The news about the kidnapping of almost 300 girls from an area in Northern Nigeria has thrust the name "Boko Haram" into the public vernacular. What most people know is that the group is militant Islamic faction that sees no problem with killing, kidnapping, rape, and general mayhem to accomplish its aims and vision.
The United States has already declared Boko Haram a terrorist organization. The hashtag campaign #bringbackourgirls (Bring Back Our Girls) has swept the world, demanding that Boko Haram return the young girls kidnapped from the school in Borno.
In response, a man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has said, "I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women. Slavery is allowed in my religion, and I shall capture people and make them slaves."
Who is this group? And why is anyone joining up, shooting people in the head, kidnapping and selling girls?
The principal gripe of Boko Haram is that Western education of women is a sin. Women should get married and know their place. For women to be in schools upsets the order of things. Some say that the name itself, Boko Haram, simply means "Western education is a sin" but others translate as "Sunni Group for Preaching and Jihad".
Like many groups that use child soldiers and rape women, Boko Haram plays upon the notions of poverty and oppression. Groups like this find a person or list of persons and groups to blame for how bad things are in their lives. Often this gets expanded to encompass all things "Western".
Add that to the idea that some god, whichever a group wants to pick, is signing off on all the orders of that group's leader, and you have a recipe that often yields terror, the worst traits of humanity, and rampant violence.
In the case of Boko Haram, almost anyone who disagrees with the group and its tactics is an "oppressor", whether that be a government official, Christians in the region, or even other Muslims who disapprove of the path of violence Boko Haram follows. They are all painted with the same brush.
The former leader of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, declared that even some of the most basic education tenets from the West were heretical, including how rain is formed.
"There are prominent Islamic preachers who have seen and understood that the present Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam," he said.
"Like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain.
"Like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it. We also reject the theory of Darwinism."
The odd thing about a man like Yusuf is that he was well-educated -- in Western schools -- and drove a Mercedes.
Yusuf was killed while in police custody in 2009. The official story is that he was trying to escape.
Boko Haram exerts control in regions of Nigeria where police presence is minimal, if it exists at all. They can walk into villages and start shooting people at will. These forays go on for hours, uninterrupted by any law enforcement.
Image via YouTube