Sunday, July 10, 2011

Nigeria: the Boko Haram threat

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Monitoring

-- Al-Qaeda supports Boko Haram expansion
-- The Abuja bombing
-- The threat to the Church
-- Terror campaign slated for end-of-July anniversary

[For an UPDATE to this post see Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin 116. Nigeria: Boko Haram Strikes.]

Boko Haram, also known as Jamaatul Alissunna lid da a wa wal jihad and the "Nigerian Taliban", was founded in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's most north-eastern state of Borno, in 2002 by a religious teacher named Mohammed Yusuf.

The name Boko Haram comes from the Hausa word boko, which means animist, Western or simply un-Islamic education and culture, and the Arabic word haram, which means forbidden.

For Boko Haram, boko is fitna: i.e. something that can shake the faith of Muslims and lead to apostasy. For this reason, boko must be haram.

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On Sunday 26 July 2009, around 150 armed Boko Haram militants attacked a police station in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, in retaliation for the arrest of one of its leaders. After slitting the throat of a policeman on guard, they went on a rampage, torching homes and vehicles owned by police to cries of "Allahu Akbar". They also attacked Maiduguri New Prisons where they killed the two gate wardens before breaking open the gates and liberating the prisoners. As Nigerian security forces counter-attacked, the conflict escalated and spread.

On Tuesday 28 July 2009, Nigerian security forces besieged and shelled the home of Boko Haram leader, Sheikh Mohammed Yusuf, where dozens of militants had congregated. They also stormed a local mosque known as a Boko Haram stronghold, spraying it with gunfire. According to the Red Cross, when the fighting was over, some 780 bodies were gathered up off the streets of Maiduguri for burial in mass graves.

By Thursday 30 July 09, Sheikh Mohammed Yusuf was in custody after being arrested at his in-law's house. By Friday 31 July 09, Sheikh Mohammed Yusuf was dead.

On 9 August 2009, Boko Haram issued a statement in which they pronounced "Mallam Yusuf" a martyr, along with "over 1000 of our [martyred] members killed by the wicked Nigerian army and police mostly of Southern Nigeria extraction". Furthermore, they declared that they had "started a Jihad in Nigeria". Declaring their intention to render the country ungovernable, they warned that Nigeria would be Islamised by force.

AL-QAEDA SUPPORTS BOKO HARAM EXPANSION

In mid June 2010, Boko Haram formalised its links with al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Furthermore, adds terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky, AQIM is receiving aid and intelligence from Sudan and Iran "who are operating jointly in the Sahel" (Strategic Policy 8, 2010).

According to Bodansky, AQIM leader Abu Mousab Abdel Wadoud has pledged that the international jihadist movement will assist Boko Haram with weapons and training to enable al-Qaeda to gain "strategic depth" in sub-Saharan Africa and the solid foothold in Nigeria required for operations in West Africa. Bodansky warned (Aug 2010) that the AQIM link could lead to the emergence of "spectacular terrorism" al-Qaeda-style -- such as suicide-bombings -- hitherto unknown in Nigeria.

THE ABUJA BOMBING

On Monday 13 June 2011, in response to overtures from the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, Boko Haram laid down its preconditions for dialogue. In a letter made available to newsmen in Maiduguri, Boko Haram unapologetically demanded that before any dialogue with the government could take place, Sharia Law must be implemented across Northern Nigeria where Muslims form a majority, and the security officials implicated in the 31 July 2009 death in custody of Boko Haram leader, Sheikh Mohammed Yusuf, must be prosecuted.

On Tuesday 14 June, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Hafiz Ringim -- who was in Maiduguri to officially receive the donation of 10 Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) and 10 Toyota Hilux vehicles donated to the police by the state government -- warned Boko Haram members that their days were numbered. He boasted that the police were now poised to wipe them out, adding, "No stone will be left unturned, until the menace of Boko Haram is unravelled."

