Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Boko Haram's Attack on Damaturu Christians

Yobe State, Nigeria

´╗┐Twenty years ago, while I was pursuing doctoral research early Christianity in Tuebingen, a Protestant friend of mine also studying in Germany, but who had worked in Africa on Bible translations during the 1980s, told me of a planned assault on churches in Nigeria carried out by radical Muslims, Islamic groups we now call Islamists, apparently. Hundreds of churches were burned on the same day, he told me, and added that he had seen photographs of burnt-out church after burnt-out church. I asked a Roman Catholic priest about the incident, and he confirmed it. Since then, ten years before 9/11, I've paid close attention to Islamist attacks on non-Muslims, often against Christian victims in poor countries of Africa and Asia.

One of the offspring of those radicals of the 1980s in Nigeria is the Islamic extremist sect officially called Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, Arabic for "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad." With a mouthful of a name like that, it fortunately has a more common one, Boko Haram, an expression that means, roughly, "Western Learning is Forbidden." With such a name as this for the radical group, we can imagine that it might attack schools, but it also attacks churches. Just recently, according an article in Compass Direct News, "Violence in Yobe State, Nigeria Aimed Mainly at Christians" (November 11, 2011), Boko Haram attacked Christians and their churches on November 4, 2011 in the Yobe State's capital, Damaturu:
Boko Haram bombed and destroyed 10 church buildings: those of St. Mary's Catholic Church, Church of the Brethren, Cherubim and Seraphim Church, All Saints Cathedral (Anglican Communion), and Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), African Mission Centre, Assemblies of God Church, ECWA Good News Church, Living Faith Church, and Charismatic Renewal Ministries.

Boko Haram appears to be 'ecumenical' in its attacks. In fact, it's even broader than that in its ideological interests, for this radical sect not only attacked church buildings, revealing its religious intentions, it also has political aims, for it clearly intends to destabilize the Yobe State capital:
More than 200 members of the Islamic extremist Boko Haram sect stormed the Yobe state capital, Damaturu, at 5 p.m. on Nov. 4, and soon the terrorists had blocked all four major highways leading into town. Some of them charged the police headquarters, commando style, killing all officers on duty, while the rest broke into two banks -- First Bank Nigeria PLC and United Bank for Africa, stealing millions of naira. Boko Haram also bombed police stations and an army base in and around Damaturu.

The militants seem to have been rather well organized and well armed if they can overwhelm the police and an army base! They must therefore be receiving weapons and training somewhere. The money for that probably comes from radical Islamists in the Middle East. Note that Boko Haram specifically targets Christians:
Having successfully dislodged security agencies after a series of gun battles and the detonation of explosives, the terrorists then led other area Muslims to the only Christian ward in town, New Jerusalem in Damaturu, home to more than 15,000 Christians, church leaders said.

The Christian leaders in Damaturu told Compass that out of the 150 casualties reported in the Yobe attacks, more than 130 were Christians. When the Muslim extremists went to New Jerusalem, they said, any Christian they met who could not recite the Islamic creed was instantly shot and killed or slaughtered like a lamb.

The demand that a Christian recite the Islamic creed -- the Shahada -- served two purposes, I presume: 1) to single out Christians, who would be likely to be unfamiliar with the creed, and 2) to force Christians to convert, for if one recites the Shahada before Muslim witnesses, one becomes a Muslim. A local Christian leader called the attack a jihad against the church, and he's undoubtedly correct, the aim being to kill, expel, or convert the 15,000 or more Christian living in Damaturu, roughly one-sixth of the city's 90,000 inhabitants. That's assuming that the Christian aren't offered the opportunity to submit in humility to Islamist overlords and pay the unbelievers' tax known as jizya.

There's a tendency among Westerners to pass these attacks off as politically motivated and thus not truly religious in their inspiration, but that's a Western view of politics and religion that sees them as two separate spheres, which is not how Muslims generally see things, and certainly not how Islamists see them.

Hence the bloody borders that Huntington infamously referred to . . .

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At 8:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This summer the Catholic church where my family has worshipped for three generations hosted a mission priest from Nigeria. After listening to the priest diplomatically describe persecution of Christians there, I stuffed $20 in the mission envelope to support religious freedom.


At 2:07 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

One thing that we should also keep in mind is that these radical Islamists are a deep problem for the average Muslim. I might post some comments on that from an interview with a Coptic Christian by Michael J. Totten.

Jeffery Hodges

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