Nigeria: Religious Hate Explodes, Shaming Both Christians and Muslims

Nigeria: Religious Hate Explodes, Shaming Both Christians and Muslims

A week ago, religious hatred and riots in Nigeria resulted in devastating loss of life, destruction of houses of worship and homes. With the catastrophic aftermath of the Haitian earthquakes, the Nigerian riots were largely lost in the world news coverage, but the Nigerian riots remain a challenge to our human rights, and a challenge to our willingness to recognize and confront hate.

While details continue to trickle in about the the Nigeria riots in Jos, one thing is clear – there has not been sufficient condemnation of the Nigerian riots and violence by leaders of Christian and Islamic faiths. Too often there is only a series of finger-pointing exercises where one side blames the other for having “started” the riots. COMPASS has provided fair reporting to document both allegations: one report states that the riots began with a Muslim man harassing a woman going to church, another report claims that the riots started over Christian youths “stopping a Muslim from rebuilding his house.”

But the obvious point to any people of faith who respect each other and respect our universal human rights is that it really does not matter who “started” the latest conflict. The reports of burned houses of worship, rioters murdering with machetes, gunfire in the street, dead bodies thrown in wells, axes used on little children, warrant shame and international condemnation from both sides and a unequivocal renunciation of religious hate. The Jos riots are a horror story of human beings’ inhumanity to one another, driven by nothing less than blind, unreasoning hatred.

So a week later, it is disturbing to see the significant silence of many international religious leaders, outside of local Nigerian religious leaders, in condemning such violence.  While we have positive statements from Archbishop Kaigama calling for residents to “sheath their swords and be their brothers’ keepers” and Sheik Balarabe Dawud appealing for calm, there is a larger international silence that ignores that this latest Jos violence, even worse than the 2008 Jos riots, even happened.

There is silence from the Vatican (we even contacted the Catholic News Service to see if we had missed something).   There is silence from the likes of Rick Warren, a long time defender of former Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) leader Archbishop Peter Akinola, who told reporters in 2006 that while “No Christian would pray for violence, but it would be utterly naive to sweep this issue of Islam under the carpet… [and that] I’ve said before: let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence.”

But the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) had a statement. Even the Muslim Brotherhood had a statement. This is the same OIC that seeks to promote Sharia law as an alternative “Cairo Declaration” code – defying universal human rights to the nations of the world, and the Muslim Brotherhood whose motto is “Jihad is our way.” But they managed to speak out against the Jos violence, while there was a deafening silence from the international Christian community condemning such hate and violence – on both sides.

Media reports have described the Jos riots as having predominantly Muslim victims. On January 19, NEXT reported that Balarabe Dawud, the head of the central mosque in Jos, had received 192 bodies. On January 23, Human Rights Watch told AFP that Muslims were then quoting 364 Muslims dead in the riots. Also on January 23, The Daily Nation was reporting on bodies being dumped in wells, with reports of people being burned alive, and children being attacked, with one witness stating “He said he had seen the bodies of 20-30 children, some burned, some sliced with machetes, and that his wife was in hospital with an 11-month-old girl who had been cut with an axe.”

The Daily Nation also reported that “US-based Human Rights Watch said groups of armed men attacked the mostly Muslim population of Kuru Karama on January 19, burning some alive and killing others as they tried to flee. It urged [Nigerian Vice President] Jonathan to order an investigation of ‘credible reports of a massacre of at least 150 Muslim residents’. They were armed with cutlasses, guns, sticks and bags of stone. It was not the Christians from our community but those from outside who came,’ one 32-year-old resident of Kuru Karama, who was not named, told Human Rights Watch. ‘The children were running helter-skelter. The men were trying to protect the women. People who ran into the bush were killed. Some were burned in the mosque and some went to the houses and were burned,’ he said.”