Boko Haram responded with defiance: "Very soon, we would wage Jihad on the enemies of God and his messenger," they threatened. "We want to make it known that our Jihadists (warriors) have arrived [in] Nigeria from Somalia where they got serious training on warfare from our brethren who made the country ungovernable and forced the interim government to relocate to Kenya.

"We want to assure all security agencies that we would frustrate their efforts. By the grace of God, despite the armoured carriers that they are boasting of, they are no match with the training we acquired in Somalia".

While in Maiduguri, the Inspector General of Police, Hafiz Abubakar Ringim, met with a man -- possibly someone offering himself as an informant. That man then joined the motor convoy that travelled back to Police Headquarters in Abuja on Thursday 16 July. Fortunately, as he tried to follow Ringim's car in through the main security perimeter, he was stopped by attendants who directed him to an adjacent car park. It was there that he detonated his explosives killing eight, wounding dozens and destroying 77 vehicles. Had he been permitted to follow the Inspector General's car into the central parking bay, many more people would have been killed.

Boko Harman wasted no time in claiming responsibility: "We are responsible for the bomb attack on the police headquarters in Abuja which was to prove a point to all who doubt our capability."

By attacking Louis Edet House, headquarters of the Nigerian Police, Boko Haram has indeed declared war on the government of Nigeria.

THREAT TO THE CHURCH

While Boko Haram has been busy assassinating police, MPs and traditional leaders; and bombing beer gardens, markets and police stations; it has also been busy terrorising Christians, killing pastors and bombing churches.

As reported in Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 088 (29 Dec 2010), on Christmas Eve 2010, Boko Haram militants perpetrated almost simultaneous attacks on two churches in Maiduguri. Three militants armed with guns and petrol bombs attacked the Sinimari Church of Christ in Nigeria, riddling the walls with bullet holes and killing the security guard, while some 30 jihadists descended on Victory Baptist Church on the other side of the city. Shouting "Allahu Akbar", they dragged out and executed Rev. Bulus Marwa (37) and shot dead Christopher Balami (50), Philip Luka (22), Paul Mathew (21) and Yohanna Adamu (26). Twenty-five other worshippers were wounded as the jihadists razed the church to the ground.

On the night of Saturday 1 January 2011, about 10 jihadists stormed the Victory Christ Church at Gawo Mai Lamba in London Cinki area of Maiduguri and set the church on fire, destroying part of the building. Fortunately no-one was killed.

On Tuesday 7 June, Rev. David Usman and the assistant secretary of his church were shot dead in their church -- Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) in Maiduguri -- by gunmen suspected to be members of Boko Haram. The gunmen reportedly arrived on motorcycles as the church was concluding a meeting. They shot the assistant secretary and ordered that someone phone and inform the pastor. Rev. David Usman ran to the church unaware that he was running into a trap. As he arrived, the pastor was gunned down by the waiting gunmen.

A Bomb-scare at a Maiduguri church on Sunday 26 June reveals the level of danger Christians face, confirming that security cannot be relaxed, not for a moment. The plot only failed because police, already on high alert, are maintaining rigorous security protocols.

A security officer at Maiduguri's already twice bombed Saint Patrick Catholic Church told James Bwala (reporting from Maiduguri for the Nigerian Tribune): "The stop and search became necessary following the recovery of some explosives in the bag of a female worshiper in one of the churches in town. The lady had on the fateful day asked her mother and siblings not to go to church for no convincing reason, but luck ran out on her when the curious mother called the attention of some church officials alongside security operatives, who quickly intercepted the lady and her co-evil plotters at the car park of the church."

Major General Jack Nwaogbo, the Commander of the Joint Task Force, confirmed that on Sunday 26 June, security operatives picked up two people "who pretended to be going to church to be converted but were discovered to have a different motive". Both remain under arrest.

BOKO HARAM THREATENS END-OF-JULY ANNIVERSARY TERROR

The Abuja suicide bombing and the bomb plots targetting the Church come in the context of Boko Haram's threat to mark the 31 July anniversary of Mohammed Yusuf's death in a "big way".

