A “horrendous crime” that “violates every major objective of Islam.”
That's how Daisy Khan, founder of the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality described the recent kidnappings of nearly 300 schoolgirls by Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram. Despite similar denunciations of Boko Haram's actions by Muslim religious leaders, activists, organizations, and intellectuals across the world, right-wing media are set on using the kidnappings as a justification for their Islamophobic narratives and their attempt to make Boko Haram the face of Islam.
Boko Haram is a marginalized terrorist organization operating out of Nigeria whose murky ideological goals include eliminating secular education. In recent history their attacks have concentrated on schools, killing Christian and Muslims alike who speak out against them. Before the kidnappings, Boko Haram attacked two mosques in August 2013, murdering more than 65 Muslims.
On May 12, Fox News turned to Aayan Hirsi Ali, the anti-Islam activist often cited to support right-wing media's Islamophobic constructs. Hirsi Ali appeared on The Kelly File with host Megyn Kelly, where she insisted that Islam not be separated from the “outcome, the kidnappings, the violence” of Boko Haram and argued that Muslims need to acknowledge “that there is something wrong in the first place.” From The Kelly File:
KELLY: You want to call attention to violence of girls in the Muslim world and then we see this. In the wake of this, we have the first lady who is making a call for attention to these girls, which is good, but she doesn't mention in her radio address the girls are Christian and the captors are these radical Jihadist. Do we need to understand that?
HIRSI ALI: You have to understand that somehow it is derived from Islam unreformed. I think there is a possibility for Islam to be reformed. I think the opportunity is right here, but I think it all begins with acknowledging that there is something wrong in the first place.
Hirsi Ali is well known for her anti-Islam rhetoric, once claiming that Islam was a “cult of death.” Her rhetoric has propelled her into the conservative media spotlight which has highlighted her efforts to smear Islam as a religion of violence; for Hirsi Ali and other right-wing outlets, Boko Haram serves as a perfect example to support their seemingly endless Muslim fear mongering.
The Daily Caller used Boko Haram's attacks as a new reason to bash Muslim groups, criticizing a mosque that did not “excommunicate Boko Haram”, and suggesting that these Muslim organizations are responsible for Boko Haram's ideology if they do not publically condemn the terrorists. Breitbart made no attempt to veil the site's anti-Muslim views, claiming that Boko Haram's “behavior is absolutely par for the course in Islamic history,” and that Islam has a history of “sex slavery, (of both boys and girls), polygamy, sex trafficking, and the brutal subordination and cyclical massacres of religious minorities.”
In reality, Boko Haram is a marginalized, radical group that does not represent the tenants of the Islamic faith or the Muslim tradition. The Daily Beast's Dean Obeidallah argued that the group's views are so far removed from the religion that media should “stop referring to the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram as 'Islamic terrorist,' 'Islamists' or anything else involving the word 'Islam.'” Obeidallah cited Muslim leader Imam Shamsi Ali who called Boko Haram's leaders " 'blasphemous' for claiming the Koran sanctions their violence against innocent people since it's not only 'contrary to everything Islam stands for' but also it's 'a crime against God and humanity.'"
Muslim organizations have condemned the group and its actions. Though as Sohaib Soltan explained for Time, it should not be the responsibility of Muslim groups to constantly condemn the actions of terrorists, and that holding all Muslims accountable for “condemning evil at the hand of other Muslims” is built upon a flawed premise because with this expectation comes the “inherent assumption that somehow radical violent extremist cults can legitimately speak for Islam.”
As CNN's Arsalan Iftikhar also pointed out, these murders and kidnappings are not supported by the Quran, which Iftikhar says “states quite clearly that 'oppression is worse than murder' and that nobody 'shall force girls to commit prostitution'.”
Conservative media have largely ignored these outspoken Muslim scholars in favor of voices like Hirsi Ali's that help them demonize the entire Muslim faith by using the actions of a marginalized terrorist group.