THE LEVANT – By Gwynne Dyer – A group of imams and organizations representing British Muslims has written Prime Minister David Cameron asking him to stop using the phrase “Islamic State” when talking about the new country carved out of Iraq and Syria by terrorists. That’s what Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who has proclaimed himself “the caliph of all Muslims and the prince of the believers,” calls his newly conquered territory, but it’s giving ordinary Muslims a bad name.
The British Muslim leaders declared, “the media, civil society and governments should refuse to legitimize these ludicrous caliphate fantasies by accepting or propagating this name. We propose that “Un-Islamic State” (UIS) could be an accurate and fair alternate name to describe this group and its agenda — and we will begin to call it that.”
Good luck with that. But meanwhile two more “Un-Islamic States” are being created right now, on Libyan and Nigerian territory: Same black flags, same fanaticism and cruelty, even the same ski masks. (It’s a fashion statement.)
The city of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state in northeastern Nigeria, has more than two million people. It is surrounded by the forces of Boko Haram — the name roughly translates as “western education is forbidden” — and most of the rest of Borno has already fallen under their rule. In fact, the whole northeastern corner of Nigeria is passing out of the government’s control.
Boko Haram’s ultimate goal was the imposition of an Islamic state in Nigeria ever since it began active operations in 2009. It was in touch with Al-Qaeda from the start, and later with the militant groups in Syria that subsequently turned into the ISIL and finally into the “Islamic State.”
Only the northern half of Nigeria’s population is Muslim, so that was where Boko Haram’s murders and abductions were concentrated, although it also carried out terrorist bombings in the Christian parts of the country. Around 3,600 people were killed in these attacks in the four years to 2013, but then there was a major acceleration: Two thousand more have been killed in just the first half of this year.
From about mid-July, Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau also changed tactics: Instead of hit-and-run raids, he started to take and hold territory. In August, after his fighters captured the town of Gwoza in Borno, he released a video declaring that the area was “now part of the Islamic Caliphate.” He now rules over about 3 million people in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon.
Libya is considerably further down the same track. A civil war broke out between the various militias left over from the 2011 campaign to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi, the former dictator, shortly after the June election that might — just might — have produced a government that would try to disarm those militias. It has got so bad that almost a third of the Libya’s population, 1.8 million people, has fled the country, mostly seeking shelter in Tunisia.
The real divisions between these warring militias are regional and tribal, but a number of them have adopted extreme ideologies. These militias have emerged as the winners both in the savage fighting in western Libya around the capital, Tripoli, and also in the other major city, Benghazi, in the east.
In fact, militias with ISIL-style ideologies now control every city along the Libyan coast except Tobruk, a short distance from the Egyptian border. That is where the new Parliament elected in June has taken refuge, and the Parliament’s members are living on a hired Greek car ferry that is serving as a floating hotel. The front line starts just west of town — and the next town along the coast, Derna, has been declared a caliphate.
A lot of this is just ideological fashion, of course. The various “caliphates” are in touch with one another, after a fashion, but there is no master plan. However, the results are truly nasty both in Nigeria and in Libya — and the risk of overreaction by those who feel threatened by these developments, especially in the West, is quite large.