From ABC News:
The killers showed no mercy: They didn’t spare women and children, or even a 4-day-old baby, from their machetes. On Monday, Nigerian women wailed in the streets as a dump truck carried dozens of bodies past burned-out homes toward a mass grave.
Rubber-gloved workers pulled ever-smaller bodies from the dump truck and tossed them into the mass grave. A crowd began singing a hymn with the refrain, “Jesus said I am the way to heaven.” As the grave filled, the grieving crowd sang: “Jesus, show me the way.”
At least 200 people, most of them Christians, were slaughtered on Sunday, according to residents, aid groups and journalists. The local government gave a figure more than twice that amount, but offered no casualty list or other information to substantiate it.
An Associated Press reporter counted 61 corpses, 32 of them children, being buried in the mass grave in the village of Dogo Nahawa on Monday. Other victims would be buried elsewhere. At a local morgue the bodies of children, including a diaper-clad toddler, were tangled together. One appeared to have been scalped. Others had severed hands and feet.
Religious violence is not a new thing. Some of the most enduring images I have from my Jewish education are descriptions of the violence that has been perpetrated for centuries against Jews by Romans, Greeks, Christians and, though perhaps less often, Muslims. One subtext of those lessons was that the Jews, because we were so steadfast in our religious beliefs, because we refused to assimilate, have been made to suffer religious persecution more than any other group; and, indeed, when I was younger, I often experienced real cognitive dissonance when I heard about religious violence that did not involve Jews. Over time, as my vision of the world and my place in it widened, that dissonance disappeared. I came to understand as well that religion was sometimes merely the justifying veneer that one group would place over the violence they wanted to do to another, a way of hiding their more political and material motivation.
The more I heard and read about religious violence, the more familiar the scripting of it became–and it is remarkable how similar the scripts are; how carefully scripted the incitements to violence are, if not the violence itself, regardless of the religious denominations involved–and, eventually, the stories I would hear left me feeling more numb than anything else. Yes, it was horrible that people were killed, but, I would think, as long as religion contained within it the possibility for someone to decide that he or she is following the one true path and that all those not on that path are morally and spiritually inferior and therefore suspect, then the potential for religious violence inhered in religion, and there was no escaping it.
I continue to believe that, I suppose, which is why I tend not to write about religious violence as such: I just don’t think there is all that much to say, or, rather, that I have much to say that would be useful. Still, this story, which has also been reported on Yahoo! News and other news outlets–the New York Times puts the death toll at 500–brought me up short. In part, this is because I have a very close friend from Nigeria, and she has talked often about the tension between Muslims and Christians in her country. Indeed, this massacre is said to have been retaliation for a similar slaughter of Muslims perpetrated by Christians some time ago, and I can even imagine, from the way in which she talks about it, that my friend might have been among those Muslim-killing Christians had she been in the country and the circumstances been “right.” I feel, in other words, a personal connection to this story that I have rarely felt, not least because my friend might have been among those killed whether or not she had participated in the prior massacre.
I did not know about how deeply my friend’s fear, mistrust, and hatred of the Muslims in Nigeria ran until after our friendship was well-established. She says she feels this way only about Nigerian Muslims, not about people who follow Islam in general, and I believe her, and she tells stories about her own experiences in Nigeria and the experiences of the people she knows to justify herself. The fact that she makes this distinction, of course, suggests that the issues at stake are not really religious, but the fact that they are expressed religiously–in terms of spirituality and morality and the one true path to God–makes it hard, even just between the two of us, to get at what those stakes really are; and then I think about the way our invasion of Iraq and ousting of Saddam Hussein made space for the Sunni and Shia to go at each other’s throats–check out this NPR interview with Deborah Amos about her new book, Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East–and even the Israeli-Palestinian struggle over the status of Jerusalem, which is so often played out in religious terms. And when I think about how may more examples I could list, I cannot help but feel that maybe it’s all, always, political; maybe the god or gods all these people fight over is just a way of not having to take responsibility for their own politics, their own desire for power, their own inability to share, their own fear of everything that makes them vulnerable; maybe the need to make your religion the only true one is nothing more than fear and cowardice, and we all know how thin the line is between the coward who cowers and the coward who becomes a bully.
