One thing that has particularly troubled me in the aftermath of the Jos crisis has been hearing both Christians and Muslims (and all other combinations of this: Hausa/Berom/idigene/settler/outsider/insider) blaming the other “side,” without taking any responsibility for actions committed by their own “side.” I am also troubled by how international mission groups/churches have seemed to use the crisis as a way to further an agenda to “prove” that Muslims are fanatical and hateful and violent, even if this means ignoring the fact that so-called Christians have also been fanatical hateful and violent. In fact, some of these Christian websites go so far as to deny that Christians took part in the violence and claim that Muslims are inflating the numbers of their own losses, without recognizing that they might be doing the exact same thing. Even Craig Keener, a family friend and world renowned biblical theologian who has previously written books on peace and conflict resolution and whom I admire a great deal, in an article in Christianity Today ironically titled “The Truth about the Religious Violence in Jos, Nigeria” presented only the “Christian” side of the story he had heard from friends in Jos without doing much investigation on how the other side might view it. Many of the comments on the Christianity Today articles about the crisis from various Christian readers are cringeworthy.
One of the best analyses I have yet seen on the crisis from the R.E.A.L. Organization (Responsibility for Equality and Liberty) takes to task the international faith communities for not doing more to denounce the atrocities committed by their faith communities, pointing out:
But the obvious point to any people of faith who respect each other and respect our universal human rightsis 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.
Let me be clear: I am a Christian. As I have mentioned in the past few posts, I know Christians who have lost homes, family members, and churches in these ongoing crises in Jos. In the 2008 crisis, I spent almost a week with Christians in a refugee camp at my parents house. I have the deepest sympathy for them and agree that the international community should pray for and support financially those who have lost so much. But perhaps the international Christian community should expand their compassion to include the many, many Muslims who have suffered as well.
Let me also be clear that, living in Kano and having many Muslim friends, I have heard similar claims by Muslims to the complete innocence of the Hausa community and complete blame against the “vicious and warring local tribesman” (that is a direct quote) of Plateau State. I recently read a poem by a Hausa Muslim acquaintance that I found very disturbing, that cast the settlers as peace-loving civilized people and the indigenes basically as bloodthirsty savages who pass the time by murdering other people. Now, it’s clear that both sides see the other side as having started the crisis and being at fault in it. Both sides dehumanize the other. And this kind of rhetoric, on both sides, will only feed the fires.
I intend my critique to be against all of those who look at only their own side of the story–both Christians and Muslims. However, since I am a Christian, I feel I have a particular responsibility to take my own faith community to task for what seems to be a lack of compassion and a refusal to try to see through the eyes of the “other,” of using the tragic deaths of both Christians and Muslims to further an agenda to demonize Islam. And to those who claim Christians are completely innocent, let me say that for the past year and a half that I have been back in Nigeria, I have heard Christian friends in Jos say poisonous, toxic, hateful things about Hausas and Muslims. I have heard Christian friends rejoicing over the destruction of Muslim property, even over the burned hull of a primary school owned by a Muslim. When I protested, I was told that I didn’t know what I was talking about. (In fact, my mother just told me the story of a Christian non-Berom friend whose shop was burned by Christians–he rents from a Muslim) So let me protest on a more public forum, and those who disagree with me are free to answer me in the comments section of this blog. I have no doubt that there is much similar rhetoric on the Muslim side of the divide that I do not hear because few people would say such things in front of me, but whether there is or not, does not excuse Christians for hate. As Jesus said, “43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[h] and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies[i] and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5: 43-45
I will provide links to two articles on Christian websites here. There are many more, but these are the two that I wrote comments on, trying to point their readers to Human Rights Watch articles that would provide a more complex picture of the situation. My comments, which I posted over a week ago, were never approved and made visible on these websites. I’m sure the people who posted these stories are good people, who have the best intentions to help their Christian brothers and sisters in Nigeria, but in not posting the comments of someone who tried to bring some amount of balance and context to the story, they are not doing our faith any favours. In fact, by ignoring my contribution in favour of their own preferred sources, one could even say they are complicit in the spread of hatred.
