Team Mead is keeping a worried eye on religious violence in Nigeria, where the radical Islamic group Boko Haram has been stepping up its summer rampage. The Economist reports a trend of intensifying violence in the mostly Muslim North as the idiosyncratic and virulently intolerant group terrorizes Christians and moderate Muslims alike in its quest to implement a radical and eccentric version of Sharia law. The piece reflects growing recognition of the way politics and religion are contributing to violence in Africa’s largest country:
Over the past decade, Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north has seen mounting religious conservatism, with 12 of the country’s 36 states introducing sharia law, often in the name of northern solidarity. Previous attempts to enforce sharia have sparked clashes between Muslims and Christians, killing thousands.
[…] There is a wider political dimension. Some observers believe Boko Haram has established links with disgruntled politicians, some of whom recently lost power. They apparently wish to destabilise the government. Meanwhile, the group is growing in sophistication. It co-ordinated bomb attacks in three towns in May.The use of remotely detonated bombs and Nigeria’s first suicide bomb point to links with more established terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Security analysts foresee a dangerous slide in which sub-Saharan Africa’s largest Muslim population turns ever more extremist.
While a heady brew of tribal and economic grievances inform the worldview of extremists like Boko Haram, a highly political form of religion provides the central unifying force. As fashionable secularists proclaim the irrelevance of God, the ever hotter religion of 21st century Africa continues to be source of fatal friction along the fault lines of Islam and Christianity. African governments like Nigeria’s appear far too weak and incompetent to deal with this growing extremist fervor and the socio-economic conditions that exacerbate it in any constructive way.Nigeria is one of the unhappy countries in which both Christians and Muslims think they are getting a raw deal. Christians have grown enormously in numbers and influence since Nigerian independence; Nigeria’s oil is largely found in Christian parts of the country and proximity both to the coast and to the oil has made Christian and southern Nigeria considerably more prosperous than landlocked, semi-arid and resource poor Muslim northern Nigeria. Christians resent ways in which Muslims from the north seek to redistribute southern revenues to northern states; Muslims fear and resent what they see as a loss of control over federal structures.Prognosis: more bangs.