Sean Enke and Kaitlin Adams
#WRNews Twitter Project
December 11, 2015
Boko Haram and its Portrayal in Modern Media
Boko Haram is an Islamic extremist group located primarily in northeastern Nigeria but also present in nearby countries such as Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon. Boko Haram practices Wahhabism, Salafism and Sunni Islamic Fundamentalism, as the core to their ideology. They maintain strict Sharia Law and denounce other Islamic factions such as, Sufi, Shiite, and Izala as infidels. Boko Haram seeks the establishment of an Islamic State in Nigeria and opposes the westernization of Nigerian society, as well as symbols of wealth amongst the political elite. The group, which is identified by many as a radical Islamic terrorist group, was formed in 2002, and became infamous for their “Campaign of Violence” beginning in 2009. More recently in 2015, Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to the Islamic extremist group ISIS (also known as ISIL, IS, or Daesh), becoming an additional faction that is prominent in West Africa.
What started out as relatively small scale skirmishes between Boko Haram militants and the local Nigerian police in 2009, quickly grew to bombings, torture of prisoners, rapes and mass killings/targeting of civilians, military, police and western affiliated personnel (attacks on UN headquarters in addition to US embassy threats) within the next few years to come. By 2011, Boko Haram had begun using vehicle-borne IED attacks to target police headquarters, as well as the UN headquarters in Abuja, resulting in the death of 29. What would be considered non-frequent attacks, steadily rose throughout 2011 to the present, as multiple attacks per week with a wide array of targets: religious figures, civilians, security/military forces and political figures to name a few. Towards the years end, Boko Haram successfully carried out 115 attacks, taking the lives of 550. In 2012, the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency as Boko Haram seized massive areas of territory and slaughtered hundreds as they pushed civilians out of northern Nigeria. Throughout 2013, Boko Haram kidnapped eight French Tourists visiting northern Cameroon, and held them for ransom for their release, while successfully evading the Nigerian army by retreating into mountains on the border of Cameroon.
One of Boko Haram’s most infamous and widely known atrocities took place on April 15, 2014, when Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from the Christian village of Chibok, resulting in a profound response from many media outlets from around the world. As the Nigerian public became impatient with what seemed like their government not taking urgent or appropriate actions, a movement began called “#BringBackOurGirls”, which sparked all over social media and was tweeted over 1.3 million times in less than a month, and over 4 million times in under 2 months (The Washington Post). This movement, which is referred to as a form of “Hashtag Activism”, has been credited as the reason the schoolgirl abduction came to light to the world. After Nigerian lawyer, Ibrahim Abdullahi, started the “#BringBackOurGirls”, it gained instant popularity, but prior to his hashtag, essentially all media outlets were completely unaware of the abduction which had taken place in Chibok. The hashtag quickly made its way to the United States, catching the attention of the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, in which she tweeted a photo less than a month after the abduction took place with the “#BringBackOurGirls” handle. Her tweet alone was retweeted 69,910 times as of December 11, 2015. But the first lady, wasn’t the only widely known political figure to make a stance; Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, spent her 17th birthday in Nigeria, meeting with the parents of the kidnapped girls, as well as those who were lucky enough to escape, to discuss what actions could be done to make progress on rescuing the Chibok girls (The Washington Post). Despite such attention from social media and political figures for the abducted Chibok schoolgirls, little has been done by the Nigerian government to rescue the girls. To make matters worse, on June 22, 2015, two girls believed to be of those who were kidnapped last year, blew themselves up near a crowded mosque in Bauchi, Nigeria, killing at least 30 people (CBS News). Since the introduction of the new President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, a significant step-up in counter attacks has been made against Boko Haram in an attempt to drive the militants out of towns and villages, while rescuing hostages in the process (CBS News).
