Despite operating as a regional terrorist organization in Nigeria, Boko Haram has gained international attention since kidnapping 276 schoolgirls in 2014. Scholarly research on the organization has since surged, but the literature is still in its formative stages in that it remains fractured and in need of greater synthesis. This assessment of the scholarly literature focuses on two of the most pressing questions concerning religion and Boko Haram and concludes by raising a third question concerning foreign influences that deserves greater scholarly attention. First, what are the causal implications of religion for explaining Boko Haram’s genesis, evolution, and particularly its violent tactics, as opposed to alternative explanations—economic inequality and depravation, political corruption, anti-imperialism, educational disparities, etc.? Second, to what degree is Boko Haram the latest iteration of Islamist violence in Northern Nigeria versus an organization with distinctive origins requiring fresh analysis? Neither question has been definitively answered. While religion is a clear motivation for Boko Haram, questions remain concerning whether it is a root motivation or a symptom of secular causes. Additionally, Boko Haram’s synthetic character—as a Nigerian Islamist group that is simultaneously networked with multiple transnational terrorist organizations—makes it difficult to categorize. Finally, questions concerning foreign influences over Boko Haram—both ideological and financial—have been raised but few empirically validated answers have been produced, offering fertile ground for future research.
Emil Aslan Souleimanov
Reflecting on the recent rise of Salafi groups and their impact on civil war, the academic literature on Salafi radicalization, mobilization, and recruitment has burgeoned in the recent decade and a half. Yet little consensus exists as to the relative power of three major causes: grievances, ideology, and radical milieu and support structures as causes of violent radicalization. Even less is known about how jihadist foreign fighters affect civil wars in terms of conflict intensity and resolution. In both fields, key debates are identified in the recent scholarship, explain the major shortcomings and gaps, and suggest avenues of future research. For instance, it is important—and hardly avoidable—that epistemological and ontological obstacles lay in the way of establishing the causes of (violent) radicalization, because the processes relating to the change of human perception and behavior are extremely difficult to trace. Another point is the frequent—deliberate or unintended—distortion of the testimonies of former combatants, not least Salafi-jihadists, which makes the task of establishing the causes of (violent) radicalization and recruitment harder. Identifying avenues of further research, there is a lack of quality first-hand data in the current research on Salafi-inspired radicalization, mobilization, and recruitment. More methodological plurality—particularly in-depth ethnographic studies and quantitative work—is needed, as well as more research on virtual social networks and non-verbal contents.
Yahia H. Zoubir
The Islamist movement in Algeria and Islamist ideas (politicized/revivalist, Islamic reformism) date back to the colonial period. While Radical Islamist Groups (RIGs) and Salafi Jihadist Groups (SJGs) have demonstrated a high level of violence more noticeably in the 1990s, following the return of the so-called Afghans, who had trained and fought Soviet troops in Afghanistan, radical Islamism has emerged at different periods in Algeria’s history. In the 1960s, RIGs sought to intimidate Westernized youth and women. In the 1970s and 1980s, SJGs almost destroyed the state through a ferocious armed insurgency. The major SJGs in Algeria, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Jund-el-Khalifa, are part of the transnational extremist organizations such as al-Qaeda and, since 2014, the so-called Islamic State (IS), respectively. Political Islam in Algeria took different forms, from quietist groups to peaceful Muslim Brothers to sanguinary armed groups, such as the Armed Islamic Groups (GIAs) of the 1990s or the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which succeed the Salafi Group for Preaching and CombatSGPC. Whatever form the movement has taken more recently, one cannot understand Islamism without scrutinizing Algeria’s colonial history and the enduring crisis of identity it has engendered among Algerian Muslims. Soon after the colonial invasion, resistance to France was often expressed in Islamic terms, such as jihad, or holy war, against infidels. During the war of national liberation [1954–1962], the nationalist movement referred to the fighters as mujahideen (holy warriors). Algerian identity itself is often expressed in relation to Islam, which dominates social and cultural personality. Islam and Islamism have served as means of opposition to the successive incumbent regimes since independence. Indeed, opposition to the socialism of the 1960s and 1970s emanated from religious figures. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Islamic Salvation Front ak.a., FIS), a mass party, sought to seize power to establish a state in which Shari’a Law could be implemented. The cancellation of the electoral process resulted in bloody civil strife that pitted the security forces against SJGs of different denominations. The civil strife claimed the lives of perhaps 100,000 people, mostly civilians. However, Algerian Islamism also has elected representatives, with legal Islamist parties represented in the government. Islamism, or Islamist ideas, present during the anticolonial struggle are interwoven with the radical jihadi groups that exist in the region and country today. Algeria went through an almost decade-long, atrocious period of civil strife that abated by the end of the 1990s. The ensuing 2005 National Charter on Peace and Reconciliations provided a political framework for stability in the country.