Difference Between “Islamic State” and Boko Haram

The threat of attacks from militant groups unfortunately fill the air in several regions. Growing frustrations with governments and ideologies have secured breeding grounds for some of the most ruthless organizations. The two, Boko Haram and the Islamic State, have carved out a territory for themselves and their new caliphate, displacing and killing thousands.

The two groups are fairly similar: conservative mentality, violent tactics, sole focus on military, and goal of creating a state based on their interpretation of Islam. The Islamic State has already done so, claiming large portions of Northern Iraq and Eastern Syria as their own regardless of recognition from outside bodies. The territory is changing size though, with the constant expansion by the Islamic State and the counter measures taken by Iraq, the United States, and various groups. Nevertheless, attacks on innocent people persist and the atrocities continue.

Boko Haram has followed a similar path. The states of Borno and Yobe have fallen to the militant group and a recent attack on Maiduguri is signaling the continuation of Boko Haram’s expansion. The name of the group translates to “Western Education is Forbidden,” referencing their hatred for Western and secular values as well as moderate Islam. Like the Islamic State, Boko Haram follows a strict interpretation of Islam and seeks to establish their own body ruled under a violent and repressive form of Shar’ia. The group has caused an estimate of 1.5 million people to be displaced, killed thousands, and infamously kidnapped scores of school girls.

Comparing the two groups since January 2014, Boko Haram has killed between 6,000-13,000 while the Islamic State has killed between 4,000-9,000. This has been reported by the Council on Foreign Relations, yet the deaths are variable due to the inability to accurately report all attacks from both groups. That 6,000-13,000 does not include the past deaths resulting from the group’s violent activities from its inception in 2002. As the Washington Post had said in their article on Boko Haram, “These statistics firmly place the Boko Haram insurgency as one of the most significant conflicts in the world. Nigerian casualties are now running more than double those in Afghanistan, and substantially higher than in Iraq just a few years ago.”

Both of these groups have had the chance to flourish from a mixture of unstable and corrupt governments, dissatisfied people (in regards to government, foreign intervention, religion, etc), and influxes of weapons and soldiers. Yet, there is this image that one is far more significant than the other. The Islamic State is most often in the media, most often reported on, and is the talking point when discussing terrorism, specifically Islamic terrorism. There are dialogues on how to respond to IS, how to “fix” Iraq, how to end the Syrian civil war. And while both of these conflicts are important as well as those who are falling victim to each one, the media says otherwise. So does the government, so does our conversation. The difference between the Islamic State and Boko Haram is the perception of threat, that one is being treated far more cautiously than the other.

Boko Haram is being treated as a Nigerian issue rather than simply an issue. The group shares a similar ideology with that of Al Qaeda, and has openly expressed intentions of attacking any and all targets. They’ve extended their reach into Chad, Cameroon, and Niger. If treated like other allies to Al Qaeda, the focus on this group would intensify to that of Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan.

Another reason for its ability to move without notice is the lack of attention or media focused on this group. While the Islamic State posts video after video, operates in major conflicts, and makes itself very much public, the opposite is happening with Boko Haram. It’s almost the same with other Sub Saharan conflicts. There is a lack of coverage on the atrocities being committed, whether it is from a lack of reporters or media outlets within the area. Cases like the Rwandan Genocide, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and ongoing conflicts in the Central African Republic and the DR Congo more than often go or went under reported until heavily highlighted. And it’s been social media that has taken on this role.

While the world’s media has focused on other attacks and killings, social media sites like Twitter have erupted with concern about Boko Haram and its victims. News media have sort of picked up on their failure, but continue to neglect the conflict.

This is the danger Boko Haram holds, the greater threat it possess in comparison to the Islamic State; its ability to downplay itself while maintaining a brutal image. Boko Haram semi silently moves across the region and has been able to raze towns with little resistance from the people or security. Unlike Iraq, there are no opposing militant groups, yet like Iraq there is not a strong or willing military to defend the nation.

While the key to countering groups like Boko Haram is to weaken their powers and build up a solid defense (militarily and socially), the first step is to acknowledge the severity of the issue at hand.


Photo Credit: Nation of Change

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