Fear and loathing in Nigeria

Last night I followed a random tweet that linked to this report from Nina Shea at National Review's Corner:

In its latest move to effect religious cleansing in Africa’s largest country, Boko Haram — the Nigerian Islamist movement that claimed responsibility for the deadly Christmas Day bombings of a Catholic church, an evangelical church, and three police stations — is now reportedly warning all Christians in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north to evacuate by Friday or else face new attacks. It also vowed to confront Nigerian troops sent to quell four of the northern states it has targeted with violence.

Well that sure sounds like big news. Unfortunately, it's not big enough to get into the Washington Post. Or The New York Times. There is, however, an op-ed in the New York Times arguing against the U.S. getting involved in Nigeria's problems. Headline: "In Nigeria, Boko Haram Is Not the Problem." (Not everyone agrees.) That op-ed contradicts, in part, what was reported in the news section of the New York Times in August. Which is fine, of course, but it's problematic that there's no news on Boko Haram's ultimatum. There's also nothing in the Los Angeles Times about this latest action.

But other media outlets are interested. Agence France Presse covered it. So did The Telegraph. I embedded the CNN video above which talks about Boko Haram's ultimatum as well as some of the background on simmering problems in Nigeria. There's a print article on CNN as well. Headlined "Islamist militants in Nigeria warn Christians to leave north within 3 days," it is actually a somewhat terrifying read that ends with a warning about how quickly things could explode beyond repair in Nigeria. (And following Twitter makes it seem like things are on the precipice now.) Here's a snippet:

Nigeria has almost equal numbers of Christian and Muslims, with the south predominantly Christian. Boko Haram and other Islamic groups claim the north has been starved of resources and marginalized by the government of Jonathan, who is a Christian.

Boko Haram (which according to the group means "Western civilization is forbidden") is demanding the imposition of Islamic sharia law across Nigeria.

Christian leaders have demanded a stronger response to the attacks from the government and the Muslim community. Ayo Oritsejafor, head of the Christian Association of Nigeria, complained last week that the response of Islamic leaders had been "unacceptable and an abdication of their responsibilities."

"The Christian community is fast losing confidence in government's ability to protect our rights," Oritsejafor said.

David Cook of Rice University, who has studied the rise of Boko Haram, said that "if radical Muslim violence on a systematic level were to take hold in Nigeria ... it could eventually drive the country into a civil war."

Corruption, poverty and a lack of government services have helped Boko Haram gain support, especially among young Muslims out of work. So has a perception that the Muslim north has been marginalized by a political establishment drawn largely from the Christian south.

Reuters FaithWorld is a great site for updates on what's going in Nigeria. Here's a link to a few of their recent reports.

Anyway, while many U.S. media outlets ignore the ultimatum or Jonathan's state of emergency, other outlets are covering things. Here Reuters describes what the first tank patrols look like. Here Reuters speaks with a Muslim ex-warlord about the looming fight against Boko Haram.

Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, a Muslim who led a rebellion in the delta until a peace deal with the government in 2004, said bomb attacks by Boko Haram could provoke retaliation by mostly Christian southerners, including those living in the delta. ...

Asked if northerners could be targeted by some from the majority Christian south, he replied: "It is seconds away ... Nigeria is on the precipice of a civil war."

"For Niger Delta people to take up arms is just a minute away. It's just Goodluck that is holding us back," said Asari, who is from Jonathan's southern, mainly Christian Ijaw tribe, but who converted to Islam.

"We have all reached the extreme. There is nothing anybody can do about it except we fight."

Super interesting story.

The Pew Forum had some helpful information on threats to religious freedom in Nigeria.

France 24 has some interesting background on the group's religious goals here.

On top of the rather serious religious strife we've been talking about, a strike has been called for Monday -- because of the government stopping fuel subsidies -- and protests are already being reported. Nigeria is a place to watch. Let's hope the U.S. media develop a bit more interest in the story.

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