Herdsmen attacks leave 81 dead in Nigeria (July 10, 2016)

Not all mass killings are necessarily terrorist in nature.

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BENUE STATE, NIGERIA — Terrorism may have hundreds of definitions according to some scholars but I think we would all agree that there are some basic requirements to qualify.

There has to be an event, planned or executed, which results in major damage (usually to human life but some would say financial loss is also enough). There has to be an underlying ideology of some stripe. I would add that there should be an identified target, whether a specific community or a more general one (e.g. the greater public).

Nevertheless, there are lots of violent incidents in history which result in lots of casualties but which are hard to define as terrorism. War, for instance. Or crime syndicates like what is happening in Mexico these days. Or gang killings that percolate up in major cities in what some call the ‘summer of the gun’.

These deaths are important and must be noted, despite the tenuous link to terrorism, if at all. When you think about it, terrorism as a tactic is fairly recent (mid- to late-19th century) whereas killing dates back to the dawn of time. No matter how many people terrorists end up shooting or bombing, they rarely if ever approach other forms of violent death which are not terrorist in nature.

And then there are the ‘iffy’ ones.

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Nigeria is one of several African countries which has suffered from conflict between ethnic groups fighting for land use. One of the more popular contentions is that which pits farmers and herders (i.e. those who maintain cattle). Climate change is often an important mitigating factor in these disputes as both parties seek enough land to maintain their livelihood.

One of the IDPs in Anyiin camp, Aseer Yuam, grieved over the gruesome murder of her son by herdsmen in Tombo council ward while attempting to fetch food for his family from the farm.

At times these confrontations become very, very violent. On this day in 2016 herdsmen killed 81 people in several communities in Nigeria’s Benue State. The herders are usually from the Fulani tribe while their victims are often from the Dogon ethnic group.

For me this is not terrorism as there is no obvious ideological underpinning. This seems to be tied to economic hardship and the consequences of a shift in the weather.

Still, to the victims and the survivors I am certain that this all looks like terrorism. After all, when you are burying dead members of your family do you care what the violence is called?

Phil Gurski

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