The audacious midnight kidnapping of hundreds of girls from a remote boarding school in northern Nigeria has finally focused the rest of the world's attention on the increasing and seemingly senseless violence of the so-called Boko Haram movement in Nigeria.

Calls for international action are echoing around the world and throughout the Internet. Yet action without understanding can cause more harm than good, and risk backfiring, as has been the case with much of the Nigerian government's action against Boko Haram to date. Only by understanding this movement can we begin to counter it.

Boko Haram, as many know by now, means "Western Education is forbidden" in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria and neighboring countries. That name is what its neighbors called it when it first appeared. The group's own name for itself is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal-Jihad, which means "Association of People of Orthodoxy Committed to Propagation [or 'call' — to Islam] and Jihad by the method of Salaf [allegedly original Islam]."