As you probably know, another 19 men, women and children were killed and 80 wounded earlier this week in church bombings in northern Nigeria. Five churches in four different cities and towns were attacked during Sunday morning worship services.
The casualty figures all come from the first three churches bombed, in Kaduna City and Zaria. I haven’t found figures for the two churches bombed later in the morning, so the actual total is probably much higher.
Predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria has become a very dangerous place for the Christian minority:
- The previous Sunday at least six worshipers were killed and dozens wounded when a suicide bomber attacked a church in Jos, and gunmen opened fire on worshipers at a church in Biu.
- I wrote here about the Easter morning bombing of a church in Kaduna that killed at least 38 people.
- A Christmas Day bombing of a church in Madalla killed at least 44.
Most of the violence is the work of Boko Haram, an Muslim terrorist organization credited, according to the Associated Press, with killing more than 560 people so far this year. In 2011, it killed more than 500 people and burned down or destroyed more than 350 churches in 10 northern states of Nigeria.
The Christian Association of Nigeria said in a statement yesterday:
The bombings are clear indications that the Jamaatu Ahlisunnah Lidda’awatiwal Jihad, otherwise known as Boko Haram, has declared war on Christians and Christianity in Nigeria. In fact, the pattern of bombings and gun attacks suggests to us a systematic religious cleansing which reminds Christians of the genesis of a Jihad.
And, indeed, Boko Haram made it clear that this is just what’s happening, in a statement published last week in Nigeria’s Osun Defender:
The Nigerian state and Christians are our enemies and we will be launching attacks on the Nigerian state and its security apparatus as well as churches until we achieve our goal of establishing an Islamic state in place of the secular state.
Incredibly, as I wrote in April, our State Department continues to insist that Boko Haram is not Islamist, and is fighting Congressional efforts to designate the group as a terrorist organization. The State Department claims the organization is driven, not by religious ideology, but simply by poverty and social inequality. Their proposed solution has been, not to try to shut down Boko Haram, but simply to pour more money into Nigeria’s violent Muslim north.
And now the Administration has come up with another “solution”: Simply remove any discussion of religious freedom from its annual Human Rights Report. The 2011 report, released late last month–three months after the deadline set by law for its release, by the way–is mum on what has been happening to Christians and other religious minorities in Muslim nations in Africa and the Middle East during and since the Arab Spring.
But Thomas Farr, Director of the Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy program and the Project on Religious Freedom at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, suggests another possibility:
[T]he Obama administration is downplaying international religious freedom. I mean, it is important to note here that I do not know–I have no personal knowledge of the logic that went into removing religious freedom from the broader human rights report; but I also have observed during the three-and-a-half years of the Obama administration that the issue of religious freedom has been distinctly downplayed.
(T)he ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, for example, who is the official charged by the law to lead U.S. religious freedom policy, did not even step foot into her office until two-and-a-half years were gone of a four-year administration. Whereas other human rights priorities of the administration, such as the ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, were in place within months. So that tells you something.
It tells me that this has never been a priority for the Obama administration, and it’s not now.
As violence against Christians and other minorities continues to climb in Muslim countries, the State Department has just made it much more difficult to learn what’s going on. If people knew, after all, they might draw the wrong conclusions.
Because, you know, Islam is a religion of peace.
Just ask the families of the 560 people murdered–most of them while at church–in Nigeria this year.