I don’t want to turn this into a trend, or anything. Heaven forbid. However, the honorable Bobby Ross Jr. just produced a positive post (horrors) about a news report on Nigeria in The Wall Street Journal and now I am going to do the same thing (horrors 2.0) about a news feature in The Washington Post, also about recent events in Nigeria.
Primarily because, as a rule, GetReligion readers rarely forward or plug positive posts in social media and the same general principle applies, alas, for digital networking when a topic is linked to foreign news topics. So positive reports about foreign news? That’s very bad for social-media statistics.
But here we go again. In this case, it is also no big surprise that I am praising a news report by veteran Post foreign correspondent Pamela Constable, who over the years, including in her books, has shown a high degree of sensitivity to the role of religion in other cultures, especially when touching on topics linked to women and family life.
Thus, I recommend to all her story that ran under this headline: “Nigerian blasts, likely intended to foster discord, instead promote unity.”
The basic theme is stated right here in the headline. What makes the story work are the careful details. In particular, I liked how she illustrated one of the important trends in Nigeria that rarely shows up in mainstream reports, which is the degree to which an explosion of Pentecostal Christianity has changed the face of Christianity in many parts of Africa.
Thus, we are talking about a head-on collision between to growing, driven forms of faith — Pentecostal Christianity and more intense forms of Islam — in the line between southern and northern Nigeria is the ultimate religious and tribal crossroads. So there are positive developments in the wake of the Jos market bombings? Really?
While both Muslim and Christian residents here Wednesday acknowledged their history of mutual grudges and resentments, they expressed similar revulsion and anger at the bombing. Many instantly attributed it to the extreme Islamist group Boko Haram, which has staged other attacks in this region but has not claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s blasts.
“To be honest, there is still some suspicion between Muslims and Christians here. We don’t generally get together, but none of us believe in this insanity,” said Michael Tyem, 22, a Christian working with a crew to pick up rubble. “We know these terrorists want to divide us and destroy our country. It cannot be allowed to happen.”
OK, here come some of the specifics that caught my eye:
Nigeria, roughly half Muslim and half Christian, is a country steeped in spirituality and crammed with religious symbols. Here in Plateau State, the two faiths have vied for power and influence for the past half-century, with each group seeing the other as interlopers. Muslim Hausa tribespeople from the north have competed with local Christian tribes and migrants from the south, who settled and prospered in the aluminum mining and agro-business fields.
As the region’s Christian community has grown, its faith has become increasingly visible. Along the main road to Jos, there are dozens of churches with names such as Gospel Faith Mission, Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministry, and Spirit and Soul Revival Church. Many local businesses also use Christian or biblical references in their names, such as Miracle Curtains, Divine Success Mechanics and Devotion Hotel.
The business titles are crucial, showing the degree to which many believers in this region take their faith public, at any cost. Is a store with a biblical name more likely to be bombed? What do you think?
At the same time, leaders in minority groups often question the loyalties of police and government leaders in their regions. Can Muslims trust “Christian” police in the south? Can Christians trust “Muslim” police in the north? The result, of course, is the creation of unofficial militias. Boko Haram is the ultimate example, a rebel army with its own agenda to change the face of Islam in the region and, thus, the country.
“When Boko Haram started bombing and killing people here in 2011, the reaction of some young Christians was to find and attack any Muslim they could,” said Chom Begu, a native of Jos who is director of a national nonprofit group called Search for Common Ground Nigeria. Since then, he said, “a lot of inter-ethnic and religious dialogue has taken place. There is less segregation and more interaction, and tensions are being managed.”
On Tuesday, as word of the deadly Jos bombings spread, many Nigerian commentators expressed concern that they would revive the sectarian hostility that had only recently receded in this region that lies along the fault line between the country’s Muslim-dominated north and Christian-majority south.
In fact, residents said a riot did break out briefly between young Muslims and Christians near the market after the blasts, but community leaders quickly helped police contain it and the tension subsided. “There will always be youths who drink or take drugs and act out, but I think we have reached a level of understanding among the leaders,” Begu said. “They know that Boko Haram is not made up of local Muslims.”
Read it all. Read the specific facts and colorful details. Listen to the voices. This is journalism, folks.