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Human Rights Watch Doesn’t Understand Terrorism

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, is a prolific tweeter. And as with most policymakers, analysts, and activists who expound on Twitter, often their tweets can provide windows into their minds more illuminating than carefully edited essays.

Alas, from this recent tweet, it appears that Roth doesn’t really understand terrorism. He opines, in twitterese, “Abusive #Nigeria army is big part of why we have Boko Haram. Leahy Law key to ensure US aid doesn’t reinforce abuse.” Now, don’t get me wrong: Nigeria is an extraordinarily corrupt country and its army is often dysfunctional. Nor is the Nigerian army by any means a paradigm of human rights.

But even if the Nigerian army is complicit in human rights abuses, Boko Haram doesn’t exist as a protest against the army. It exists because of the influence of Saudi-funded preachers who have for decades sought to introduce radical theological interpretations into Western Africa and elsewhere in the world, some of which have taken root. The speech by Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau, which I have previously written about and in which he justified his kidnapping of the still-missing Nigerian school girls, is quite illuminating. It is at once a rant against Christianity, a call for the re-institution of slavery and what in Shekau’s mind would be a perfect Islamist order, and finally a general condemnation of both democracy and the West.

Too many academics and diplomats—and it seems organizations like Human Rights Watch—prefer to ignore the ideology which underpins Islamist-inspired terrorism and instead see the world through the prism of grievance: That’s comforting, because it deludes its adherents into believing that they can resolve problems like Boko Haram simply by addressing concrete grievances. But it is also foolish and deluded because men like Abubakr Shekau, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Hassan Nasrallah, Ismail Haniyeh, and Ali Khamenei put their own narrow, extreme, and radical religious ideology above all else. They welcome concessions or incentives simply because it makes their fight easier, but they will never embrace their hateful doctrines. When it comes to Boko Haram and other Islamist terrorist groups, it is disappointing that men like Kenneth Roth and Human Rights Watch, the organization he represents, still ignore ideology and seem to believe that the fault lies more with the men and women putting their lives on the line to fight terrorism.   



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