haram through ransom," Jackson replied. "However, the fact that Boko Haram opposes Western education is certainly a reason why these girls were targeted."
"Can I suggest that I think there's another motivation that's not getting nearly enough attention, and that is that this is clearly motivated by an anti-Christian attitude of this group," Rubio continued, citing "a grotesque statement" from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau: "It is either you are with jahideen, or you're with the Christians. We know what is happening in this world. It is a jihad war against Christians and Christianity. It is a war against Western education, democracy and constitution... This is what I know in Quran. This is a war against Christians and democracy and their constitution. Allah says we should finish them when we get them."
"I don't think there's any doubt about what's motivating them," Rubio said. "One of their leading motivators here is this is not simply -- and there's no doubt that this is a part of it, but this is not just about girls going to school and it's not just about raising money. There is a strong anti-Christian element of this organization and of this activity. Am I right in saying that?"
"Senator, there is a strong anti-Christian element, but I would offer that more of the thousands of people who have died as a result of Boko Haram's activities are Muslim than Christian," Jackson said.
Rubio stressed "we should not ignore the fact that there is a religious persecution aspect of this that is very significant and deserves attention, especially in light of what we are seeing not just in this part of the world but multiple areas of the world, where we are seeing horrifying instances of religious persecution against Christians, which, in my opinion, has been underreported."
"Senator, I respectfully suggest while anti-Christian sentiment is a strong motivator, the fact of the matter is that Boko Haram is trying to portray its philosophy as being a Muslim philosophy, and that's just not accurate," Jackson said.
"I'm not claiming that this is somehow driven by legitimate teachings of Islam. What I'm arguing is that there is a strong anti-Christian element to this and that it is part of a broader anti-Christian persecution that we are seeing repeatedly throughout the world. Would you disagree with that statement?" the senator asked.
"I do not disagree, but I continue to want to emphasize that Boko Haram terrorizes all people," the State Department official responded.
Jackson said about 85 percent of the more than 200 teens taken from the Chibok secondary school are Christian. Nigeria's population includes about about 60 million Protestants and 20 million Catholics, according to Pew.
Rubio stressed that a crime against Muslims "is no less worse or less bad than a crime against Christians."
"What I'm trying to put aside -- what I'm trying to put forward here is that we cannot continue to ignore that persecution of Christians is a leading motivator not just of what's happening in Boko Haram but in other parts of the world, as well, but in this specific instance, they are clearly motivated by anti-Christian attitudes and anti-Christian beliefs," he said. "And I don't think that's even debatable, given their very own statement."
Shekau boasted in a recent video that the schoolgirls had been forced to convert to Islam.
“These girls, these girls you occupy yourselves with… we have indeed liberated them. These girls have become Muslims,” the terror leader said.