But let me give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they have not seen my comments. Perhaps the internet ate my posts. If this is the case, I welcome them to contact me when they receive the pingback from my link.
The first one, “Jos is Burning,” is from the CMS mission on January 20, 2010. I read the article because someone posted a link to it on Facebook. The article correctly reports on deaths and losses of property from Christians. It also reports several rumours and allegations about “Muslim” soldiers targeting Christians:
A statement from the Anglican Diocese of Jos said that over the last two months, there has been concern over widespread rumours of plans to bomb the homes of Christian leaders and to kill senior members of Christian churches.
There are worries that the military, brought in to contain the violence, seems to be splintering along religious lines with claims that Muslim troops are allegedly firing on Christians and armoured vehicles are opening fire on Christian civilians. CSW reports that one eyewitness saw a Christian youth singled out in a crowd by a soldier, who forced him to kneel and executed him.
It finally lists a number of admirable prayer requests, including that “For Christian leaders in Jos, especially the Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi: for safety, courage, wisdom and opportunities to make connections across the Christian-Muslim divide.”
On January 20, I attempted to post the following comment,
While we should rightly be very concerned about violence against
Christians in Jos and elsewhere, I think we also need to be careful
not to focus so completely on our “own” side as to miss the violence
and hateful rhetoric carried out by Christians against Muslims as
I am a Christian who spent a good part of my adolescence in Jos. I now
live in Kano and have many Hausa Muslim friends. At least two or three
of my personal acquaintances (Hausa Muslims–Jasawa) from Jos but who
now live in Kano have had their family homes burned and relatives
wounded and killed. One acquaintance lost her grandmother and many
other family members. And if Muslim soldiers have been targeting
Christians, the same is happening with Christian soldiers targeting
Muslims. If churches have been burnt, mosques also have been burnt.
In fact, in one report, almost all of the Muslim homes in the village
of Kuru Jenta were burned and many Muslims”rounded up and killed:”
For another side of the story about the beginning of this conflict,
see this article from a Northern newspaper. It presents one side of
the story, but it may provide some explanation of the context behind
the church being attacked:
Similarly, for those who are not familiar with Jos, to make this a
story about persecuted Christians without mentioning the complex
politics behind it oversimplifies the story:
For more detailed information on the specific context of this
conflict, see these links:
Recent academic article by shari’a-in-Nigeria scholar Philip Ostien on
the 2008 Jos crisis
Human Rights Watch report on the Settler/Indigene politics in Nigeria,
with about 5 case studies from different parts of the country,
including the plateau
Human Rights Watch report on Military abuses in the 2008 Jos crisis:
Have Christians been killed? Yes. Have churches been burnt? Yes. I was
in Jos during the 2008 crisis and we had a refugee camp at our house
made up of mostly members from Emmanuel Baptist church, which had been
burnt for the 3rd time. (Hopefully, it has not been burnt again in
this crisis.) There is very much a need for prayer for Jos. But, let’s
please not focus so much on the Christian side that we forget that
Muslims are suffering and dying, as well, often at the hands of those
who claim to be Christians.
To date, it has still not been posted. Perhaps the internet ate it.
The second post on the 2008 Jos crisis I found because it is the automatically wordpress generated “suggested link” after my blog post on the Jos crisis. This article,“Nigerian Christians Murdered Left Homeless by Organized Muslim Attack”, posted by a Pastor Chuck and Arlyn on a site called “Urgent Prayer Chain” was a bit more sensational.
Pastor Chuck and Arlyn say:
The following report was received by Christian Aid from a native missionary living in Jos, Nigeria. Most reports of this situation by secular media contain skewed information, received directly from the Nigerian government. This information includes false claims that Christians attacked and killed Muslims, and vastly underestimates the damage done to Christian lives and property. In reality, Muslims plotted an attack on Jos Christians days before the election results were announced.
Now, I remember, at the time, as we sat through the crisis with hundreds of Christian refugees in and around our house, thinking that the international media reports did seem somewhat skewed and biased. However, for Pastor Chuck and Arlyn who were not actually in Jos or Nigeria at the time and who were relying on their information from one source, to claim that reports of Christians attacking and killing Muslims were “false claims” or that “in reality, Muslims plotted” the attack seems unwise and in fact quite dangerous.
