Who lit the bomb in Nigeria?

NigeriaStatesMapAnyone who knows anything about global religious-liberty issues has known for several years that Nigeria is a bomb waiting to go off. In the north, Muslim states have pressed for sharia law. In the largely Christian and animist south, leaders have struggled to embrace the rule of law, as defined in the West. The two legal doctrines cannot, by definition, coexist and, thus, Nigeria has been sitting on a legal and religious landmine.

Now the cartoon intifada may have caused the long-awaited explosion. First the MSM headlines talked about riots and deaths inspired by the Danish cartoons, complete with churches burning and Christian neighborhoods being attacked. Now the headlines are dominated by the horrific account of the second wave of violence, with Muslims facing the fury of the Christians and animists they previously attacked.

As for me, I think that the top paragraphs of this New York Times report by Lydia Polgreen did a solid job of capturing both sides of this deadly equation, under a headline that cited the source of the violence, rather than simply blaming one side or the other: “Nigeria Counts 100 Deaths Over Danish Caricatures.” Here is the opening of that story:

Dozens of charred, smoldering bodies littered the streets of this bustling commercial center on Thursday after three days of rioting in which Christian mobs wielding machetes, clubs and knives set upon their Muslim neighbors.

Rioters have killed scores of people here, mostly Muslims, after burning their homes, businesses and mosques in the worst violence yet linked to the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad first published in a Danish newspaper. The violence in Nigeria began with attacks on Christians in the northern part of the country last week by Muslims infuriated over the cartoons.

Now old ethnic and political tensions between Muslims in the north and Christians here in the south have been reignited, with at least 33 bodies still visible on the streets of Onitsha on Thursday and a local organization that has tried to collect the scattered corpses reporting that it has already picked up 80 others. The cycle of tit-for-tat sectarian violence has pushed the death toll in the last week well beyond 100, making Nigeria the hardest-hit country so far in the caricature controversy.

The hellish images and quotations speak for themselves. There is enough evil and blood in this story to cover the hands of violent people on both sides. Yet the Times did not bury the key fact that the bloodshed began, once again, with riots against the cartoons of Muhammad.

If GetReligion readers want a one-stop list of URLs for this story, they should click here and head — of course — to the Christianity Today weblog. Editor-reporter Ted Olsen jumped on the Nigeria story early enough to have posted one collection of links about the violence against the churches, with the haunting headline “Muslim Riots Move from Anti-Europe to Anti-Christian.” Now he is following up with the second wave of violence against Muslims.

nigeriaI have to admit that I was relieved when I read the Times report, in large part because coverage in the Washington Post seems to have paid more attention to the second set of riots than the first, kind of like a basketball referee who sees the second foul and not the first that inspired it.

You can see this in the series of wire service reports that covered the anti-cartoon riots (here, here and here), the riots in which the victims were Christians. Then the coverage kicks up a notch with Post editors turning to their own correspondents for coverage of the hellish violence unleashed against the Muslims. Here is a piece of one of those reports, with the blunt headline “Christians Turn on Muslims In Nigeria; More Than 30 Die.”

Christian mobs in this southern city attacked Muslim motorists and traders Wednesday, leaving more than 30 people dead, according to witnesses, as religious riots sparked by the publishing of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad continued into a fifth day in Nigeria. Nationwide, the death toll reached at least 80.

Hordes of angry men marauded through Onitsha armed with machetes, guns and boards with nails pounded into their ends, witnesses said. The mobs burned two mosques and looted and destroyed Muslim-owned shops as they sought vengeance for similar attacks against Christians in two predominantly Muslim cities in northern part of the country.

“They’ve been killing our brothers and sisters in the north,” men shouted Wednesday morning, according to Afoma Clara Adique, 40, a motorist who had driven through Onitsha. She escaped the mobs, she said, but only after speaking to the men in a regional language used by Christians. Before she could get away, Adique said, she saw burned and dismembered bodies along the side of the road. … Her traveling companion, Tony Iweka, 45, a magazine editor, said a man in the mob raised his right hand to display what appeared to be a freshly decapitated head.

