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‘Religious’ Violence in Nigeria fueled by Poverty and Ethnicity?

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Is the violence in Nigeria centered around Muslim-Christian tensions and the implementation of Sharī‘ah by the Boko Haram? Jean Herskovits, a professor of history at the State University of New York, writes:

…the news media and American policy makers are chasing an elusive and ill-defined threat; there is no proof that a well-organized, ideologically coherent terrorist group called Boko Haram even exists today. Evidence suggests instead that, while the original core of the group remains active, criminal gangs have adopted the name Boko Haram to claim responsibility for attacks when it suits them.

She has written on Nigerian politics since 1970.

Muslim groups in the North Nigeria have also denounced the violence, though many in the north remain angry over the high unemployment and poverty crushing the region as politicians embezzle billions of dollars of the country’s oil revenues.

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Mainstream media reports that the targeting of minority Christians in the North triggered reprisals by Christians on Muslims in the south, even though the majority of the two communities have shown in the past they can live in peace. That tension over the Christmas Day attacks resulted in retaliatory attacks on mosques in recent weeks. Last Tuesday, during the fuel price protests an angry mob attacked a mosque and school in southwest Nigeria, killing at least five people and forcing 3,000 Muslims to flee the area.

But after our post on the Church Bombings in Nigeria, the following insight was shared by a Nigerian, Umm Sulaim, who lives there. She is an active commentor on MuslimMatters. She gives us background on the ethnic conflict in the region that crosses religious lines.

The Religion Of Pandemonium

By Umm Sulaim

On the exterior, it appears Islam spurs the actions of the dominating inhabitants of Northern Nigeria.  Everyone is led to believe so.  Christians understand the discrimination against them is religious. The deception is revealed when one is a Muslim and happens to be of a different tribe than the Hausa-Fulanis.

Non-Hausa-Fulani Muslims are being attacked and murdered just as easily as Christians. The Islamic teacher of an ustādh of mine was murdered in Kaduna. Imagine how old he was.  When his home was invaded by the Hausa-Fulanis, he informed them that he was a Muslim.  The response he got was: This is not religious, but tribal.

Here in Sokoto, a Christian acquaintance tried to intervene to halt the brutal assault of a Muslim woman by Hausa-Fulani men.  Pleading with the attackers, she reminded them the victim was a Muslim like them, why were they beating her up to the point of lifting and smashing her on the ground?  A Hausa woman retorted: This is not about religion.  It is tribal.

No one spoke out against what was going on, except one Muslim woman. Eventually, the Christian summoned the victim’s mother, who naturally was determined to report the incident to the police.  The former pleaded it would only make things worse and convinced her against it. Then Hausa-Fulanis threatened to kill the brother of the Christian for informing the woman of what they were doing to her daughter.

If religion is involved in the conduct of Hausa-Fulanis, it is not Islam, but a newly-found religion: Hausa.

…………………….

This narrative evokes comparison to a similar story that led to the breakup of the Sudan. Recent reports from the predominantly Christian South Sudan confirm that centuries old ethnic violence is ravaging the newly independent nation, which has had billions in aid pumped in by Western countries; countries which actively supported its bid for independence from pre-dominantly Muslim North.

“Eight thousand fighters just besieged this small town in the middle of a vast expanse, razing huts, burning granaries, stealing tens of thousands of cows and methodically killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of men, women and children hiding in the bush.

The raiders had even broadcast their massacre plans.

‘We have decided to invade Murleland and wipe out the entire Murle tribe on the face of the earth,’ the attackers, from a rival ethnic group, the Nuer, warned in a public statement.”

Poverty can Divide and can Unite

Back in Nigeria there have been several strikes over the fuel subsidy crisis, uniting the people of the country despite the perpetrators of violence who seek to tear them apart. Tolu Ongunlesi, a journalist says,

…I have observed, and participated in the series of public protest rallies now known as ‘Occupy Nigeria’ — tens of thousands of Nigerians across the country and in the Diaspora, trooping to the streets to protest the insensitivity of a government that cut fuel subsidies benefiting a largely poor population whilst itself guilty of astonishing levels of profligacy.

