from Africa in Transition

Northern Nigeria and the U.S. Response to Syria

September 04, 2013

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As President Obama and the Congress decide how to respond to the apparent use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, Alex Thurston has published a sobering post on his Sahel Blog. In his “A Northern Nigerian Prediction about Syria, Validated” he briefly recounts a conversation from 2011 with a northern Nigerian Muslim who predicted that the U.S. would “bomb Syria.”

Thurston observes that “many Muslims, and not just Arab Muslims, look at American military actions in the Middle East as habitual, predatory, and destructive.” Thurston observes he is not a pollster, and I am not one, either. But, his conclusion fits my own experience. The U.S. approach to Israel/Palestine, Iran, Libya, and perhaps soon Syria is seen by many in northern Nigeria as fundamentally anti-Islamic. Evidence is, of course, anecdotal. For example, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 some 70 percent of all baby boys born in a particular Kano hospital were named “Osama.”

It’s sad. Northern Muslims are by no means predestined to be hostile to the United States.  For example, the U.S. refusal to endorse the third term aspirations of President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was deeply unpopular in the North, resulted in a momentary boost in American popularity. Like everywhere else, in northern Nigeria, “all politics is local.” Manifestations of American friendship and respect for the North and Islam in a local context can overcome or mitigate anger at U.S. policies in other parts of the world.