The Post did note that, with all of the anti-cartoon riots around the world, this was the first clash in which there were “counterattacks by Christians.”

It is impossible, of course, for reporters to get around the need to describe who attacked who.

However, can I make a suggestion? No doubt, there are radical Islamist clerics who are firing up their people to take to the streets and do whatever it is that rioters are going to do. There may be cases in which it is accurate to say that “Muslim” believers did horrific things, perhaps even while shouting “Allahu akbar!” Now, if reporters can find Christian leaders — clerics, actually — calling for violence, then by all means quote these ministers. It certainly is relevant that some of the rioters are leaving, in their wake, violent graffiti that refer to Christians taking revenge. Reporters have to report the facts.

But here is my suggestion. Right now, I think it is safer, especially in headlines and leads, to identify the victims of the violence than to be absolutely clear as to the faith-based motives and the identity of the thugs and demons doing the violence. It is safer to say that rioters killed Christians and burned churches. It is safer to say that rioters killed Muslims and burned mosques.

It is easier for journalists to prove — with their own words — that specific Muslims or specific Christians did or said something than it is to pin the blame for those actions on entire communities. This is true in France, the Netherlands, England, Jordan, Egypt, Nigeria and many other places. It may soon, sadly, be true in North America.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Walter

    Polgreen did the right thing by including a line near the top of the story about the volatile political and ethnic tensions between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. What makes Nigeria a powder keg isn’t merely a theological divide.

    But I would disagree that Nigeria is a bomb waiting to go off. It already has exploded. The latest riots, ostensibly over the Danish cartoons, are the latest in a series of clashes between Muslims and Christians. The riots from February through the spring of 2000 make the latest clashes seem small by comparison. Then and now, the level of brutality by both sides is astounding.

    Terry is right – journalists should be as accurate as they can when reporting on the riots. This includes steering away from pinning the clashes on entire communities. I would submit that accurate and fair reporting should also include the information about the tribal/ethnic affiliations of those under attack.

    For example, much more light would be shed on the conflicts if we knew that the riots were primarily between Muslim Hausa-Fulanis and Christian Ibos. Deeper reporting into some of the other contributing factors in the conflict would help reader have a three-dimensional understanding of what is going on there. Information about the ethnic and tribal makeup of those suffering in the riots is readily available for those reporting on the ground. This information would help provide a greater context for a story that is more complex than typically portrayed.

    To some, this suggestion may seem to unnecessarily complicate the reporting. However, reporting on conflicts such as in the former Yugoslavia always included the ethnic affiliation along with the religious bent of those involved in the fighting.

  • http://www.mail.yahoo.com ILORI DAYO K.

    First of all, am a Nigerian of Yoruba extraction from the West. I was born and grew up in Kano state in the North. Am a muslim, though a very good half of my family are christian. Even my mum too, & my fiancee. And i have witness more purported Religious crisis than i should.

    Saying Nigeria is a time bomb waiting to explode is not an understatement, i can say this authoratively because i have been in Nigeria the whole of my Twenty six years. And have travel the lenght and breadth of the Nation.

    Our (Nigeria) primary problem is not difference in religion but lack of beleive in the unity of the Country. We have so many diverse ethnic groups and everybody is just selfish. So much that those of very close ethnic background don’t trust one another and would still go to extremes to ensure that the concept of “WE” and “THEM” remain, and not “US”.

    Am a muslim but am not going to be bias to either of the two predominant religion (Islam & Christianity)in the nation. It has been an established fact ever since long that all the so-called religious crisis in the nation usually erupt from the North, which is largely populated by Muslims. But where most reporters go wrong in their Reporting is making the mistake of thinking the notherners are fighting the christians. They are not fighting Christians they are fighting perceived non-Notherners. I say perceived non-Notherners because they do beleive that in Nigeria only the Hausa – Fulanis (Northern indigenes) are the only true Muslims. And what more.. they can’t perfectly tell you are a non-Northerner by your facial look, so they resort to judging by your kind of dressing. If you are not wearing a flowing robe (Jalabya -Traditional Northern outfit) then you must be from the West or the East, and so a non-Muslim.