Labor unions ended the crippling nationwide strike Monday in Nigeria after the country’s president, Jonathan Goodluck, partially restored subsidies that keep gasoline prices low, though it took soldiers deployed in the streets to stop demonstrations in Africa’s most populous nation.  In some cities, the youth carried placards with inscriptions such as “Good luck, stop bombing our brothers, you are the Boko Haram,” “Nigerians say no to fuel subsidy removal,” “we say no to fuel subsidy removal, hardship has no religious face,” “prosecute the oil cabal now,” “removal of fuel subsidy is worse than Boko Haram,” and “no democracy in Nigeria: be informed Mr. President,” among others. From MyOndoState.com

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Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of Muslimmatters.org. She leads the DC office of the human rights organization, Justice For All, focusing on stopping the genocide of the Rohingya under Burma Task Force, advocacy for the Uighur people with the Save Uighur Campaign and Free Kashmir Action. She was a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. hena.z@muslimmatters.org Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Ena

    January 18, 2012 at 9:57 AM

    I’d rather not dwell or emphasize poverty as a root cause, cos it’s widespread throughout the land (called Nigeria). Not all those who dwell in it think adversely though. Perhaps its endemic in the north (and its people may argue yet against this). Blame the orientation of the people for their backwardness and resistance to change. Their problems lie in what they are taught to believe (always believe in) from the very beginning? What they still don’t realise is positive change (toward development) is inevitable. Until people begin to see beyond this “poverty ” already being mystified, the situation will remain. the South has its hoard of people equally termed poor or ridden by this “poverty” but how do these people think within the constraints of their “poverty?” They still eke a living positively, and make meaning to life and add to the entire nation. Why is the situation of the north so special and typical of “poverty?”

    • Umm Sulaim

      January 18, 2012 at 4:33 PM

      Poverty plays no role in the cultural training of these people, as there is no difference in conduct between the well-to-do and street urchins. Both adhere fervently to their culture.

      Umm Sulaim

  2. Umm Sulaim

    January 18, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    There is much going on that is often labeled ‘religious’.

    And I am glad the strike is over. I was beginning to wonder how to manage as no bank = no money.

    Umm Sulaim

  3. Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

    January 18, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    This was an interesting read as I was not aware of this info regarding Nigeria and its “politics”

  4. Omar

    January 18, 2012 at 4:47 PM

    Interesting factors, didn’t realize the tribal dimension. But as Muslims we have to stop the apologetic attitude to the widespread terror in the name of Islam … ‘it’s not Islam, it is poverty, tribalism, occupation, .. etc..’. No doubt these things play a role, and no doubt it is often a retaliation for far greater terrorism by ‘civilized’ armies and their allies (only they have the ability to spin the media and call it something else, or hide their dirty work altogether), and the media inflames things, magnifies them. No doubt also that often these people are oppressed, denied freedoms or political rights, which drives them to this extreme.

    But the fact remains that there are many groups in different parts of the world, that carry out attacks against civilians in the name of Islam, In the last 10 years, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, various European countries, Muslim countries, … and the common denominator is, sad to say, some form of Islam, one which draws from authentic Islamic teachings on Jihad and martyrdom, but then subtly reinterprets them to justify murder of civilians. We have to admit this to ourselves, and fix this problem in our community. Not because of what others will think of us, but because it is the right thing to do.

    I believe the best way to fix it is if Muslim societies become strong, independent, advanced and give us back our ‘izza.

    • Umm Sulaim

      January 18, 2012 at 5:26 PM

      The article aims to highlight the reasoning behind the actions of Muslims in Northern Nigeria.

      It did not excuse or condone their conduct. As I said elsewhere on MM: Islam is only a pawn.

      Umm Sulaim

  5. Waleed Ahmed

    January 18, 2012 at 10:30 PM

    Interesting to learn about this alternative narrative about the situation in Nigeria. Thanks for putting it together : )

  6. yusuf kazeem

    January 19, 2012 at 3:43 AM

    some parts of the article are spot on,but it is a FACT that religion is also a factor,MEGA PASTORS in nigeria are actually calling on christians 2 bear arms,likewise some muslim leaders see boko haram as a counter force 2 christian domination,i’m a nigerian muslim from the south

    • Umm Sulaim

      January 19, 2012 at 7:11 AM

      As-Salam alaykum, Yusuf.