As of January 25, Punch was reporting that the total death count was estimated at 492 dead, after another 28 bodies were found, with “dozens of cars, houses, churches and mosques were also burnt during four days of unrest.”  On January 18, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported that 40 Christians had been killed in the riots.  On January 21, Reuters reported that “correspondent saw three burnt bodies lying on the streets in Jos and several buildings, churches and cars destroyed by fire.”

After reports that the most recent riots were spurred by an attack on worshippers at a church, security was heightened around Christian churches in the Jos area, where many attended services on Sunday, January 24, while others still sought to flee the area.  Growing fear of additional attacks were reported by both area Christians and Muslims sending text messages to members of their groups on anticipated future attacks. In addition, the violence in Nigeria seemed to be spreading with reports of a Christian Anglican bishop kidnapped on January 24.

Certainly some of the reporting may be inaccurate as Nigerian Archbishop Kaigama suggests.  Moreover, Christianity Today’s Craig Keener stated that readers should be wary that “international media outlets have often depended largely on the Muslim-dominated Hausa media of northern Nigeria.”  Craig Keener also cautioned about “one recent case, when according to some reports many Muslim young men were gunned down charging peace-keeping soldiers, their bodies were displayed to the media in the mosque as if ‘Christians’ had slaughtered them there.”

But the accuracy of how many Christians or Muslims were killed by either Christians or Muslims, and where they were killed, really is not the point.  The failure of too many to recognize this is indeed the real problem.  People promoting a religious view of fellowship should always be willing to recognize and unequivocally condemn anyone who uses a religious rationale for hate and violence.

You cannot promote religious love, if you won’t recognize and reject religious hate – especially when it comes from members of your religion.  Our shared rights to exchange ideas and expect dignity for our religious beliefs comes with the shared responsibility to never allow our religious beliefs to be used to rationalize hate.  Surely the thousands that have died in Nigeria over religious hate deserve more than a determined denial over why they died.

But the idea that this latest violence in Jos was based on religious hate seems to be scrupulously ignored.  While Nigerian Christian Archbishop Kaigama has stated that Nigeria is “messing up,” he states that the continuing violence in Jos is more political than religious, with Catholic News Service (CNS) reporting that “[m]edia reports describing the violence as a religious clash between Muslims and Christians were inaccurate.” CNS reported that “Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos said the origin of the current conflicts, like those of 2008, was a struggle for political control of the city between the Hausa people, who are predominantly Muslim, and the indigenous residents, who are mostly Christians.”  The Financial Times has the same story line, arguing that the source of the violence is merely “politics and poverty.”

Where have we heard this before?  Just about every place that is in denial on religious violence: Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, you name it – the same argument of “politics and poverty” is trotted out to ignore that it is not merely politics that makes people pick up machetes against their neighbors, it is not merely poverty that makes people burn down houses of worship, and it is not merely misunderstandings that lead people to pick up axes against little children.  There are plenty of political disagreements that don’t lead to such carnage.  There are plenty of impoverished people in the world that don’t find the answer to their poverty in murder and atrocities.

No the source of such violence is not just “politics and poverty,” it is hate.   Moreover, the world will perceive this as religious hate.  While much of the western media has either ignored or marginally reported this story, how do we expect it is being covered on the pro-jihadist web sites of the world?

The widespread silence by responsible, international Christian leaders and Muslim leaders (outside of the anti-freedom OIC and Muslim Brotherhood groups) to recognize and condemn such religious hatred by both those Christian and Muslim rioters in Jos will certainly ensure that the Jos riots will be used by those who perceive a global Christian “war on Islam,” which remains a motivator for violent jihadists around the world.

For those of both faiths that seek to reject religious supremacism and hate, the Jos riots represents an opportunity to be responsible for each other, responsible for defending love and peace, and responsible for our shared universal human rights and dignity.

Responsible for Equality And Liberty urges such religious leaders not to pass up the opportunity to make their position clear on the religious hatred seen in the Jos riots, and urge others to Choose Love, Not Hate.