Terror spreads inside Africa

03/08/2014 3:28 PM

03/08/2014 11:21 PM

The constantly repeated assertion that Islam is a peaceful and beneficent faith is discredited almost daily by the outrages committed by Muslim fanatics throughout much of Africa and the Middle East.

One week it is a bomb exploded in a crowded marketplace — an atrocity whose sole purpose is to maim and kill innocents.

Another week it is a cowardly attack on schoolgirls, meant to prevent them from acquiring an education that might empower them to lead considered lives.

This is in no way a broadside aimed at the followers of the prophet.

I respect their devotion to their sacred text. What I cannot respect is the evil done in its name.

The most heartbreaking abomination was the recent assault by Boko Haram Islamists on a government college in Nigeria — the fourth such attack in less than a year. A total of 59 students were slain, some only 13 years old.

And what is the explanation for such barbarism? The primitive conviction that learning is somehow blasphemous, which is precisely the crippling notion that keeps some societies mired in futility while others — sometimes their immediate neighbors — prosper and advance.

In past years, not long after it achieved independence from the United Kingdom, I traveled a good deal in Nigeria. The British had left behind significant institutions and a sound administrative structure. But many of those assets were soon wasted, and political instability crippled the young republic.

Of Nigeria’s first six presidents, one resigned and five were deposed either by coup d’etat or by assassination.

The discovery in the early 1950s of vast petroleum deposits in the Niger Delta region presented an extremely poor country with the sudden prospect of immense riches.

And the bonanza was real. Nigeria today ranks as the world’s 11th-largest producer and eighth-largest exporter of crude oil. But the wealth has been a mixed blessing.

Corruption has flowered. Some prominent politicians have become infamous for hiding wealth abroad or setting up their wives with boutiques in leading European cities. And the disparity between the oil-rich Christian south and Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north has exacerbated regional tensions.

Even more worrisome, there’s evidence that the malignancy of radical Islam has metastasized virulently out of Nigeria into Mali, Niger and elsewhere in northwest Africa below the Sahara.

Niger’s ambassador to the U.S. has sounded a warning worth heeding.

It’s clear, he says, that the Islamists’ intent is to create a new staging area for international terrorism. And for the impoverished states of the region, the threat is too great to be repelled without the help of powerful friends.

What the world does not need is another Afghanistan in North Africa.

In the ambassador’s words, “The time to kill the snake is before it has babies.”

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