West Africa witnessed many violent rebel movements in the post-cold war era, some of which led to protracted conflicts in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone. In the post-9/11 era, Muslim extremist movements have emerged. While the scholarship on the past “conventional” rebel movements mostly understood them in their local socio-political contexts, Muslim extremist groups have been dominantly interpreted in the context of the global “war on terrorism.” This is mainly due to the latter’s unique use of a unique form of violence (terror), its religious narrative, and its external links to other groups in other countries. This article interrogates this different understanding of conventional and religious types of anti-state rebellion in West Africa through a comparative study of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (1989–1997), and the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. After a synthesisation of four key questions, the article concludes that Muslim extremist groups in West Africa are not any different from past rebel movements. Muslim extremist groups, just like past movements, are much more rational in the local West African contexts than it is dominantly acknowledged in peace and security scholarship and practice.