Ethnic Violence in Nigeria Has Killed 500, Officials Say
By ADAM NOSSITER
DAKAR, Senegal — Officials and human rights groups in Nigeria said Monday that about 500 people had died in weekend ethnic violence near the central city of Jos, considerably more than what had initially been reported.
A government spokesman said Sunday that the dead numbered more than 300. The victims were Christians killed by rampaging Muslim herdsmen, officials and human rights workers said, apparently in reprisal for similar attacks on Muslims in January.
Emphases mine. I didn’t realize “Christian” and “Muslim” were ethnic categories. You read down into the story, and you realize that the Christian victims were members of one ethnic group, and the Muslim perpetrators are members of another. OK, fine. But what kind of cockeyed editorial policy downplays the religious nature of this violence? Does it really enhance our understanding of the deadly conflict in Nigeria to marginalize the religious element of the fighting?
A few years back, Philip Jenkins, in an Atlantic Monthly profile of Archbishop Peter Akinola, Nigeria’s Anglican primate, who had become a controversial figure in the West for his hardline stance on homosexuality, wrote:
That Akinola has now spoken out so strongly on issues being debated in other countries suggests his level of fury. This arises in part from his sense that the Northern churches are abandoning the Christian moral tradition. But another element further explains Akinola’s–and, indeed, African Christianity’s–desperate intervention in the Church’s controversies over homosexuality: rivalry with Islam. At first sight the connection may seem tenuous: what does it matter to Christians in Lagos or Kampala whether an Anglican minister blesses two men in a civil ceremony of union in Vancouver? But the link is in fact an important one.
Nigeria is a land of intense interfaith conflict. Islamist authorities have imposed sharia law in a third of the country’s thirty-six states, and Christians there face a very real danger of persecution and jihad. These sharia states include Kebbi and Kaduna, where Akinola lived during his years of theological training in the 1970s. He saw firsthand the growth of Muslim militancy, and his diploma is from the Theological College of Northern Nigeria, located in Jos, which for several years now has been a storm center of rioting and anti-Christian pogroms. Since 1990 the Anglican Church has responded to these threats by deliberately reinforcing its presence in the Muslim north, to show that Christians are not going to fade away without a fight.
This struggle provides the crucial context for African concerns about sexual morality. Across the continent Muslims have tried to make converts by arguing that the Christian West is decadent and sexually irresponsible–a belief that finds daily confirmation in Western films and television. If the Anglican Communion accepted gay bishops or approved gay unions, Muslims would gain an enormous propaganda victory in Nigeria–and in a dozen or so other African countries in which Christians and Muslims compete for converts, often violently. When Akinola speaks out, therefore, it is not because he wants to intrude on the affairs of other churches but, rather, because he feels that the very existence of Christianity in his own territory is under threat. At stake, he believes, is the religious map of much of Africa, and the global balance between Christianity and Islam.
Now that’s interpretive reporting that helps us understand what better what’s going on in Nigeria. Plainly there is an ethnic element to the recent bloodshed in Nigeria. But I want to know more about why Nigerian Muslims and Nigerian Christians are fighting so viciously. Anyway, this screwball headline brought to mind the headline on this Times story from 2002: “Killing Underscores Enmity of Evangelists and Muslims.” It was about Lebanese Muslims who had murdered an Evangelical medical missionary. The enmity only went one way, obviously; that headline really misled the reader.