Many Sunni Muslim movements of an Islamist bent have arisen in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa over the last few decades. Virginia Comolli, a research fellow for the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, chronicles the rise of the Islamist group in northeastern Nigeria that the local media call Boko Haram.

Boko Haram probably means “book knowledge (or education) forbidden,” although Comolli questions that formulation because it emphasizes only one aspect of the movement’s initial agenda: hostility to the mediocre but basically secular education provided by the Nigerian state in schools it deems anti-Islamic. Boko Haram has gradually developed grander designs than the purely educational over the years since its founding. Western media have focused mainly on its hostility to education for girls and have centered world attention on the kidnapped schoolgirls of Chibok, but there are many other aspects of Boko Haram that cause concern for Nigerians and their neighbors in West Africa.

For more than two decades, Boko Haram has called itself the Community of Sunni People for the Propagation [of Islam] and for Struggle (jihad). Having made some linkage via social media with the self-declared Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the leadership of Boko Haram claims today that it wants to be known as the Islamic State West Africa Branch (ISWAB).