December 20, 2010

Islam, Christianity and Politics in Nigeria

Clashes Pit Muslims Against Christians - Underlying Issues are Political and Economic BBC 12/28/2010
Religious Clashes Flare in Central Nigeria NY Times 12/26/2010
Northern Nigeria:  Background to Conflict  International Crisis Group (ICG) 12/20/2010

Based in Brussels, the ICG is an independent, non-profit, international non-governmental organization "committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict."  Its reports are objective, thorough and useful for understanding the full range of issues behind potential and actual conflict.  See the above link for the full report.  From the email notification of this new report:

“While some in the West panic at what they see as growing Islamic radicalism in the region, the roots of the problem are more complex and lie in Nigeria’s history and contemporary politics”, says Titi Ajayi, Crisis Group’s West Africa Fellow.
Many common factors fuel conflicts across Nigeria: in particular, the political manipulation of religion and ethnicity and disputes between supposed local groups and “settlers” over distribution of public resources. The failure of the state to assure public order, contribute to dispute settlement and implement post-conflict peace building measures also plays a role, as does economic decline and unemployment. As elsewhere in the country, the far north – the twelve states that apply Sharia (Islamic law) – suffers from a potent mix of economic malaise and contentious, community-based distribution of public resources.
But there is also a specifically northern element. A thread of rejectionist thinking runs through northern Nigerian history, according to which collaboration with secular authorities is illegitimate. While calls for an “Islamic state” in Nigeria should not be taken too seriously, despite media hyperbole, they do demonstrate that many in the far north express political and social dissatisfaction through greater adherence to Islam and increasingly look to the religious canon for solutions to multiple problems in their lives.
On the positive side, much local conflict prevention and resolution does occur, and the region has historically shown much capacity for peaceful co-existence between its ethnic and religious communities. Generally speaking, for a vast region beset with social and economic problems, the absence of widespread conflict is as notable as the pockets of violence.
The starting point for addressing the conflicts must be a better understanding of the historical, cultural and other contexts in which they take place. The region has experienced recurrent violence, particularly since the early 1980s. These are the product of several complex and inter-locking factors, including a volatile mix of historical grievances, political manipulation and ethnic and religious rivalries.
“Northern Nigeria is little understood by those in the south, still less by the international community, where too often, it is viewed as part of bigger rivalries in a putative West-Islam divide”, says EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Acting Africa Program Director. “Still, the overall situation needs to be taken seriously. If it were to deteriorate significantly, especially along Christian-Muslim lines, it could have grave repercussions for national cohesion in the build-up to national elections in 2011”.

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