Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Layman's Thoughts on Boko Haram

Among the world’s current human lows in terms of tactics is the organization known as Boko Haram, who in addition to making the second pages of most American newspapers last week over the slaughter of 2000 people in a single Nigerian town, also authored the kidnapping and enslavement of 300 girls last year. They foul a great nation that has an even greater potential, and I am coming to the conclusion that there ought to be a Western commitment to mount a resistance to this moral and political affront. Neither their passion nor their hypocrisy knows any limits and a Western movement to assuage their influence on their territories would be the first righteous concerted world effort in a long time.

Modern conflicts of course aren’t generally pursued for anything righteous. They are motivated by religious zealotry and for resources, most typically oil, so it would require a different mindset, one that according to a prevailing moral human standard, acts once a layer of cowardly excess that exceeds acceptability has been definitively identified. I do not believe that the civilized world has become so callous a place that no such limit exists, and I believe that this organization has plumbed those depths to the tipping point.

It’s not a simple situation and don’t get your hopes up that I have a solution other than a suggestion to commit and to think creatively. For instance, in the case of Boko Haram, their seeming intractability relies on ignorance. With a 71% literacy rate among Nigeria’s young male population (15-24), there is a vast group of easily indoctrinated young men who are expressly taught Boko Haram’s Quranic interpretations.

The young men are awed by the indoctrination process in which the leadership’s ideology is justified through contemporary teachings from Al Qaida and Muslim Brotherhood leaders, along with a sense of ancient wisdom through memorized verses from the Quran in phonetic Arabic. They speak English maybe, French perhaps, or Kunari or any one of the hundreds of tribal languages spoken in Nigeria, but definitely not Arabic. Boko Haram's rank and file, like most Americans, have no idea what the Quran actually says. They find these boys at the right time, at the right poverty level, at the right age, and they destroy them.

Boko Haram’s leadership is educated, following the edicts of radical established Islamic intellectuals, but even their middle management and most especially the vast majority of their ranks are woefully ignorant and easily manipulated. These forces are not stupid by any means, but their education during the years in which their souls are most seeking are exclusively driven by the most radical Salafist teachers, and the result is a vast pool of highly motivated fundamentalist Islamic warriors with not much independent thought and utter willingness to martyr themselves.

Illiteracy is an area of high volatility for Nigeria.  I don’t know how to increase the literacy rate in Nigeria, but I do know that large national endeavors that begin with a large international commitment have a much better chance of succeeding. With a literacy rate of close to 50% among young Nigerian women, the total literacy rate of Nigeria’s later teen and young adult population is now somewhere around 60%. Education reform takes a long time of course, and Boko Haram is destroying a nation right now, so while a global commitment to increasing world literacy is a crucial goal, the West should likewise disrupt the Boko Haram leadership by other means.

These deluded and committed young men along with training support from other area militant Islamic groups are a terrible combination. They are zealous and in the great majority eager to martyr themselves. They additionally receive concentrated and extensive training in carrying out sudden and dramatic attacks on civilian populations and as they can be managed, military installations, with no regard to surviving the attacks. These kinds of attacks will continue to occur with Boko Haram's unabashed signature upon them. I can nearly guarantee that.

The other challenge, as it is with forces that orchestrate asymmetrical warfare, is that Boko Haram fighters are often insinuated into civilian populations and are situated in a way that Western morality precludes using its air superiority.  Boko Haram in the region of this most recent large scale attack were often Kunari and even while occupying some of these villages, to a large degree have been allowing the local Kunari populations to conduct their own legal and interpersonal affairs. They do not absolutely ravage their captives' persons and resources, and as such, relative to a government that doesn’t do much to help them, are not regarded necessarily with abject hatred. They are feared and obeyed, but their protection is implicit.

Again, the weapon here seems to be helping the Nigerian government to help its people. If the Kunari of the northeast region of Nigeria that was so devastated in this slash and burn rampage last week in general got a better deal from its government, there would have been a greater broad resistance to its incursion into neighborhoods and towns over the course of the past months and years.

