The cowardly links between terrorists and their gods

A year ago, almost to the day, Abubakar Shekau,​ the leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria, said God had ordered him to slaughter hundreds of people.

And so he did. From January 3 for more than a week Boko Haram murdered hundreds perhaps thousands of people in Baga and other villages in Borno province. The killings began with an assault on the headquarters of a taskforce of soldiers from Nigeria, Chad and Niger, but as is the way with atrocities of this nature death spread outwards. Many neighbouring towns were attacked. It is estimated that more than 30,000 people fled.

A screengrab from a video of  Boko Haram shows an abducted girl talking to the camera at an undisclosed rural location.
A screengrab from a video of Boko Haram shows an abducted girl talking to the camera at an undisclosed rural location.  

The most chilling witness account of the carnage of that time comes from a security official in neighbouring province of Yobe. He was describing suicide bombings by two 10-year-old girls in the town of Potiskum. He said: "The second bomber was terrified by the explosion and she tried to dash across the road, but she also exploded."

She also exploded.  

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau: under command of God.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau: under command of God.  Photo: AP

She was 10 years old. She also exploded.

She was 10 years old.


You have to keep saying it to make it real. Just the once and it bounces off the armour of moral decency that has built up over a lifetime. It doesn't pierce the surface.  

This is how terror works: it lives outside comprehension. It succeeds when one asks, How could anyone do that and is then unable to reply. How could they strap a bomb to a 10-year-old girl and send her out into a crowd, knowing that her body would be blasted apart and, hopefully from your point of view, rip apart  that of others. How? The answer is terrifying.

By simply saying, God commanded me. It's the rationale, essentially, of a coward. To offer up the defence of it was not my will, but that of a higher power negates the principle of freedom of choice. Of course within such fanaticism, freedom of choice is submerged under sublimation of whatever the fanatical cause may be. 

In this poisonous essence leaders and followers are merely messengers. It's convenient for the murderer, torturer, invader and crusader.  They do not need to look into their heart. (They wouldn't see anything in any case. It's dark as a sunless denuded landscape of stones.) I don't care if they are sincere in their belief. No amount of sincerity can possibly equate to murder and doing harm to others. 

History is marked with the enormous toll taken by the pitiless actions of men, nations and religions against those who either a) get in the way or b) are useful as product.  We've become better at being civilised – human sacrifices to appease the gods are now in short demand – but still. People strap bombs to 10-year-old girls. (She also exploded.) Boys are abducted to become soldiers, indoctrinated in death, made to live in fear of harm to their parents if they do not kill. Girls are stolen and held as pawns in grubby civil wars, pimped off to men as wives, become trinkets.  

It's a profound shame that the gods are so benign everywhere except in the mind. A god outraged at the violence against the innocent and the child might smote the perpetrators. No one would complain at the intervention. If humans have constructed the surgical strike, surely those on high have the capacity, too.

But we jest. (It's a common reflex action to trauma.) The saving and safeguarding of children in war zones is collateral damage. Last week the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari​ said Boko Haram in its use of IEDs was overwhelming the government. Thousands had died in the six-year insurgency, 1.5 million displaced. Of the 200 schoolgirls abducted by the group last year, few had been found.

Millions of birthdays will be missed this year. Across all ages time, tragedy and disease will scythe their harvest. This is, after all, the dominion of death. But there's a fracture in this inevitability. It is the life taken too early, the "premature" death. While in Nigeria there will walk the ghosts of young girls who should still be alive, in refugee camps there other countless other young corpses and stunted futures.

The footballer Sonny Bill Williams was criticised last week for tweeting pictures of two dead children at a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon. He was there as a guest of Unicef and was clearly moved by what he saw.  He tweeted, "What did these children do to deserve this?" It was life-changing, he said.

The surface had been pierced.

Unicef, however, did not see it that way. It was, said a spokesman,  "a fundamental infringement of those children's rights". Williams should have presented a "positive framework for people to respond".

I would have thought death a more fundamental infringement of their rights.

The war in Syria last year led to 1 million people fleeing the country for Europe.  According to the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees, a record number of almost 60 million people were refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced, the largest number in history. More than half the  refugees were children.

When Williams asked, What did these children do to deserve this? The spirit-sapping answer is, Nothing. There  by the whim of gods and terrorists, they go.

She just exploded.