On Sunday, Boko Haram Islamist militants killed over 40 students at an agricultural college in Nigeria in an organized assault. The Western style of teaching at the college is the likely reason for the attack, but there’s one very important fact that needs to be addressed. All of the killed students were Muslims. In an age where Islamophobia is still gripping society and politics, tragedies such as the one in Nigeria shed light on ignorant xenophobia. Radicalism isn’t one religion pitted against another — it’s a plague on all religions.
Boko Haram roughly translates to “Western education is sinful.” The Boko Haram have been engaging the Nigerian military in an ongoing conflict to turn Nigeria into an Islamist state that only permits a very conservative interpretation of Islam. In the past few weeks, Boko Haram has fought the Nigerian military and committed atrocities such as the killing of 143 Nigerian civilians for its cause. The group has killed an estimated 1,700 people since 2010.
This weekend's attack occurred at the Yobe State College of Agriculture in rural Gujba in northeast Nigeria. The extremists drove into the campus in two all-terrain-vehicles and a motorcycle during the night. They proceeded to dismount and enter four all-male dormitories and started shooting blindly into the darkness. The Nigerian military reported that 42 bodies have been recovered thus far, and 18 were rushed to a nearby hospital. An estimated 1,000 students fled the now deserted campus.
Islamist radicals' aggression against Christians and members of Western society is well known by now, and no doubt contributes in part to the Islamaphobia found in many Western nations. What is usually swept aside by Islamophobes, however, is the fact that the largest target of Islamist aggression is other Muslims. This was very evident at Yobe State.
Student survivor Ibrahim Mohammed told the Associated Press, “Nobody can explain what they want. All of the students that died today are Muslims. No single Christian was killed. This is not a religious war. These people that perpetrated this call themselves Muslims. But this is against the teachings of Islam.”
It’s time for those in the West who believe in a war of religious dichotomy to realize this. The Boko Haram kill Nigerian Muslims, just like the Taliban kill Afghan Muslims. Christian radicals have killed Christians too.
Muslims suffer like everyone else in the face of radicalism. This is particularly true in Nigeria. A nation is celebrating its independence day as it also decides how to deal with those who attempt to destroy that same Nigeria that won independence. The world needs to realize that Muslims are often the first victims of Islamist radicalism.