      Those pastors are well aware of their motivations.

      Any Muslim who relies on boko haram and associates is just as likely to be murdered; that is the focus of the article.

      I hope Muslims in the South do not drag themselves into this and become puppets of the North. I see many people from the South of both Religions used and dumped here.

      I actually wrote that piece out of concern and as a word of caution for Muslims in the South.

      And I am not aware of any ‘christian domination’ mentality in the South. I shall have to make some phone calls to verify that.

      Umm Sulaim

  7. Salisu Garba

    January 20, 2012 at 3:32 AM

    Whenever a person labels a whole generation of people negatively (and claiming righteousness to self and ones tribe) , such person is on the border of being wrong. Here yourself…..”as there is no difference in conduct between the well-to-do and street urchins” May Allah guide us all.

    • Umm Sulaim

      January 21, 2012 at 7:17 AM

      Al-HamduliLlah you mentioned ‘claiming righteousness to self and ones tribe’ as no one will read that in the article.

      Your words are the precise words with which hausa-fulanis have labelled me for over five years; that I am trying to show I am more religious than them.

      Al-HamduliLlah you brought it up to buttress my point.

      I reiterate my position that in terms of actions influenced by cultural beliefs, socio-economic status makes no difference.

      Umm Sulaim

      • Salisu Garba

        January 25, 2012 at 3:12 AM

        I am neither Hausa nor Fulani. I am a Muslim. I have interacted with Many Muslims good and bad, knowledgeable and illiterate, from many ethnic groups in Nigeria. The ‘badness’ of one or two or even hundred within my immediate cycle of interaction is not enough for me to condemn a whole ethnic group. That’s my point of note to you my sister. I am wrong to assume you are buttressing the superiority of your tribe. I apologize for that. May Allah Guide us to the straight path.

  8. abulfadl

    January 20, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    The first quotation by the professor rightly captures the feelings of a lot of Nigerians on the confusing situation in Nigeriam However,the article was rather heavy-handed on and was too much of a generalisation about Hausas and Fulanis. An uninformed person would think of them as nothing more than marauding savages. The tone of the narration and comparisons with Sudan are honestly misleading.

    • Umm Sulaim

      January 21, 2012 at 7:21 AM

      Rather it will be more of a disaster to keep quiet and allow the world, especially Muslims from the South to be misled that Islam is a factor in events in the North.

      And, oh yes, this is also the feedback I receive from people of different tribes and religions. For instance, non-hausa-fulanis on meeting me, initially exhibit strain, but once they realise I am neither hausa nor hausanized, they are more relaxed. NOTE: THIS IS ESPECIALLY APPARENT IN CHRISTIANS.

      Umm Sulaim

      • Gbolahan

        January 29, 2012 at 12:20 PM

        Assalam Aleaykum,

        Umm Sualym, I am of the opinion that it will be a great disservice to this discussion if we reduce the situation in the north of Nigeria to just a tribal affair. Its not purely a tribal affair it also a religious affair, yes for street urchins and their radical mallams it is unfathomable for them to believe that anyone other than Hausa or Fulani could be muslim hence they will attack anyone known not be hausa or fulani so for the innocent onlooker it might appear more of a tribal thing.

        The prove that it is religious we get from their rhetoric and their dispositions, a quick question here is why dont we see them attack yoruba(a southern tribe) Masajids in north. No you wont see them do that though they might attack individual Yoruba Muslims because of their belief that only Hausa/Fulani can be Muslim.

        The problem is that the average Hausa or Fulani cannot distinguishes between cultural and religious affiliation, so he sees Islam has his culture and his culture as Islam. So an attack against their culture will be treated like an attack against his religion and this obvious in their practice of islam and this is quite synonymous with tribe with ancient Islamic origins.

        • Umm Sulaim

          January 29, 2012 at 1:55 PM

          I’m glad you understood the situation enough to have such an opinion.