I posted the following response, which I know was received, because on my google chrome browser, which I was using when I wrote and posted it, it shows my comment and says “awaiting moderation.” On Internet Explorer, it shows no comment. This was my response:
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
January 23, 2010 @ 8:48 pm
As a Christian who was in Jos during the November 2008 crisis and had a refugee camp from three different churches at my family home, I appreciate the attempt to raise awareness about the sectarian crises in jos. However, I think we as Christians also need to be a little bit careful about skewing the story to “our” side so much as to not recognize that Muslims, many of whom I know personally, also suffered a great deal in this crisis, many times at the hands of those who call themselves Christians. While you say that “secular media [...] includes false claims that Christians attacked and killed Muslims,” it is actually very well known in Jos that so-called Christians did engage in serious reprisal attacks. While we can say that people who kill others are not truly Christians, I have, with my own ears, heard Jos-based pastors advocating violence against Muslims (as well as some very admirable pastors who stress non-violence and forgiveness.)
You say that the “original” inhabitants of the land are Christian, but that “but the green farmland pastures have attracted Muslim Hausa and Fulani people from the north.” This is a bit of an over simplification. The Muslim Hausa community, also known as the Jasawa, has been in Jos for over 100 years, and has until recently lived fairly peacefully with the Christian “indigenes.” Many commentators who have researched this feel that these crises are actually political and have much to do with Nigeria’s policies about granting certain rights only to “indigenes” of the land, which often means that three or four generations of a family may have lived in one place but still not be considered “indigine.” The Jasawa community is denied rights such as reduced tuition at the university, opportunities to be employed in the civil service, and political representation. This does not excuse violence but places the crisis in more context. Just as many Christian “indigenes” feel that the violence is orchestrated by outside Hausa Muslim forces, many Hausas also feel that the violence is orchestrated by local “Christian” “indigene” politicians who are using ethnic chauvinism to reclaim land that has been bought and lived on for years by the Jasawa.
For more detailed information, please see the following articles: “Jonah Jang and the Jasawa: Ethno-Religious Conflict in Jos, Nigeria” by sharia-in-Nigeria scholar Philip Ostien ; a Human Rights Watch report on the politics of “Settler/indigene” in Nigeria , with a section on Plateau State , and the Human Rights Watch report on the Military abuses during the 2008 crisis, which have no doubt been continued during this most recent 2010 crisis .
For an example of why it is so dangerous to talk about only one side of the story, see these reports of a massacre of a Muslim community that took place only a few days ago in Jos:
I say all of this as a Christian who knows Christians who have been killed in these conflicts, Christians who have lost their homes, and Christians who have seen their churches burned. I am not trying to downplay the amount that Christians have suffered, but to urge us not to open our eyes wider to the complexity of these crises and to reach out in love to our Muslim neighbors who have suffered much as well. This is the only hope we have that these crises will stop.
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
January 23, 2010 @ 8:52 pm
For some reason, the links I posted above did not come through.
The link to the “Jonah Jang and the Jasawa” article is here:
The link to the human rights watch report on the “Indigene/Settler” policy in Nigeria is here:
The link to the specific details on Plateau State is here;
The link to the Human Rights Watch report on Extrajudicial killings in the 2008 Jos crisis is here:
I’m sorry that neither of my comments were posted, as I think those posts, without any sort of caveats, will merely further global misunderstandings about what is going on and will further solidify an “us against them” mentality among Christians and Muslims around the world. [UPDATE 4 February 2009: to be fair, the urgent prayer chain blog has now posted my comment.) As the R.E.A.L. organization notes:
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.
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.
Ultimately, I am not interested in “who started it” so much as “how will we now respond.” How will Christians and Muslims in Jos respond? How will Christians and Muslims in the rest of Nigeria respond? How will Christians and Muslims around the world respond? Certainly justice must be done, and the organizers of such violence must be found, prosecuted, and punished. But if we wait for justice before we begin to reach out to the other, before we begin to forgive and try to heal broken communities, I fear that as Dr. Martin Luther King observed: The “Hate [will multiply] hate, violence [will multiply] violence, and toughness [will multiply] toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”