IN a globalised world, it seems that religious militants are also exchanging notes on tactics and strategy. On Friday, gunmen in the northern Nigerian city of Kano killed at least 10 polio vaccinators, nine of them women. The grisly incident drew instant comparisons to similar attacks in Pakistan at the end of last year. Suspicion for the attacks has fallen on Boko Haram, dubbed by some as the ‘Nigerian Taliban’. The group is one of Africa’s deadliest Islamist militant outfits; it has reportedly killed hundreds in Nigeria, including members of the security forces, Christians and those among Muslim clerics opposed to Boko Haram’s obscurant worldview. As in Pakistan, some clerics in Nigeria have cast doubt over polio vaccines, claiming they are a Western ‘plot’ to eliminate Muslims. Such resistance to anti-polio campaigns has existed in Nigeria for around a decade. Apparently taking another cue from Pakistani militants, Boko Haram has set a number of schools on fire in Nigeria, although militants in this country have been far more destructive, reducing hundreds of schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata to rubble.
Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only polio-endemic countries left in the world, with the West African state reporting the highest number of polio cases last year. Considering this, the silence of Muslim religious authorities — in these countries and elsewhere — is unforgivable. Militants are dooming the future of children in Muslim countries, or those with large numbers of Muslims, making them vulnerable to disease and forcing them to stay illiterate. Unfortunately, the religious authorities have not yet mustered the courage to confront their extremist worldview. Institutions with influence in the Islamic world — such as Egypt’s Al Azhar and the Saudi religious establishment — need to play a far greater role in countering militant propaganda against polio vaccinations. The OIC should also take up the issue with the seriousness it deserves. Meanwhile, the help of those Muslim countries that have successfully elimin-ated the virus, Iran and Bangladesh among them, must be sought to counter the situation where polio persists. Militants cannot be allowed to jeopardise the future of countless children in the remaining polio-endemic countries.