It has been a very long time, since I was an undergraduate in fact, that I have known personally someone who could place her or himself so easily, so firmly, so absolutely, on one side of this kind of divide and so thoroughly forget that the other side is also inhabited by people; and yet even as I write that, it would be dishonest of me not to own up to the fact that I too once stood with Israel, as a Jew, in strictly religious terms, in a way that denied the humanity of the other side.
That we all have this capacity within us is by now a cliche, but how do you learn to accept that impulse in someone who has become your friend? Because if you cannot accept it–which is not the same thing as approving of it, or allowing it to go unchallenged–then there can no longer be a real friendship. This is the question that I am confronting.
Cross-posted on It’s All Connected.
It seems to me that religious differences are very often an excuse, not a reason, for violence. “Group A” decides to attack “Group B” to gain access to their resources, wealth, etc. Religious differences are used mainly to enable distinguishing one group from another and to provide the leaders (who are not the actual fighters) a justification to the fighters as to why they should risk their lives for the leaders’ gain.
And I suggested as much in the post. The problem I have, though, is if the potential for that violence were not already there, in the religious beliefs themselves, ready and waiting to be exploited, then the leaders would not be able to justify the violence they are ask people to do. In other words, on some level, I think that calling religious violence all political is a cop-out because it avoids–or perhaps evades is a more accurate term–the fundamental issue: a structure of belief that says “our way” of worship is not merely superior to “their way,” but is actually divinely designated as correct, and so “their way” is blasphemy; more, “their way” may even be interfering with the fulfillment that “our way” promises because that fulfillment will not be given to “us” until the world is cleansed.
It seems to me that this statement posits the primary reservoir of potential violence in the religious beliefs. I don’t see it that way. I see the source of the violence as inherent in competition, greed and the desire for power. Religion is used to exploit these; these are not used to exploit religion.
Just about any ideology, regardless of whether it is religious or secular, has not only the potential for being used to foment and justify violence but has been so used in actual fact. That would include democracy, socialism, communism, fascism, etc., which are not only secular but in some cases anti-religious. Hell, people have killed in the name of the battle against racial inequality. Religion has been used to justify violence, but it has also been used to oppose it. I think it’s used as a means to an end, but I don’t see it as the central motivation.
It would be worth comparing what kind of influence different religions have in either fomenting or suppressing violence in our present day, and whether that’s inherent in any given religions or whether the religion is being used falsely. I have often heard it held that the justification of the use of violence against non-believers is more inherent in Islam than other religions. I have not read the Qu’ran nor have I spoken to any great number of Moslems so I don’t have any kind of informed opinion on the matter. There are certainly plenty of self-designated Moslems who have cited their religion as justification for violent acts, and I’ve heard far fewer self-designated Christians do so. But one has to be careful in using whatever floats to the top of the MSM’s stack to justify any opinions on the matter. It would be interesting to look at some actual measurements to see what’s going on.
I remember a comment someone made in the late 1980s or early 1990s that Islamic and Christian missionaries were both pouring into Africa at such a rate and with such fanaticism that there would be a religious was there soon. Looks like they were right. I’m not sure to what extent Ron’s point that people use religion as an excuse is true in this particular case, but part of the blame has to lie with the missionaries who fanned those flames for their own benefit-to the obvious detriment of the people of Nigeria and other countries in Africa.
This would be one of the main reasons I am no longer religious.
Of course this is true, though it is not a reason not to talk specifically about religion. More broadly, I would say this: when any religion/ideology contains within it the idea that it and only it is the “one true path,” whatever that path may be, that is the problem. One of the things I respected most about the Judaism in which I was educated is that we were taught explicitly not to proselytize, that Judaism is not interested in acquiring converts, that, in fact, any other non-idolatrous religion can be a path to heaven/The World To Come for those who follow it. Of course, now I would point out that the Jewish stance towards so-called idolatry is no less offensive than the stance of those Christians or Muslims who see it as a central tenet of their faith that everyone ought to be of that faith and that not to be of that faith is to be damned to hell, or at least to be, by definition, inferior.
Also note that 92% of the country lives in poverty: http://www.google.com/search?sitesearch=leninology.blogspot.com&q=nigeria
Eighth-century social structures combined with twentieth-century medical technology leads to 21st Century demographic time bomb.
