Weekend Reading

The thrill of clicking on links, and watching readings appear, can never be replaced.

In the first days of the Great War, Britain intended only to detain suspect enemy aliens as prisoners of war. Pressured by Parliament to arrest all enemy aliens, British Home Secretary Reginald McKenna resisted, saying he would proceed under the Hague Conventions, in which the military was responsible for designating enemy aliens for arrest. Internment, he noted, was reserved only for enemy aliens who were military personnel or seen as dangerous to the nation. After the Lusitania’s sinking, however, the political resistance vanished, all military-age enemy aliens were rounded up, and civilians were transformed into prisoners of war.

As declarations of war multiplied across the globe between signatories of the Hague Conventions, a complex bureaucracy of detention began removing groups of civilians en masse from society…. In November 1914, Germany moved to arrest all British, French, and Russian men between the ages of seventeen and fifty-five, and by war’s end held more than 111,000 enemy aliens. During the same period, France interned 60,000 German and Austro-Hungarian civilians; Bulgaria rounded up more than 14,000 Serbian and Croatian noncombatants; and Romania held 6,000 civilians, mostly Germans and Austro-Hungarians.

[…]

In an era of widespread conscription, any male of fighting age was a potential soldier. Generals worried that able-bodied foreigners deported to their home countries on one day might show up on the battlefield the next, further discouraging any desire to make distinctions between civilians and combatants. Internees knew that compared to life in the trenches, a concentration camp offered relative safety, but internment had its own price. Even where they had spent decades as part of a community, foreigners’ businesses were ransacked or shuttered, or their assets seized by governments. Internees were not soldiers, but instead a new kind of low-grade hostage. Not expected to fight or die, they only endured.

Boko Haram’s relentless attacks against individuals tied to the Kanuri establishment demonstrate its antipathy toward the northeast’s existing hierarchy. In areas it has captured, Boko Haram has allegedly seized the property of local notables and allocated it among its followers. The contours of a vicious class struggle within Kanuri society are readily evident.

In addition to the northeastern elites, Boko Haram’s worldview is at odds with rural Kanuri communities. Salafism – both its peaceful and violent varieties – remains primarily an urban phenomenon in Nigeria’s northeast. Cities tend to have a higher concentration of youths bereft of established kinship networks and therefore attracted to the universalist message espoused by Islamic revivalists. Conversely, the countryside serves as a bastion of traditionalism, with many Muslims practicing syncretic forms of Islam that incorporate elements of indigenous religions.

Boko Haram’s transition to a largely rural-based insurgency has placed the Salafi-jihadi movement in an operational environment where the majority of inhabitants regard it as an alien interloper. Rather than adjust its messaging to appeal toward the wary peasantry, Boko Haram appears to have elected to pursue a strategy of armed coercion in order to secure local compliance. This approach helps account for the surge in civilian fatalities as well as Boko Haram’s seemingly growing reliance on conscription and monetary compensation to replenish its ranks.

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