So, education and addressing the Nigerian people’s needs of daily living are longer term cushions to serve as bulwarks against this of vein of bullies and thugs that call themselves Boko Haram. But, apart from these sunnier visions, what’s in is in and will stay in unless it is plucked out. It’s a sickening mess.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

36 Hours

It has been a busy weekend indeed, working a booth at the Jazz Educators Network’s annual convention. I work in part for Woodwind and Brasswind, an online band and orchestra retailer whose catalog and web content is developed in the Los Angeles area. I lead a cubicle existence, generating and editing copy for the Woodwind and Brasswind website and catalog along with parts of the pro audio section of the Musician’s Friend catalog and website, so these convention duties are a welcome change. In the three years I have worked for the Guitar Center family of companies in Westlake Village, I have traveled to Dallas, Atlanta, Grand Rapids, Columbus and now, San Diego to attend various trade shows and conventions. For this most recent one I drove down, which combined with a busy show and a gig I had previously booked in Los Angeles, precipitated a particularly intense 36 hours or so.

I worked nine to five on the convention floor on Friday, whose cacophonous din sounded like a pet shop on fire for eight hours straight. So Friday at five, I dashed out of the convention hall to make it to my gig at The House of Blues in Hollywood by 10:30. Traffic was medium, catching the suitcase crowd out of San Diego heading to whatever the Friday workweek antidote was, a cabin in the foothills, skiing in the mountains or a hotel room by the sea, and I got to the House of Blues by 9:00 where I met my lady Debra and our friend Debbie. The band had a nice set, and Debbie, Debra and I got on the road before midnight, encountering next to no traffic all the way and expecting to make the hotel room by 2:00 AM and get six hours of sleep before getting up to work the convention floor again on Saturday.

Eight miles outside of San Diego, traffic stopped completely and stayed stopped for ten or fifteen minutes. Some mobile web investigation indicated that a man was over the barrier on the Seaworld Drive highway overpass bridge and was threatening to jump. A traffic service additionally indicated that there was an accident in the area, which was supported by two wreckers that drove past in the left breakdown lane. The Occam’s Razor on that would be that during the dramatic slowing of traffic that probably occurred when the suicidal man was engaged with the police, a collision occurred between one or more inattentive drivers.

After another half hour or so, traffic began to move and we were funneled down to one lane by way of a slowly accelerating arc of highway flares that passed by the place where a man who of sound mind or not decided that hurling himself from a highway bridge thirty feet onto asphalt was how he would end his Friday night and his life.

Hundreds of cars filed past his sheeted body, surely dwarfing the procession that will honor his casket. An explosion of colored lights from emergency vehicles and police cars heralded his passing, perhaps the grand tribute he sought in life but couldn’t find. You could speculate on a life of ennobled suffering, loved ones taken by chance, by murder or by betrayal. Perhaps his life’s losses were born of neglect ascribable to a preference of his own selfish pursuits over the needs of those who counted on him, the remains of his shredded conscience at last pushing him to swing a leg over the rail. Information technology being what it is, I could probably dig out the story and find a police report, but it seems more decent to let the police, the priests and the worms do their work. Whatever his woe, and whatever fool this man may or may not have been, he now knows the detailed answer to a question that I believe none of the rest of us do, but that many of the rest of us are nonetheless pretty damn sure about.

We rolled into the Grand Hyatt a little after three and I enjoyed four or five hours of dead sleep before hitting the convention floor again for another eight hour stretch, followed by breaking the booth down and loading the gear and the signage into boxes and onto pallets. That took us until about 8:00 and I then met the ladies for a set of music at a club on Shelter Island, finally wrapping it up for a much-needed crash at around midnight.

The work provided wherewithal, the driving provided solace and meditation, the gig provided artistic release, the suicide provided a time for gratitude and reflection and the company provided the love and sharing I need to feel human. Thirty-six hours of pretty high output. I have discovered that I am not too old for this shit.