When it comes to international issues, most Americans walk around with blinders. Despite a huge growth in news sources on the internet, there is a wide knowledge gap between domestic and international news in the United States.
the Movement for the Survical of Plateau People (MOSOPP) asking for protection against genocide. In the letter, MOSOPP claimed Christians were being exterminated due to their religious beliefs.
Although I am an immigration and asylum attorney, my knowledge about religious conflicts in Africa, like most Americans, is limited. My cases involving African refugees have not been based on religious persecution.
I was shocked by MOSOPP's plea but I realized if I wanted to help, I should first learn more about the nature of the conflict.
The Current Conflict In Jos
According to Time/CNN reporter Meg Handley, Nigerian officials asserted the recent killings of Christians, many of them women and children, was retaliation for clashes in the same city earlier this year in January. In the earlier massacres, Christians killed about 300 Muslims.
Since January the violence has continued. 400-600 people have died and 18,000 have been left homeless as a result of fighting between Muslims and Christians.
Largely unnoticed by the Western world, MOSOPP's cry for help had been building for several months.
A Historical Context
Nigeria's population of 150 million people is divided into more than 250 ethnic groups and several different languages. Christians and Muslims account for an approximately equal share of the population.
The current conflicts have been centered in villages close to the city of Jos, the capital of Plateau State. Jos sits in the center of Nigeria's "middle belt," a cultural fault line dividing the country's Muslim north from the Christian south.
As a melting pot region, the major ethnic groups of Nigeria have usually coexisted peacefully. But they have violently collided at times. 700 died in 2001 and another 300 died in 2004 as a result of conflict between the two groups. The recent events have once again thrown Nigeria's problems into the spotlight.
Most outsiders attribute these conflicts to religious differences.
My initial reaction was similar. It's actually quite easy, and intellectually lazy, to assume a new Holy War is taking place when the combatants are Muslims and Christians.
I'm fortunate. Olusegun Iselaiye, who has assisted me with research projects pertaining to Africa in the past, quickly corrected my misperception. Responding to my inquiries, he wrote that "since most of the international community does not know the history of this age-long conflict, it is imperative to dig into the roots of such heinous and appalling acts" before jumping to conclusions.
A Flawed Religious-Based Perspective
Gaddafi's comments were quickly rebuffed by Nigerian religous leaders.
On the Christian side, Methodist Reverend Sunday Ola Makinde noted, "The entire population of Muslims and Christians in this country has not shown any sign to say that they cannot peacefully coexist."
On the Islamic end, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at in Nigeria described Gaddafi's statement as unwarranted, and stressed Nigeria's needs a true federalism form of government.
Anthony Sani, the spokesperson for the Arewa Consultative Forum, a social cultural group, said Gaddafi's statement indicates he is ignorant of the fact that no Nigerian community has 100% of its inhabitants practicing solely Islam or Christianity.
In short, the violence in Jos is not a fight over the divine nature of Jesus or the prophethood of Mohammad.
Political And Economic Corruption
The deeper reasons for the violence in Jos stem from a scramble for land, scarce resources, and political clout. In Plateau State, Muslim cattle herders from the north and Christian farmers duel for control of the fertile plains. The religious and ethnic differences disguise the underlying problems.
Combined with corrupt politics, poverty and joblessness drive extremists from both sides to commit horrendous atrocities.
In the view of Andrew Kakabadse, Professor of International Management Development at the Cranfield School of Management, oil companies have pitted ethnic factions against one another for economic gain.
And political corruption seems to know no bounds. Olusegun Obasanjo, the immediate past President of Nigeria, openly acknowledged voting fraud and other electoral lapses. Today he is one of the wealthiest persons in the African continent, a status which, according to some sources, was obtained largely through unaccounted public funds stolen while he was in office.
Answering MOSOPP's Call: The Transformation of Nigeria
The problems facing his country, my friend Iselaiye writes, run so deep that Nigerian citizens must rise "to a new level of consciousness."
Nigeria, he asserts, must forge a new political, economic, ethnic, and religious paradigm that allows his country to take its place as a viable international participant in the 21st century.
As Americans committed to liberty and equality, we should remain vigilant to calls for help from oppressed peoples anywhere in the world. But we need to make sure that when we jump in, ours is not an emotional and knee jerk, but a rational and moral, response.
Especially when the nation undergoing turmoil is contributing so much to the well-being of our own society.
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