On Saturday 9 July 2011, the Saturday Tribune reported that sources close to the administration have confirmed to them that more than 100 trainee-jihadists have returned from Sudan and Somalia ready to be deployed in a massive terror campaign timed to commemorate the 26-31 July 2009 crisis, in particular the 31 July 09 death in custody of Sheikh Mohammed Yusuf. The trainee-jihadists have reportedly each received three-months training under the supervision of al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Government sources confirmed to the Saturday Tribune that the attacks are being planned for a number of states including Borno, Katsina, Kaduna and Yobe.

Sources told the Tribune, "The operations of this sect [are] getting deeper than many people know. The international dimensions are overwhelming."

According to the Tribune, there is an exodus underway out of Maiduguri, with many people selling their homes and farms for a pittance.

On Wednesday 6 July 2011, Borno Governor Ali Modu Sheriff took steps towards appeasement and issued an apology to Boko Haram over his role in the brutal military crackdown on the radical Islamist sect.

In an advertorial published in local newspapers, Ali Modu Sheriff grovelled: "I wish to publicly tender my apology to the Jama’atul Ahliss-Sunnah Ladda’awaiti Wal Jihad and any other group I might have offended in the course of discharging my duties as the Executive Governor of Borno State. It is human to err and divine to forgive."

But in a subsequent statement issued by Boko Haram spokesman Abu Zaid, the group said would only accept Governor Ali Modu Sheriff's apology if he was to dissociate himself from "anti-Islamic activities".

With that, Ali Modu Sheriff resigned from office and fled the city.

Sheriff was not the only governor to be "grovelling" to Boko Haram. Gombe State Governor, Danjuma Goje, also apologised, as did Bauchi State Governor, Isa Yuguda. The central government has done its share of grovelling too, for in line with one of Boko Haram's preconditions for dialogue, the police implicated in the 31 July 09 death in custody of Mohammed Yusuf have been indicted to face "terrorism" charges.

Concerning Boko Haram's threat for an end-of-July anniversary terror campaign, the Saturday Tribune reports: "The sect members warned all Muslims to stay away from Christians, security agents, government institutions and functions or face death, maintaining that, 'since the present Federal Government is not Islamic, every [one] of its employees is considered an infidel marked for elimination'." (emphasis mine)

The group concluded their lengthy statement on a confident note: "We are not in doubt that we are going to win this war. So far, we have an upper hand. Even if it means bringing external forces, we will fight to win. History has shown that when you are fighting in the cause of Allah, there will be a divine intervention . . ."

After asserting that their cause is "purely religious", Boko Haram warns Muslims not to hinder or undermine their activities lest the jihadists find it necessary to turn on them also.

It is ironic that after declaring that all infidels are marked for elimination; and after warning Muslims that the consequence of dissent will be death, Boko Haram sect leader, Muhammadu Abubakar Shekau, posted a statement to the internet in which he claimed that Boko Haram was fighting for "freedom of worship and assembly".

Unsurprisingly that freedom was immediately qualified and defined as freedom "for everybody to believe in Allah . . . jettison modern democracy and embrace Islam as their religion".

Essentially Boko Haram is pursuing an Islamic freedom -- i.e. freedom from fitna (anything that could shake the faith of a Muslim) -- a freedom that is essentially no freedom at all.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Christian mission and persecution

Why the new rules for Christian witness will not solve the problem of persecution.

By Elizabeth Kendal,
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 6 July 2011

The Church is slowly waking up to the reality that we are living in days of escalating persecution. Global trends such as booming population growth, rapid urbanisation and mass migrations are converging, producing fierce competition for land, resources and power; creating societies that are increasingly difficult to govern, especially where institutions of governance were not already established. Add to this volatile mix the trend of escalating religious tension -- the result of converging religious trends -- and we have an incendiary environment.

This reality provides the context for the document:

Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World
Recommendations for Conduct

World Council of Churches
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
World Evangelical Alliance
28 June 2011

The WEA press release states: "This historic document is in part a response to criticisms levelled at Christians by some religious communities in what they perceived to be a use of unethical methods. In some case these objections have led to anti-conversion laws and violence."

Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), said the text "will help us reduce unnecessary tensions and present the truth of God in a credible way to the world around us".

However, it is highly unlikely that the "Recommendations for Conduct" -- a document which provides Christians with principles to follow "as they seek to fulfil Christ's commission in an appropriate manner, particularly within interreligious contexts" -- will have their desired effect. While the document might be a handy tool in the hands of those engaged in "quiet diplomacy", it will not change the reality on the ground because the Church and her accusers are speaking totally different languages. As such, interpretations will continue to differ, and accusations will continue to fly. In fact the very existence of this document might lead to the situation where the Church will be expected to hold Christian evangelists, missionaries and humanitarians accountable for violent persecution.

The reality is: the intense hostility the church is facing in the early 21st Century has been building for decades. A mighty flood is upon us for which there is no quick fix and only one real solution.

NO QUICK FIX

On 21 August 2007, the UN's Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Doudou Diene, presented his report on Islamophobia and defamation of religion to the sixth session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). A profound anti-Western and anti-Christian bias was evident from the outset.

See UNHRC: Watershed Days
By Elizabeth Kendal, for WEA RLC, 19 Sept 07

According to the report, "defamation" of Islam produces Islamophobia which expresses itself as hatred of Muslims which in turn generates "extremism". As such, those who "defame" Islam should be held accountable for Islamic extremism (violence and terror).

Likewise, Christian missionaries were accused of having exploited freedom of expression to defame Hinduism, thereby creating militant Hindutva. According the UN report, "Christianophobia" is a consequence not of escalating intolerance, but of the "aggressive proselytism of certain evangelical groups".

The UN Special Rapporteur's report recommended therefore that international human rights covenants be reinterpreted and amended, and that "complementary standards" be adopted on "the interrelations between freedom of expression, freedom of religion and non-discrimination".

After much inter-religious dialogue, the World Council of Churches, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the World Evangelical Alliance appear to have taken the lead in the adoption and promotion of such "complementary standards".

Recommendations for Conduct

The document affirms Christian humanitarian service, but with the complementary proviso that exploitation of situations of poverty and of vulnerable people has no place in Christian outreach.

In reality it is virtually impossible to provide charitable services in hostile environments without being so accused. Think about it. How can a self-giving Christian humanitarian who in love desperately wants to ease the sufferings of the poor, downtrodden, infirmed and marginalised, avoid an accusation of exploitation?

Actually, the only way to avoid the charge of exploitation is to refrain from all Christian witness while serving impoverished, infirm and "vulnerable" people. Christians would have to refrain from witnessing to youths (children and teenagers). Christian aid workers would have to totally refrain from witnessing to the poor and marginalised. Christian pastors, doctors and nurses would have to totally refrain from witnessing to the sick and dying.

This of course, is precisely what the apostaphobic religious dictators of this world of want. "Yes please," they say. "Feed our poor, treat our lepers, dig our wells and build our schools, only don't threaten our authority by presenting an alternative truth."

And while it is fine to denounce the offering of allurements and rewards, one needs to understand that in some hostile environments a meeting place with seating is considered an allurement, and the offer of heaven a fraudulent reward.

Christians are also called to "reject all forms of violence, even psychological or social, including the abuse of power in their witness". But this will not appease India's Hindutva protagonists who regard conversion as violence. It will not appease those who accuse evangelical Christianity of cultural terrorism. Even Doudou Diene, the UN's Special Rapporteur, warned in his Aug 07 report that the "legitimate expression of ideas" could in reality be "ideological violence" or "intellectual violence". Is it psychological violence to warn of judgment? What is abuse of power in witness?

Along with this, Christians are also called to "reject violence, unjust discrimination or repression by any religious or secular authority, including the violation or destruction of places of worship, sacred symbols or texts".

While this fine statement presumably leaves individuals with the liberty to dispose of their own property -- idols, juju, shrines, texts -- as they see fit, those who have no understanding of the separation of church and state, those who don't understand liberty and only understand dictatorship, will expect religious and secular authorities to control and be held accountable for the deeds of individuals.

