Details are still emerging about the life and habits of Michael Adebolajo, the Islamist butcher who displayed the blood-drenched palms of his hands to a passing cameraman just moments after he and an accomplice murdered 25-year-old Lee Rigby, a soldier in the British Army's Royal Fusiliers regiment, on a south London street this week.
As is common with any terrorism investigation, the focus is upon who Adebolajo was mixing with and which organizations he approached. A much-tweeted photo shows a stony-faced Adebolajo standing behind Anjem Choudary, a founder of the now banned Islamist organization Al Muhajiroun, at rally in London. It was Choudary who, in 2010, led a ceremony in which he and other supporters of al-Qaeda burned the poppies which many Britons pin to their lapels every November in commemoration of the British and Allied soldiers who fell in two world wars. And it was the same Choudary who justified Adebolajo's barbarous act by citing "the presence of British forces in Muslim countries and the atrocities they've committed."
When it comes to contacts with Islamist groups outside the United Kingdom, some press reports have mentioned that Adebolajo traveled to Somalia in the last year to join Al Shabab, a particularly brutal al-Qaeda offshoot in east Africa, and may have even been arrested along the way. No solid evidence has, as yet, emerged to tie Adebolajo–a British citizen of Nigerian descent–with Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamist terror organization that has instigated church bombings, pogroms and similar atrocities against the west African country's beleaguered Christian population.
The prospect of a link with Boko Haram is of interest because Adebolajo was born into a Christian family who were regular attendees at a church in Romford, just outside London. Given the loathing with which Boko Haram regards Christians and Christianity, manifested in the more than 1,500 people killed during the group's attacks over the last three years, the very idea of a Nigerian Christian joining their ranks is as shocking as the hypothetical (so far, at least) example of a Jew who converts to Islam, joins Hamas and becomes a suicide bomber.
But there is another, perhaps more important, observation to make here. The experience of Nigeria, which Christian rights activists say is now the most dangerous place on earth for Christians, illustrates the flaw of concentrating too narrowly on Islamist organizations, at the expense of the wider influence which Islamist ideas enjoy among the unaffiliated. As Ann Buwalda and Emmanuel Ogebe point out in a compelling study of Boko Haram and its anti-Christian fixations:
While Boko Haram's bloody terrorist tactics certainly merit serious concern, the focus on this group has overshadowed a pattern of systemic religious violence in Nigeria. It obfuscates the pervasive history of the killing of Christians by Muslims in northern Nigeria going back over a quarter century.
Buwalda and Ogebe argue that Islamist activity in Nigeria has to be understood in the context of three concentric circles: sect (which incorporates Boko Haram), state, and street. Too much attention is paid to the sect circle, they say, and not enough to state policy or public sentiment. For example, the wave of anti-Christian violence that followed the 2011 elections in Nigeria was not orchestrated by Boko Haram, but "was an act of ordinary Muslims across most northern states." That particular carnage resulted in more than 200 Christians being killed, more than 700 churches destroyed, and more than 3,000 Christian families being driven from their homes.
One can similarly make the case that it doesn't matter whether or not Michael Adebolajo engaged in direct contact with Boko Haram; like the young Muslims who rampaged against Christians in Nigeria two years ago, he is one of their number in spirit. And now that the killing methods of Boko Haram have come to the streets of London, perhaps Western leaders will pay serious attention to the fact that, alongside Zionism, Judaism and secularism, Christianity has been designated by the Islamists as a transcendental force of darkness–and that Christians across the Muslim world have to live with the consequences of that every day.