NIGERIANS, and indeed Africans may not be jubilating as Syria, Tuesday, moved towards ending its civil war. It took a firm grip of the Idlib Province eliminating terrorists, including those of the al Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIS and forcing the remnants to flee. We are not ecstatic because we do not readily make the link between terrorism or the terrorists being eliminated in Syria and those terrorising African countries like Mali and Somalia.
We do not realise that the Boko Haram terrorising Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria killing about 20,000 people and displacing over 2.3 million others, is actually the Islamic State of West Africa Province; the regional arm of ISIS. We do not realise that by fighting their war against the terrorists, the Syrians are also fighting our own wars against terrorists in Africa; rather than support Syria, we are distracted by nebulous claims about democracy in that country.
The ISIS is like al Qaeda, a creation of feudal Arab, American and Western power miscalculation. It trained, funded and nurtured Boko Haram, and wielded so much power within that organisation that it could choose its leaders. ISIS which was formally created in June 2014 under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been the most vicious and audacious jihadi group in contemporary history. The Obama administration initially claimed ISIS, which declared a caliphate on Iraqi and Syrian lands with a ten-million population, was a liberation movement to take out the Al-Assad administration and restore ‘democracy’ in Syria.
Today, ISIS is operational in over a dozen countries, including Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Philippines wherein 2017, it seized the city of Marawi. In Africa, it is active in Somalia, Egypt, Libya, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. But inexplicably, American President Donald Trump has 16 times since December 19, 2018, declared ISIS defeated or dead.
In that first statement, he declared: “We have won against ISIS”. He said due to this victory, he was withdrawing American troops from Syria and reducing the 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan by half. In protest, then Defence Secretary, James Mattis, next day, resigned. But the illusory defeat of ISIS became a Trump singsong. His outlandish claims do not show an understanding of terrorism which is the intentional use of violence or force against people and property for political ends. He does not seem to comprehend that it is a weapon employed over the ages which like the gun, depends on who is wielding it and for what purpose.
Trump’s declarations do not take into consideration the fact that terrorism is not about seizing or losing territory as happened to the al-Bagdadi caliphate. Rather, terrorism is a parasitic organism in human society. What is terrorism or who is a terrorist, quite often, depends on who is making the definition. For instance, when the Algerians refused to be assimilated into France and demanded independence, the French labelled them terrorists. In order to remove the ‘terrorists’, France drowned that country in an ocean of blood in which about two million people were killed. Depending on who is writing this history, the terrorists, in this case, could be the Algerian liberation fighters or the French imperialists.
In the case of Kenya, the British colonialists, in the name of fighting terrorism, unleashed terror on the populace for eight years from 1952, officially killing over 10,000 Kenyans and displacing 1.2 million. For good measure, the British built pen-like detention camps to which they herded the Kenyan populace. When Dedan Kimathi, the Kenyan pro-independence leader, was arrested, he was summarily tried at the Nyeri colonial court and sentenced to death. The colonialists then erected a temporary tower beside the court, hanged Kimathi and transported his corpse to the Kamiti Prison where he was buried in an unmarked grave so his body will never be discovered. That was terrorism at work.
In 1956, when Cyprus demanded independence, the British seized leading political figures, including Archbishop Makarios. When he refused to denounce the use of violence, they accused him of “actively fostering terrorism” and deported him to Seychelles where he spent three years in exile. Similarly, when Nelson Mandela and other incarcerated liberation fighters refused to renounce armed struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the United States and Britain denounced them as terrorists. After a phone call with Mandela in July 1990, five months after his release from 27-year incarceration, then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher still thought of Mandela as a terrorist with a “rather a closed mind”.
Referring to Mandela and the ANC, President Ronald Reagan said in a 1986 statement: “The South African government is under no obligation to negotiate the future of the country with any organisation that proclaims a goal of creating a communist state, and uses terrorist tactics and violence to achieve it.” Until 2008, Mandela remained on the American Terrorist Watch List!
On the other hand, a country that was born by terrorism is Israel. Those who migrated to establish the new state used terrorism as a primary weapon. In one of their most infamous terror campaigns, the Israelis in 1946, bombed the King David Hotel killing 93 persons with over 50 injured. The two leading terrorist groups in pre-Independence Israel were the Irgun whose last commander-in-chief was Menachem Begin, who became Prime Minister from 1977-86, and the Stern Gang, one of whose senior commanders, Yitzhak Shamir became a two-term Prime Minister. Benzion Netanyahu, the father of current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was the personal secretary of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of the Irgun.
It is not only non-state actors like Timothy James McVeigh, the 1995 Oklahoma City bomber who killed 168 persons and injured 680, or Mohammed el-Amir Atta who led the 911 attacks which killed 2,996 and injured more than 6,000, that consciously execute terrorist acts, modern states also do. For example, Posada-Carriles Luis Clemente Posada Carriles, an American Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, agent on October 6, 1976, bombed a civilian Cuban airliner, Cubana de Aviación Flight 455 on a flight from Barbados to Jamaica killing the 77 persons on board. He was jailed in Venezuela for his crime, but escaped to the United States which protected him until his death on May 23, 2018, some 42 years after the bombing.
In another case, the United States under President Ronald Reagan went from training and funding Nicaraguan terrorists called the Contras, to actually carrying out terrorist attacks by mining civilian ports in Nicaragua and blowing up civilian ships. The International Court of Justice, ICJ, on June 27, 1986, found the US guilty of these terrorist attacks. Terrorism is an ideology based on religion, politics and/or motives of greed; so long as humans exist, so shall terrorism.