A number of solid journalistic accounts of the rise of Boko Haram have appeared in recent years, but Thurston’s scholarly work stands out and deserves a wide readership. It offers an authoritative take on the group’s murky origins and wisely situates its rise within the context of Nigerian political history. In particular, Thurston’s account links the divisions and lively debates within Nigerian Islam in the 1970s and 1980s to the radical anti-Western views developed by Boko Haram’s first leader and ideologue, Mohammed Yusuf. Thurston also discusses the regionalization of the emergency created by Boko Haram’s assault, which has now spread to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, places where the jihadists launched several hundred armed attacks in 2016 alone. Thurston’s most troubling argument is that the Nigerian state’s intensely repressive response to Boko Haram has served only to further radicalize the organization. Where this otherwise superb book falls short, however, is in its vague call to pursue a political solution that would involve governmental negotiations with Boko Haram.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.