    The Hausas have entirely merged their culture into Religion and a great number of them cannot differentiate the difference between this Two.

    In all honesty, aside this issue of violence, they are more better people than both Westerners and Easterners combined. They tend to be very Honest, Humble, Helpful and Friendly until they feel Islam is being trampled upon. But this might still be attributed to the condition of Mass illiteracy prevalent in the North.

    I pray God will save my Dear Country from this time bomb she sat astride before it’s too late, and that our politician will stop counting on the ever volatile condition of the nation to achieve their selfish ends. (AMEN)

  • Caelius Spinator

    The closest I’ve seen to a Christian leader inciting violence is this bon mot from the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, the Anglican Primate, ++Peter Akinola,

    “May we at this stage remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation. Nigeria belongs to all of us – Christians, Muslims and members of other faiths. No amount of intimidation can change this time-honoured arrangement in this nation. C.A.N. may no longer be able to contain our restive youths should this ugly trend continue.”

    The first sentence joined with the last sentence smacks of a veiled threat. But he is a highly educated scholar. He also might be referencing Weber…

  • http://shanewilkins.blogspot.com shane wilkins

    I would like to ask if daniel pulliam still stands by his article of the 14th “Waving the White Flag”. In which he says:

    “Reporters [shouldn't] concern themselves with what governments want when publishing content. Sure, publishing the cartoons in the United States would not have exactly calmed the situation in the Middle East and would have played into the hands of those seeking to incite the riots. But does that change the fact that they were legitimate news items that should be published?”

    Are you still glad that all those patriotic european paper were embracing the principles of hardnosed journalism? Do you still believe that the American news organizations ought to have republished the cartoons?

    I am also going to ask for Pulliam’s reaction to Archibishop Akionla’s barely veiled threat of violence against muslims. link. Mr Pulliam believes “all Islam is responsible for terrorism done in its name in the sense that they must rise up and denounce this terrorism and work to shut it down.” Now, I’d love to know to what extent he personally feels responsible for the violence done by these Nigerian Christians and how he is going to ‘work to shut it down’.

  • http://www.spyman.ca George French


    Nothing happens in this modern day era without copious research being conducted by elite think tanks employed by governments and corporations assuming a role as an agent of change. There is a need to control the world’s supply of oil for the industrialized nations. There is a stumbling block in the path of such control. That obstruction is a religious faith known as Islam. Based on higher ideologies than the corporate quest for profit, Islam may not desire to adopt the mores of western civilization all that easily. There may be a need for some encouragement.

    In 2003 Rand Corporation completed a report called Civil Democratic Islam. It advocated exploiting the differences between the internal divisions of modern Islam. The Muslim faith has many devout subgroups that can easily be exploited. The rationale was to spread and promote western values. However, this concept could be applied in broader terms to get Islam to destroy itself from within. If one branch like the Shiite were attacked by another like the Sunni or vice verse, then Islam would destroy itself while the west watched as a passive observer. U.S. forces in Iraq are not interfering with armed militias moving about even though they are charged with serving as the senior law enforcement entity in that occupied land. We must wonder WHY?

    In light of the fact that the U.S. Armed Forces conducted a psychological operation with regard to the distribution of a cartoon to be published in middle eastern media, we must seriously assess the possibility that the recent unease in the middle east and other Muslim nations has been contrived. Mr. Marwan El Nashar publisher of AK Comics was approached in such a venture.

    A Danish comic is at the centre of great controversy in the Islamic world. We speculate that it was planned that way. In alternative media, it is no secret that the attacks of September 11th 2001 were a carefully crafted plan to change the world. This type of tactic has been used to legitimize war for centuries if not eternity. No one paid attention to the original publication of the infamous cartoons in September 2005. They were reprinted in an Egyptian newspaper, Al Fajr, in October of that year. Again no one cared. The pot needed special people to get what is being termed as The Clash of Civilizations started. That individual was Ahmed Abu-Laban a Danish Muslim cleric. He was one of the delegation sent to meet the Danish PM and Muslim leaders.