The facts surrounding the initial kidnapping of the Christian schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria, are straightforward and unbiased. The daunting question of why the Nigerian Army did absolutely nothing to prevent this attack when they had at least four hours’ notice that this sort of attack was imminent has raised concerns within both political parties. The Nigerian Government was warned previous to the kidnapping, and sent a request for an army unit to stand guard at the school, yet no brigade of soldiers had shown up to deter this attack. Because of Nigeria’s inability to contain Boko Haram, they have requested allies such as the United States, to provide assistance. The U.S. provided a team of 27 intelligence professionals, both military and civilian, to provide high-speed intelligence analysis as well as counterintelligence operations. White House Spokesperson Josh Earnest has stated that no U.S. assets, such as drones and other surveillance aircraft will be used while trying to locate the missing girls. Shiza Shahid, CEO and Co-Founder of the Malala Fund, mentioned in an interview with Fox News that she is ecstatic to see the U.S. join the efforts even though it took over three weeks (Fox News). One month following the kidnapping, Boko Haram released a video of school aged girls praying, although their identities could not be confirmed. December 16, 2014, the Nigerian Government released a statement saying there was a ceasefire agreement between the government and Boko Haram in which Boko Haram agreed to release the girls, but on November 1, 2014, Boko Haram denied ever having agreed to a ceasefire. It seems as if our largest problem right now is access to correct information and actually getting the Nigerian Government to combat Boko Haram instead of compromising out of fear. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that the Nigerian Government should be doing much more to ensure that every child has the opportunity to go to school in a secure environment (Fox News). Although these facts are free from bias from media outlets, different sources of opposing viewpoints have distinct separation in how to combat this terror organization. Throughout our research, we have found that liberal news outlets tend to focus on potential political solutions to locate the missing schoolgirls whereas conservatives abandon diplomatic means in favor of a more aggressive approach to further deter these types of attacks. Liberals also stress the recognition of difference between moderate and radical Muslims, but at the same time, they downplay the seriousness of some situations in order to not offend someone, whereas conservatives tend to generalize all Muslims as radicals, further isolating them and making them vulnerable to terror organizations like Boko Haram in an attempt to maintain security.
As a political party as a whole, Democrats are avid protesters in civil rights and privacy, as well as typically favoring diplomatic solutions over military ones. Even when it comes to the treatment of suspected terrorists, democratic ideology extends these civil rights to people who had no regard for the rights of those they murder. Whether or not these terrorists are actually entitled these rights under U.S. law is a gray area, but in the eyes of the Democratic Party, these people are in U.S. custody therefore, they are granted these rights. Because this area is up for interpretation, whether or not suspected terrorists actually have these rights is unclear. One of these civil right guaranteed to Americans is freedom of religion which inarguably fuels many of the issues in the U.S. today. It is unbelievably difficult to deal with those who kill in the name of their religion when our country is founded on the principle that each citizen is free to practice whichever faith they choose. President Obama and former President George W. Bush both clarified that we are not at war with Islam, rather that we were at war with those who kill in the name of religion. At the National Prayer Breakfast in February, Obama mentioned in his speech that killing in the name of religion is not isolated to just Muslims, rather we saw it in the Crusades in which the Christians killed in the name of Christ. President Obama asked everyone to reflect on the perils of religious arrogance and said, “Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. … So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith” (Slate). Obama is highly criticized for recently referring to these types of attacks as “extremism” rather than stating that these attacks are in fact “Islamic extremist” attacks (Slate). This criticism is unwarranted because he is not ignorant to the fact that an overwhelming majority of terror attacks have been carried out in the name of Islam. In his National Prayer Breakfast, he attempted to get everyone to understand the fact that these terror attacks are not representative of Islam, just like Jim Crow Laws and the KKK are not representative of Christians. It is so easy for people who are not Muslim to see that atrocities carried out in Christ’s name do not represent the viewpoint of all Christians but when it comes to Islam, people fail to see the difference between Islam and Radical Islam. This is because of the media, whether Republican or Democratic bias chooses to leave out certain facts in their reports to further their agenda. Recently, Presidential Candidate Donald Trump (who represents the very extreme side of republicans) said if he was to become Head of State, he would require Muslims to carry identification cards as well as contemplate shutting down mosques (Voice of America). Not only is this extremely ignorant, but it infringes on the rights of these Americans, something that the Republicans say can happen to ensure the safety of the country. Donald Trump is a radical Republican, similar to radical Islam in which his viewpoints are not supported by the Republican agenda. Additionally, while the United States comes up with new ways to combat Foreign Terror Organizations, it is important that the privacy of U.S. citizens is not infringed upon. One of the more debated controversies of invasion of privacy is when the TSA announced they would begin using full body scanners on passengers before they board their aircraft. This would undoubtedly decrease security risks because it is essentially an x-ray, where it would be able to detect anything besides a human body, for example, a weapon or bomb. The concern is with the image the scanner takes; an outline of a virtually naked human body that a TSA employee views. No one denies the fact that we need to take drastic measures to counter terrorism, but at what cost to U.S. citizens privacy? This new technology potentially could have prevented the plane crashes of 9/11, but at the same time privacy is put on the back burner. The Democratic Party tends to exhaust all diplomatic means before engaging our military, unlike the Republican point of view and jump the gun to put boots on the ground. Democrats believe we rely way too heavily on our military power and not enough on diplomacy, but it has been shown time and time again that terror organizations, specifically Boko Haram, could care less what we have to say and will only respond to a physical attack.