The text recommends that "churches, national and regional confessional bodies and mission organizations, and especially those working in interreligious contexts . . . [deepen] their knowledge and understanding of different religions, and to do so also taking into account the perspectives of the adherents of those religions", adding, "Christians should avoid misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of people of different religions".

The reality is however, that anything that is said about a religion or belief will misrepresent someone's personal perspective of that religion or belief. This strategy which recommends inquiring of the "street" over an examination of the texts is promoted primarily by Muslims keen to hide intolerant pro-Sharia, pro-jihad, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian fundamentalist Islam under a cloak of liberal, nominal, folk or secularised Islam.

The only way to deepen knowledge and understanding of a religion is to study its texts and then examine history in that light. And while "taking into account the perspectives of adherents" might be of value in revealing immense diversity of belief, it must be acknowledged that many, if not most adherents of religion are quite nominal, ignorant as to the contents of, and the demands made by, their own sacred texts.

Finally, a quote from the May 2006 consultation found in the Appendix (point 3), confirms the degree to which this document is influenced by world trends, while demonstrating the ultimate adoption of "complementary standards".

"We affirm that, while everyone has a right to invite others to an understanding of their faith, it should not be exercised by violating others' rights and religious sensibilities. Freedom of religion enjoins upon all of us the equally non-negotiable responsibility to respect faiths other than our own, and never to denigrate, vilify or misrepresent them for the purpose of affirming superiority of our faith."

Note: Christians are called to refrain from any exercise of religious liberty that might violate another's "rights and religious sensibilities". Does "rights" include the right not to be offended -- a now routine feature of contemporary anti-discrimination and equal opportunity law? What are "religious sensibilities" and how are they violated?

Furthermore, Christians are called to "respect faiths other than our own". Really? Must we respect Islam? Must we respect Hinduism? Must we respect Buddhism? Must we also respect Shinto? Where can we draw the line? Must we respect Aum Supreme Truth? Must we respect Voodoo? This language mirrors that of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference's "Combating Defamation of religions Human Rights Resolution 2005/3". Is the church really being called to follow in the OIC-led UN which now protects religions more fiercely than it protects humans, in particular the human's fundamental right to proclaim, pursue and receive truth?

This pulls the rug right out from under Principle 7, which affirms freedom of religion and belief while denouncing religious persecution and calling upon Christians to "engage in a prophetic witness denouncing such actions". For while this is a fine statement, to which all Christians should give a loud AMEN, how does one "engage in prophetic witness denouncing [religious persecution]" without being accused of arrogance, condescension and disparagement (principle 3); false witness (principle 10); disrespect, denigration, vilification and misrepresentation (Appendix 3); and of course "defamation" of religion (as per UN Resolution 2005/3, which expresses "deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism Islam with human rights abuses, violence or terrorism" (emphasis mine)).

The reality is, it is not possible today to denounce persecution without being so accused.

ONLY ONE SOLUTION

There is little doubt that at the root of most persecution in the world today, is hostility towards Christian witness / evangelism / mission. However, Christian witness / evangelism / mission provides the only solution to the problem of persecution.

"And they will do these things [hate you, persecute you] because they have not known the Father, nor me" (John 16:3 ESV).

Christians must step out in faith with the word of God, at the direction and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to seek to make the triune God known. And while we are cautioned to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves", we are also encouraged to commit ourselves to the Lord's care, and trust HIM (Matthew 10).

No matter how much integrity we practise, hatred, false accusations and persecutions will continue. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). Indeed if we are to truly imitate Jesus Christ, as the document asserts (Principle 2), then we must be prepared to suffer as he suffered.

The Principles for Conduct will do little to reduce religious tensions and persecution. All we can do is prayerfully walk by faith, not fearing man, with eyes fixed on Jesus -- our means, our goal and our role model (Hebrews 12:1-3) -- remembering the paradigm of Isaiah 2:1-4: that spiritual transformation is the foundation, not the consequence, of peace.

"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV).