Organized religion showed the world its ass once again on Christmas Day, when Muslim extremists in Nigeria butchered at least 40 of their Christian countrymen for calling the invisible man in the sky by a different name.
Three churches in northern and central Nigeria were rocked by bomb blasts Dec. 25. The attacks were claimed by the Boko Haram movement of Islamic militants, which aims to impose their religious laws on the 167 million people of Nigeria, which are about evenly split between Islam and Christianity.
Innocents were targeted again in a tit-for-tat attack at an Arabic school in Southern Nigeria on Dec. 27. Six children and one adult were wounded when a homemade bomb was tossed into their classroom. The children were between the ages of four and nine.
About one-sixth of all the people in Africa live in Nigeria, which is that continent’s most populous nation with 24 cities of more than 100,000 people.
The prospect of sectarian civil war is a real problem for decent working people of all faiths who simply want to raise their families in peace, have gainful employment, and enjoy access to affordable food, housing, health care, and education.
Because no sacrifice by others is too great for religious extremists, who seem to love to indiscriminately kill innocent people. They rarely pick a neutral place for a man-on-man showdown with opposing extremists with similar murderous intentions.
And because religious friction is more pronounced in heterogeneous nations like Nigerian, which were cobbled together by colonial powers from many different groups.
The British Empire brought sometimes opposing tribes together to form Nigeria, which now has 389 ethnic groups. They ruled the West African nation largely through the Hausa – a Muslim tribe in the northern part of the nation – until granting it independence in 1960.
The Hausa represent 28 percent of Nigeria’s population. The two other major tribes are the Igbo and Yuroba. The predominantly Christian Igbo represent 16 percent of the population and make their home in Southern Nigeria. The Yuroba, which include both Muslims and Christians, account for 18 percent.
Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful” in the Hausa language. The group has been killing male, female and infant Christians indiscriminately in oil-rich Nigeria since it was founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002. Yusuf was killed by Nigerian security forces in July of 2009, along with more than 100 of his followers.
Sunday’s bombings were a grim reminder of the Christmas Eve massacre the Boko Haram committed in 2010, which claimed 38 lives in God’s name. A wave of shootings and bombings by the group left 65 people dead in the city of Damaturu on Nov. 25. And an Aug. 23 bombing attack on a United Nations building claimed at least 23 lives in the city of Abuja.
People have been killing one another in the name of organized religion on this planet for as long as there has been organized religion. Muslim-Jewish-Christian-Hindu violence and intolerance has a long and bloody history that spans the Holocaust, Crusades and Spanish Inquisition.
Early Jews supposedly slaughtered the Canaanites inhabiting modern-day Israel in one of the first documented attempts at genocide in roughly 1500 BCE. Muslims from North Africa conquered southern Spain in 711 ACE. The Roman Catholic Church responded by forcing Muslims and Jews from that nation during the Spanish Inquisition from 1480 to 1834, and killing those who refused to leave or convert to what they perceived to be “the one true faith.”
European Christians invaded the Middle East during the Crusades and slaughtered Muslims, Jews and even their fellow Christians with alarming enthusiasm in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. Muslims returned the favor with an invasion of Eastern Europe by the Ottoman Empire that reached the gates of Vienna in 1529.
The Bombay Riots in Mumbai, India, claimed the lives of 575 Muslims and 275 Hindus in a two-month-span beginning in December 1992. Meanwhile, more than 70 Sunni and Shiite Muslims were slain last week in sectarian violence in Iraq.
And that’s just the shortlist.
Top Muslim leaders and Islamic scholars across Nigeria condemned Sunday’s church attacks, which they described as un-Islamic.
The day’s only good news occurred in the city of Jos, where security forces found and defused four other bombs.
Sectarian violence is likely to continue in Nigeria so long as national political leadership is based on religious and tribal affiliations, rather than individual merit.
“It is the tendency of the elite to manipulate the multifaceted identities (ethnic, regional, minority-majority, and religious divisions) during political competition that has given rise to conflicts and instability in Nigeria,” said Nkwachukwu Orji, a professor at the University of Nigeria.
Nigeria was torn by apart from 1967 to 1970 by a Civil War between the largely Muslim north and largely Christian south, also known as the Nigerian-Biafran War. It was followed and preceded by a series of military dictatorships led mostly by the Hausa Tribe.
The Christian south and Muslim north have shared power in recent years via an an informal agreement, which was tossed into confusion by the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua (above left) in May of 2010. The northern Muslim had only completed part of his term in office.
Vice President Goodluck Jonathan (bottom left), a Christian from the nation’s oil-rich southern delta, ascended to Nigeria highest office after Yar’Adua’s death. Jonathan, who hails from the Ijaw tribe of the Niger Delta, was re-elected in April.