    Mr. Laban was associated to Omar Abdel Rajman, the blind sheik, tied to the first WTC attack. He was a translator to Osman Bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahri. SHAZAM! If there is credence to 9/11 being an inside job then it is a credible assertion that Mr. Laban is continuing his role with the conspirators. That role is to get the Muslim world to rise up and implode itself from within and initiate an attack on the west that would necessitate a full NATO retaliation.

    In another report written for the Pentagon entitled:
    Report of the
    Defense Science Board Task Force
    Strategic Communication
    September 2004
    Office of the Under Secretary of Defense
    For Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics
    Washington, D.C. 20301-3140
    This report is a product of the Defense Science Board (DSB). The DSB is a Federal
    Advisory Committee established to provide independent advice to the Secretary of
    Defense. Statements, opinions, conclusions, and recommendations in this report do
    not necessarily represent the official position of the Department of Defense.
    This report is UNCLASSIFIED.

    we see that serious planning has gone into the manipulation of media in relation to the middle east. America is to adopt more sophisticated propaganda techniques to target secularists including writers, artists, and singers. It should not be a stretch to include cartoonists. Private sector media and marketing professionals are to disseminate messages with a pro-US brand.

    The report calls for the creation of a National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications. A nice way to say Ministry of Truth or Minister of Propaganda. A massive boost in funding will accompany this position to control TV and radio stations in the middle east. An addendum from Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz suggested, “Our military expeditions to Afghanistan and Iraq are unlikely to be the last such excursion in the global war on terrorism…”

    It would seem prescient that the budget included money for Danish flags and the logistics to get them to remote villages along the Pakistani frontier with Afghanistan. They leave nothing to chance. You see at a previous Bilderberg Group meeting Project Ijtihad was conceived. It was discussed last year on http://www.spyman.ca and AM640 in Toronto. There are no surprises. Only a lack of information keeps you dancing like a marionette. You can dance or you can listen. I’ll tell you how they write the scripts.

    Report of the
    Defense Science Board Task Force
    Strategic Communication
    September 2004
    Office of the Under Secretary of Defense
    For Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics
    Washington, D.C. 20301-3140
    This report is a product of the Defense Science Board (DSB). The DSB is a Federal
    Advisory Committee established to provide independent advice to the Secretary of
    Defense. Statements, opinions, conclusions, and recommendations in this report do
    not necessarily represent the official position of the Department of Defense.
    This report is UNCLASSIFIED.

    http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/ 2004-09-Strategic_Communication.pdf

    National Security Research Division
    Partners, Resources,
    and Strategies


    US admits the war for ‘hearts and minds’ in Iraq is now lost …


    Lost in Translation The National Post Feb. 22, 2006

  • http://dpulliam.com dpulliam


    I do stand by those comments because by allowing our newspapers to be held hostage in what they can or can’t print, one opens the door to more intimidation from those who do not believe in a free and open society.

    American newspapers should have printed at least some of the less offensive images not to incite violence, but to inform their readers why the violence was occurring. It’s what news people are supposed to do. Instead, they allowed themselves to be intimidated by thugs and mobsters.

    I do feel personally responsible for any violence carried out in the name of my faith. It’s sad isn’t it? It’s one thing to defend one’s self, but it’s another thing to strike back in revenge.

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  • Scott Allen

    Shane, How dare you question dpulliam? Don’t you realize he will now go out in the streets in an ultraviolent rage?
    You should censor yourself in the future. Show us all how to contribute to world peace. Say nothing that could offend reckless reactionaries like Pulliam!
    Or that scoundrel of self-defense, Archbishop Akinola. If he were a good christian, he’d tell all his followers to just sit quietly while they are robbed, raped, and killed, right? But now that you’ve questioned him, he’s gonna go mazzo! YOU’RE responsible for the next crisis in Nigeria, buddy.
    Well, I’m gonna log off now and lock the doors and windows in case the madman Pulliam lives in my neighborhood.