mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Hot Nigerian Religion: Interfaith Violence Flares Again

Rioting, burning villages, gunmen shooting churchgoers, calls for holy war on the radio, bomb attacks on army bases – the fires are not going out in Nigeria. The BBC reports on the most recent violence:

Riots have broken out in a northern Nigerian town after a church was attacked by unknown gunmen, leaving at least two dead and 14 wounded…

Kaduna is divided along political, ethnic and religious lines and the BBC’s Nura Ringim in the state says it is thought to be a revenge attack.

Thousands of Muslim Hausas and Fulanis were forced from their homes in April.

Our correspondent says that some of those attacked had vowed reprisals, as had the Boko Haram Islamist militant group, based further north-east in Borno state.

Boko Haram is growing bolder and more successful. They bombed the UN in August. Their leader, Imam Abubakar Shekau, is on the radio urging Nigerians to join him. From the Associated Press:

The imam’s insistent, lecturing voice comes right to the point over the scratchy audio recording: holy war is the only way to bring change for Muslims in Nigeria.

Abubakar Shekau urges followers of his feared Boko Haram sect to carry out more assassinations and bombings. The group’s violent campaign has already left more than 240 people dead this year. On Friday, a suicide bomber hit a military base while explosives detonated around Maiduguri – attacks that bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram.

Underlying Boko Haram’s attacks are serious divisions in Nigerian society: between Muslims and Christians, rich and poor. Christian attacks on Muslims are just as common and brutal as Muslim attacks on Christians. Civilians are often involved in inter-community violence. But Boko Haram adds another dimension: they are capable of bombing military installations and assassinating officials. They may receive funding and equipment from international terrorist networks, but they are also a grassroots organization, able to recruit relatively easily in “endemically poor” Borno:

For Khalifa Dikwa, a professor at the University of Maiduguri, the endemically poor region is ripe for recruitment by the insurgency.

While the well-connected and powerful who are accused of wrongdoing can get good lawyers and soon be free, “somebody who was incarcerated for stealing just a chicken will be behind bars for six years without trial,” Dikwa said. “Again, it boils down to injustice, alienation, arm-twisting of the law, corrupting the entire system.”

Unemployment may run as high as 70 percent and opportunities remain few for youths who lack access to formal education. Boko Haram offers inclusion and a livelihood in a nation where corrupt politicians collude with religious leaders, Dikwa said.

“Anybody who feels cheated is Boko Haram,” he said.

The dynamic of “anybody who feels cheated” is a large one in Nigeria.  Don’t expect an epidemic of interfaith amity anytime soon.

Features Icon
show comments
  • WigWag

    “…holy war is the only way to bring change for Muslims in Nigeria…” (Imam Abubakar Shekau)

    Professor Mead recently cited a blog post written by Philip Jenkins in which Jenkins (who has written extensively about the religious conflict in Nigeria)downplayed the relationship of the Koran and Hadith
    to sectarian conflict.

    But here Professor Mead quotes a radical Imam in Nigeria who calls for “Holy War.” As anyone who has read the Koran in translation knows, the references to Holy War are ubiquitous in that religious text.

    I wonder what Jenkins would make of Abubakar Shekau’s call for Holy War. I also wonder how many of those Christians who are brutalizing Nigerian Muslims are insisting that Jesus made them do it.

    I am not sure what Jenkins would say, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Nigerian Christians who turn violent, rarely stop to quote the Bible on how the ancient Israelites treated the Amalekites.

    Despite Jenkins blog post, it’s Muslim radicals who look to their sacred texts for instructions on how to treat Jews and Christians, not radical Christians.

  • stephen b

    Gosh, “anybody who feels cheated” could apply to any number of large groups camped out in various US urban centers.

  • Anthony

    Doesn’t bode well for country nourished on corruption superimposed on both religion and historical ethnic tensions. …part of world-wide dynamic configuration?

  • John

    I have to agree with WigWag here. I know I’ve talked with a State Dept friend who spent many years in Africa and around the world, often areas where Islam had significant influence, and his impression was the same as mine: overall, there’s about an order of magnitude more Muslim-on-Christian violence than there is Christian-on-Muslim violence (with the latter usually being in reaction to the former), and something like that is also case with Muslim/Buddhist violence.

    In my experience, arguments strongly to the contrary often show the brilliance of the scholars involved, but in a perverse way–like brilliant arguments by creation scientists against evolution, the difference being that creation science is politically incorrect and so its many flaws are eagerly exposed, whereas “all religions promote violence equally” is intellectual catnip to the Progressive mind and so tends to be peer-reviewed uncritically by like-minded secular (typically secularistic?) scholars.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service