As all around the world we join in solidarity to mourn the anti-Islamic terrorist violence in New Zealand, a question keeps coming up: what about the attacks on Christians by militant Muslims in Nigeria? Why is no one talking about this? Is this a case of anti-Christian bias?
My initial response to this was twofold: first, this isn’t a contest. There are many legitimate responses to an atrocity, but whataboutism is never one of them – especially if one is a Christian and believes in the teachings of the Gospel about meekness, humility, and seeing every human as a neighbor. Dear western Christians, could you please stop trying to make everything about you, for a change?
But the second part of my response was – indeed, why not? It is right that we honor the victims in New Zealand with our grief, but why are we not honoring the victims in Nigeria, as well?
There’s a racism problem here
Unfortunately, the huge glaring answer to that question is that we tend to be complacent about violence and even genocide, when it happens in non-western nations, or in the global south – especially if it happens to brown or black people. Many refugees from Central America, displaced and fleeing violence that is directly the result of U.S. interference, are Christians, after all. And many white conservative Christians here in our prosperous nation are just fine with turning them away, sending them back – even separating their families, and incarcerating them.
It’s not about religion. People of many different religions have been victims of horrific violence in Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Israel, and North Korea. We simply tend not to pay attention because, as white westerners, we see ourselves as several stages removed from these arenas of terror – even though, in many cases, the violence is happening because of colonial and imperialist interference from western nations.
It is true that many innocent human beings of the Christian faith have been brutally slaughtered in Nigeria. But there is a vast complex background, involving land disputes and ethnic struggles, which neither the right-wing media groups that fan the flames, nor the centrist media groups who ignore most violence in non-white communities, are addressing.There is a tendency among right-wing Christians in the west to ignore or discount terrorist attacks by white supremacists, and to focus instead on acts of violence perpetrated by extremist Muslims. In their rush to scapegoat Muslims – even going so far as to insinuate that the violence in Christchurch was justified – these partisans draw a false dividing line, with Christians on one side and Muslims on the other.
(Where they place Jews depends on their flavor of white ethno-nationalism).
This dividing line is wrong.
The real divide is not between Christians and Muslims, or between Muslims and Jews. It is, rather, between extremists on one hand – and those who embrace peace, justice, and love, on the other. Whenever an act of violence occurs targeting members of one faith community, members of others rally around. Christians support Jews. Jews support Muslims. Muslims support Christians. It’s in the news all the time.
There’s another line, too: between the privileged and the marginalized. Between the dominant and the oppressed.
These lines criss-cross many different communities and faith traditions.
As a feminist, I occasionally run into anti-feminists who think they can shake me up by bringing up instances of misogyny among Muslims. Shouldn’t I, as a feminist, hate Islam?
What they are working very hard not to notice is that there is just as much misogyny among fundamentalist Christians. I notice this misogyny, however, and write a good bit about it, because this is my faith tradition, and therefore my mess to clean up. I have confidence in the ability of Muslim feminists and social justice activists to clean up their own messes, and stand in solidarity with them. In fact, I find I have a good bit more in common with intelligent, justice-oriented Muslims than I do with paranoid right-wingers of my own faith. At the same time, the paranoid right-wing Christians share quite a bit with extremist Muslims: homophobia, misogyny, and obsession with violence, and the need to control and silence critics.
It’s almost as though they are trying to outdo one another in being horrible.
We need to get over thinking in terms of religious wars and conquest, get over thinking about the practitioners of a different faith tradition as our enemies. We can join hands across many different dividing lines, and in so doing, gain the strength and resources we all need to combat violent extremism within our own communities and faith traditions.
And as we do this, we need to increase our awareness of, and consideration for, victims of violence who dwell outside the narrow parameters of the world we’re used to thinking of as safe.
image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Right_wing_extremists-_2013-08-14_21-56.jpg