          An article I sent to MM a while ago, which it chose not to publish – and which it should not bother to publish – actually contains a portion where I described the common person here as equating her tribe to Islam. And that I believe is the core of this article; that any Muslim from another TRIBE is also a target.

          The sole point of disagreement is that rhetoric is very different from what is happening on the ground.

          Umm Sulaim

  9. Sheik

    January 21, 2012 at 2:23 PM

    I hope Allah protects Sister Umm Sulaim :( Things are going down in Nigeria and around the world. This is truly disturbing :( :(

  10. Carlos

    January 22, 2012 at 1:22 AM

    Tribalism. Religion. It’s all group politics. It is all “us” versus “them.” Nigerians must transcend the politics of “us” and “them.” They must embrace the human rights of every Nigerian. This is all so sad, and it needs to stop. Tit for tat violence leads to only one thing: more tit for tat violence.

  11. Ahmad

    January 23, 2012 at 1:31 PM

    @ Umm Sulaim,
    I was expecting to hear about the faces behind the Boko Haram just as the quote from the professor captures it;

    ‘…the news media and American policy makers are chasing an elusive and ill-defined threat; there is no proof that a well-organized, ideologically coherent terrorist group called Boko Haram even exists today. Evidence suggests instead that, while the original core of the group remains active, criminal gangs have adopted the name Boko Haram to claim responsibility for attacks when it suits them’

    not your frustration with the Hausa Fulani. I am sorry to say your article is misleading as far as the Boko Haram cover up is concerned. Please,read what Bishop Kukah is saying about Boko Haram.

    http://www.vanguardngr.com/2012/01/do-not-be-afraid-bishop-kukah-appeals/

    May Allah give us the patience to tolerate our differences

    • Umm Sulaim

      January 23, 2012 at 2:42 PM

      I read the article and it confirms religion (Islam) has nothing to do with the crises.

      If you have information on who boko haram are, I suggest you share that with the police.

      Umm Sulaim

      • Umm Sulaim

        January 23, 2012 at 4:56 PM

        As the original article was not on boko haram, do not digress to boko haram.

        If you do insist I write an article on boko haram, I am prepared to do so, from a different perspective of course.

        Umm Sulaim

      • Carlos

        January 24, 2012 at 5:09 PM

        Once again, religion gets a free pass; praised for everything good; blamed for nothing.

        • Umm Sulaim

          January 25, 2012 at 3:45 PM

          Carlos,

          When I got your comment in my email, I giggled and thought I should ignore you. But I see you chose to append your comment to mine.

          As I write this, I am still smiling and say, ‘which one is your own with religion?’ Get some break and give religion a breather too.

          Umm Sulaim

  12. Ahmad

    January 24, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    @ Umm Sulaim, that would be great, May Allah guide you in your efforts

  13. Ahmad

    January 25, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    Brothers and sisters please, for once lets try and understand the faces behind Boko Haram.We must not submit completely to the common narrative in the international media without seeking first hand information from reliable sources.

    It’s on record influential Nigerian leaders were involved in the Boko Haram AGENDA. The Nigerian Muslims are not sympathetic with the group. They bear the brunt of their cruelty the most. Please, read this interview with a prominent Muslim cleric.

    http://sundaytrust.com.ng/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8895:boko-haram-is-a-creation-of-western-powers-says-jingir-&catid=54:lead-stories&Itemid=127

    The word terrorism is synonymous to Islam today,mere mention of the word puts Muslims on the back foot. In Nigeria recently non Muslims disguised as Muslims were arrested with explosives trying to bomb a Church,but the matter and many others were swept under the carpet.

    By Allah, I have lived and traveled in different African countries. Tunis was the last during the time of Ben Ali.
    There,you will see the extent leaders can go to safeguard their powers and appease their colonial masters.
    In many countries today including the Muslim a wayward youth is better than a simple practicing Muslim security wise.

    Please, let us not allow the wicked and hypocritical media, hatred,ethnicity,poverty or ignorance to veiled us from the truth and reality.

    May Allah grant us the patience to accommodate & tolerate each other despite our differences and Guide us to the right path.

    Bis salam

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