Christians in Nigeria have reached breaking-point and retaliated against Muslims. The reprisals follow an incident on Saturday 18th February when 50 Christians were killed and 30 churches burned down by Muslim rioters in the northern city of Maiduguri, Borno state. The Muslim violence was part of a worldwide expression of outrage over cartoons of Muhammad, first published in Denmark last September. Since 29th January similar attacks have been made on Christian minorities in a wide range of Muslim contexts.
In a phone call to Barnabas Fund on 7th February the Bishop of Peshawar, Pakistan reported that two church-run schools at Mardan and at Bannu had been attacked the day before by Muslims protesting about the Danish cartoons, which were republished this year in various other European countries and Jordan. Bishop Mano Rumalshah was thankful that police intervened promptly and helped to evacuate the frightened children, and that no one was seriously injured. But he commented, "We [Pakistani Christians] have not done anything, the cartoons are nothing to do with us.
They [the rioting Muslims] do not comprehend or understand that Pakistani Christians are not Westerners." In the following week, Muslims also attacked three more Christian schools in Peshawar and one in Kasur, near Lahore, as well as a Christian hospital in Peshawar.
The catalogue of cartoon-related anti-Christian violence includes the following:
- Iraq: at least 4 churches bombed, Christian university students beaten up
- Lebanon: at least 1 church attacked
- Libya: 1 church attacked
- Nigeria: approximately 50 Christians killed, 30 churches burnt down
- Pakistan: 6 Christian schools, 1 Christian hospital attacked
- Syria: 3 churches attacked
- Turkey: church leader shot dead
The cartoons are also thought to be a contributory factor in several other recent incidents of anti-Christian violence in Northern Nigeria in which a further two churches were attacked and at least 26 people were killed. Nigeria has a Muslim majority in the North and a Christian majority in the South; there is a history of inter-religious riots, most often started by Muslims.
There is plenty of evidence to show that many of the anti-cartoon protests have not been spontaneous, but have been deliberately orchestrated.
Just hours after warnings from Archbishop Peter Akinola, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, that his organisation might not be able to restrain "restive" Christian youths much longer, Christians in two southern cities rioted on Tuesday and Wednesday (21st-22nd February). The rioters in Onitsha, Anambra state, and Enugu, in neighbouring Enugu state, attacked Muslims, Muslim-owned shops and two mosques. An estimated 85 people were killed, mainly Muslims.
In Archbishop Akinola's statement, issued on 21st February, he also said, "It is very clear now that the sacrifices of the Christians in this country for peaceful co-existence with people of other faiths has been sadly misunderstood to be weakness. We have for a long time now watched helplessly the killing, maiming and destruction of Christians and their property by Muslim fanatics and fundamentalists at the slightest or no provocation at all". That an incident in far away Denmark which does not claim to be representing Christianity could elicit such an unfortunate reaction here in Nigeria, leading to the destruction of Christian Churches, is not only embarrassing but also disturbing and unfortunate." For full statement please see link .
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, commented:
"It is interesting that when Muslims attack Western embassies it is news, and when Christians retaliate against Muslim violence it is news. But when Muslims attack vulnerable Christian minorities to take revenge for publishing cartoons that are nothing to do with the Christian victims, it is barely mentioned in the media. When Christian organisations joined with Muslim organisations in the UK on 18th February to protest in London against the cartoons, did they have any concern for what Muslims are doing to Christian minorities who have absolutely no connection with the cartoons?”
"While I utterly deplore the Christian counter-attacks in Nigeria - for Christians should always be people of peace not violence - Archbishop Akinola has rightly pointed out that peaceful conduct is all too often seen as weakness by Muslims. This perceived weakness makes Christians all the more likely to be targeted. Western Christian leaders and Western governments, who are eager to prevent Muslim feelings from being hurt, do not seem to have the courage to speak out about what is happening to innocent Christian minorities in the Muslim world. If they will not condemn the anti-Christian violence or even publicise it, can they be so surprised when non-Western Christians " goaded beyond endurance " finally fight back?"