“Traveling by road into Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s northeast, has become one of the most dangerous journeys on earth.” So begins an alarming and timely Wall Street Journal article about ever-encroaching violence in Nigeria, Africa’s largest country and most powerful financial center.
Writer Joe Parkinson describes four primary highways that lead into that northern Nigerian city, once known as “Home of Peace.” Along those roads some 200 people have been murdered in the past six months. Since its happier days, today Maiduguri is better known as the birthplace of Boko Haram, the brutal Islamist terrorist group.
“The attacks are conducted by militants fighting for Boko Haram and a splinter group loyal to Islamic State,” Parkinson explains. “With each passing month they become more brazen, targeting civilians, aid workers, soldiers and even the state’s most powerful politicians.”
And unlike most Western reporters, Parkinson notes that Christians are specifically targeted in these attacks. “Soldiers and Maiduguri residents who travel the roads say the extremists regularly erect mobile checkpoints, searching for Christians and government employees to kidnap for ransom or execute on the roadside.”
Family Research Council’s 2020 report on Nigeria points out that although violence against Christian communities by Muslim attackers was recognized well before the founding of Boko Haram, it became much more intense and frequent after 2009, when the group’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed by Nigerian authorities. Subsequently the group—along with other smaller jihadi sects—became notably more deadly and dangerous.
With this acceleration in recent years, verified reports of murders, rapes, mutilations, and kidnappings of Christians in Nigeria have persistently increased. These attacks are frequently accompanied by the torching of homes, churches, villages, and agricultural fields. A July 15, 2020 headline reported that 1,202 Nigerian Christians were killed in the first six months of 2020. This is in addition to 11,000 Christians who have been killed since June 2015. Such violence has reached a point at which expert observers and analysts are warning of a progressive genocide—a “slow-motion war” specifically targeting Christians across Africa’s largest and most economically powerful nation.
In one well-known incident, a 14-year-old Christian girl was abducted by Boko Haram in February 2018. Leah Sharibu has been in captivity ever since. Leah and her classmates were rounded up during an attack on Dapchi, a small village in Yobe State. When Boko Haram shot its way into town, panic ensued, and everyone fled. Days later, once the scattered students had returned to their classes, a roll call revealed that 110 girls were missing— including Leah.
Although the Muslim girls who survived the attack were eventually released, Leah refused to deny her Christian faith. She remains in captivity to this day, enslaved and reportedly having given birth to the child of one of her captors. She continues to be the focus of worldwide prayer.
Meanwhile, Boko Haram isn’t the only group attacking Christians. Another group, known as Fulani herdsmen or tribesmen, have been slaughtering entire Christian communities during increasingly frequent attacks in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region. Yet—despite their obvious targeting of churches, Christian communities, pastors, and seminary students—some scholars, analysts and, unfortunately, even U.S. authorities refuse to recognize the religious nature of numerous attacks and attackers.
Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow for Religious Freedom at Hudson Institute writes:
While there is some recognition of the primary, self-declared, religious mission of Boko Haram and the numerous ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliates that have made West Africa the world center of terrorism, there is still widespread resistance to recognition of the religious nature of attacks by Fulani tribesmen on predominantly Christian villages, people and churches
In her July 17, 2019, confirmation hearing, U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Mary Beth Leonard referred to the carnage in the Middle Belt of Nigeria as “banditry and inter-communal conflict” and “escalating farmer-herder and inter-communal conflict frequently based in resource competition, but enflamed by conflation of ethnic and religious overlays.”
Abraham Cooper and Johnnie Moore, in their book The Next Jihad: Stop the Christian Genocide in Africa describe a meeting they had in February 2020 with Amb. Leonard in which they discussed the possible religious aspects of the violence wracking the country. “She denied that it was at all about religion and described the conflict as ‘fundamentally a resource issue…. Religion was, according to Ambassador Leonard, only relevant as it served as a potential accelerant to conflict. She left us with the impression that people like us, by speaking up for victims of religious persecution, were part of the problem. We found this to be hugely alarming.”
Some years ago, Paul Marshall, Roberta Ahmanson and I co-authored a book called Blind Spot: Why Journalists Don’t Get Religion. We learned that many—if not most—mainstream journalists are from very secular backgrounds, know little about faith, spiritual awareness, or devotion, and simply don’t see how religion deeply shapes culture and conduct in most of the world beyond the West.
However, sad to say, it isn’t just journalists. A close look at many diplomats, intelligence officers, politicians, and academics exposes that they share that same blind spot with journalists.
It is still remarkable, however, that although self-proclaimed jihadis slaughter Christians in their homes, churches, and fields, beheading them and shouting Allahu-Akbar as a victory cry, observers do not acknowledge the killers’ Islamist intensions. As we’ve seen in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, and far beyond, the truth about anti-Christian violence is seldom disclosed, understood, or reported. It’s a blind spot for sure. And it’s a deadly one.