Republicans uphold a strong stance against terrorism; to protect the homeland at all costs. Violating the rights and privacy of a few U.S. citizens is written off as long as the overall security of the country is upheld. This does in fact go against everything that our country was founded on although it does help in preserving the future security of the United States. Republicans support aggressive pursuit of terroristic threats even if it infringes on privacy and even allowing domestic spying. They tend to believe that force is the only way in combating radical Islam and abandon diplomatic solutions quickly in favor of more aggressive solutions. Republicans think that the White House is taking too passive of an approach, and are too concerned with being politically correct (Washington Examiner). Republicans advocate for a more direct approach in dealing with terror despite having been at war for thirteen years. They say that Obama putting our country on a path of retreat has allowed our enemies to surge, force their ideology on more people and gain ground in the weak countries of northern Africa and the Middle East. Republicans believe that the White House has grossly underestimated the power of these terror groups, such as the Islamic State, who have already shown their ability to wage war on many fronts and take command of key areas throughout Iraq and Syria (Voice of America). John Campbell, former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, said in an interview with Fox News that although the U.S. currently provides intelligence and negotiation assistance to Nigeria, we would consider sending troops to assist in the search if Nigeria requested (Fox News). Nigeria is a “major contributor in combatting terror within Africa, so currently they are looking to help and not be helped”, Campbell states (Fox News). Although 75 percent of Republicans supported Former President George W. Bush’s actions in the Middle East, he states that many Republican’s “anti-Muslim rhetoric was doing the enemies work” (Slate). According to intelligence agencies across the globe, it has been said that up to 25 percent of all Muslims are radical, but by discriminating against all Muslims, Republicans are further isolating them and making them more vulnerable to terror organizations. By saying that up to one fourth of the world’s Muslim population is radical does not mean that these people commit acts of violence, rather their anti-Western views leave them subject to recruitment or may provide support for those who do carry out the attacks (Georgetown).
Due to Boko Haram’s brutish nature and bloodthirst for violence, they have gained a substantial amount of media coverage in recent years. This in return, has created two distinct portrayals of Islamic extremism, specifically Boko Haram’s ideology, by liberal and conservative news outlets. Many liberal media groups condemn Boko Haram’s actions, and spend much time greatly differentiating their Islamic extremist ideology from the rest of the Muslim population of the world. This can sometimes be done to an extent where the safety and or cause of action is ignored, in an attempt to assure pure political correctness. Conservative media outlets have many times grouped the actions of militant organizations, such as Boko Haram, into a broad category with all Muslims, failing to recognize the important differences each have. This is done sometimes out of ignorance, and others in an attempt to maintain the utmost safety, or to achieve a quick and devastating course of action against such extremist groups. Overall, Islamic extremism carried out by such groups as Boko Haram, is a very serious and prevalent problem that needs to be dealt with. Arguably, the most logical way to deal with these threats, is by using a hybrid approach that balances smart, diplomatic negotiating, that is followed by decisive military action if these demands are ignored, and replaced with additional extremist violence.
Chris Wallace, “How should US respond to Boko Haram? Will select committee get to the bottom of Benghazi?” Fox News, 5/11/2014
Olivia Marshall & Chance Seals, “Fox News’ Double Standard On Demanding Officials Decry “Islamic Extremism”,” Media Matters for America, 1/21/2015,
William Saletan, “For Christ’s Sake,” Slate, 2/9/2015,
Charles Hoskinson, “Republicans want toucher action against Islamist extremism,” Washington Examiner, 2/14/2015,
“U.S. Repubicans Call for Tough Response to Terrorism,” VOA News, 11/16/2015,
John L. Esposito, “It’s the Policy tupid: Political Islam and US Foreign Policy,” Georgetown,
Nnamdi Obasi, “Nigeria’s faltering response emboldens Boko Haram,” Al Jazeera, 1/31/2015,
Tom Kutsch, “Anger swells against Nigeria government in response to girl abductions,” Al Jazeera, 5/5/2014,
“Girl suicide bombers kill dozens in Nigeria,” CBS News, 6/22/2015,
“Chibok schoolgirls: Nigeria marks 500 days since Boko Harm militants abducted more than 200 schoolgirls,” ABC, 8/27/2015,
Mariano Castillo, “Nigerians demand better government response to schoolgirl abductions,” CNN, 5/12/2015,