The article closes
parsing the issue from the viewpoint that holding women back inhibits society. There’s some validity to that, but I think the dominant effect will be that Asia is about to end up with almost 100 million men who have low hope of having regular sex, or of establishing a family – this last being the best way for giving men a stake in supporting the existing social structure.
You get a bunch of men with no sexual outlet and no families and under- or no employment and you have a bunch of men who are ripe for being swept up by a demagogue with an agenda. Nationalism is one tool that is handy for this. Religion is another, especially if you’ve convinced people that dying for the cause guarantees eternal sex in the afterlife. China is different in the latter regard in that religion is suppressed (but by no means absent) there, so I expect that nationalism would be the predominant paradigm there, unless a demagogue pops up that tries to use religion to bust up the Chinese empire. But India and China and India and Pakistan – and China and Iran, IIRC – have border disputes, and the combination of religion, nationalism, economic depression, low levels of education and State control of the media will take only a small push by people with power – or a convincing presentaion – to set off a spark. Among countries where most of them have nuclear weapons.
People think that the U.S. should be worried if Iran gets nuclear weapons. Well, we should. But if I was running China or India I’d be REALLY worried.
I agree that there are a lot of people who use religion/belief as an excuse, but even without religion we would have that. There are American soldiers who are currently dying to line the pockets of corps and corrupted members of the government. Personally, I find that we are willing to die for someone else’s GREED without blinking but bulk at dying/killing over religion to be DEEPLY troubling.
But I digress. Even if they removed ALL religion tomorrow, we would fight over “The One Government”. Then “The One Corporation”. This would be followed by “The One Language”, and then “Sexism” and “The One Sexuality”, and so on, so forth. So long as there are differences, we will have war. The need to be part of the best group will cause problems.
At least with Religion, we are dealing with Faith… a core need for humanity. The TYPE of faith might differ (sadly) but the need to believe in SOMETHING is important… even if we don’t want to admit it.
Personally, for -myself-, I am fully against using religion as smoke screen. If you are going to invade a country for greed (Ala the way we in the US invaded Iraq), then say that is why you are doing it. But I can fully understand and relate to people willing to live/die/kill for their beliefs.
After all.. -honestly-.. what in this world is more important then your beliefs? Your beliefs (or lack there of) help define who you are, you outlook on relationships, life, and the afterlife. Sounds like something worth fighting for..
There are American soldiers who are currently dying to line the pockets of corps and corrupted members of the government.
You want to splash the names of the dead on this blog, then we can. Anyone who has died because of the government using the over-reaction to 9/11 to invade a country that had no hand in the attacks, has died to line someone else’s pockets.
The President himself said that Hussein did not have a hand in the damn attack.. yet we still continued on as if Hussein was involved at the damn planning stages.
Now, like I said before, if my choice is to die for GOD or BUSH/Enron/Verizon… well, its not that hard to see I would much rather fight/live/die for God. Just personal pref, I suppose, to want to spend my life for something important.
If you don’t, then fine, more power to you.
“The problem I have, though, is if the potential for that violence were not already there, in the religious beliefs themselves, ready and waiting to be exploited, then the leaders would not be able to justify the violence they are ask people to do. ”
I don’t think that is true. Religion is one dimension of otherness that gets exploited, there are plenty of other examples that are every bit as bad. Stalin’s purges were done under non-religious (and actually anti religious) justifications. The murders and intentional famines under Mao are the same. Same with the Khmer Rouge. Leaders justify the violence they ask people to do with whatever tools they have in reach. Religion is one of the tools. So, as it turns out, is anti-religion.
I think that what they have in common is the belief that certain forms of ideology are more important than the actual lives of actual people. This is one of my primary issues with many Utopian teachings, including religious teachings about heaven … when the idea is that future reward will be so awesome that it justifies any present deprivation, I just don’t think that good things can come from that.
In the case of the recent Jos riots, I’d call the violence “religious” only in the sense that the fighting was between Christians and Muslims. Nigeria has a long and very brutal history of communal violence. At base, I’d say it gets touched off by a struggle over basic resources, many of which are available only through state patronage, and which is practice is largely channeled through communal ties. In Nigeria, *identity* is often a matter of life and death. The Jos riots had relatively little content, just as the slaughter of the civil war had little to do with Igbo ethnonationalism. The problem isn’t ideas, or cultures, or religious beliefs. It’s a specific history, little known outside Africa, that turns neighbors into bitter competitors.