Response to 'Since Christians and Muslims Cannot Peacefully Live Together They Need To Separate'
Thank you Ozodi Osuji for your kind words in regard to my short and swiftly turned out write up on the events of July 29 1966. You will appreciate that it was more of a summary note than an attempt at constructing a comprehensive narrative and analysis.
The subject of Christianity versus Islam of course forms a background towards many tragic events in Nigerian history: Violence in the Sabon Garis in the North, conflict in the military as well as in the overall genesis and prosecution of the Nigerian Civil War. Then of course are the Islamic fundamentalist movements which have spawned Maitatsine and now Boko Haram. Boko Haram unlike Maitatsine's organisation has created a full-blown insurgency.
Your essay is quite clear in its arguments: your belief in the primacy of scientific culture over that of religion, your disavowal of multiculturalism and your evaluation of Islamic text and culture as being the instigator of more violence than that of Christianity.
I will start by stating that I agree with much of your critique of religion in general and the rationale behind its continuing role in contemporary human affairs. However, in my response I aim to challenge the currently fashionable tendency to denounce and demonize Islam in a blanket fashion. By doing so, I am not serving as an apologist for Wahhabism or the barbarity of fundamentalist Islamic militias such as IS, Al Nusra, Boko Haram or the Taliban. Neither am I defending the Islamic religion per se - it has its many adherents who are quite capable of doing so. What I aim to do is to put things into their correct and proper context as well as to note the agendas behind anti-Islam agitation.
1. Distinctions between tribal-nationalism and religion in conflicts
I believe that when addressing conflicts involving Islamic countries and non-Islamic ones as well as civil conflicts between Islamic communities and their non-Islamic compatriots one always needs to be capable of distinguishing between motivations which are based on the one hand on tribal-nationalist sentiment and on the other, those based on religious grounds. Many times, both intersect but it is possible, I believe, to provide a litmus test which will show that certain wars and massacres would likely have occurred without religion. This will occur when two different ethnic groups or nationalities compete over land and resources or economic and political influence.
Two examples that come to mind concern the cruelties inflicted by the Muslim Hausa-Fulani on the Christian Igbo and that of the Muslim Turks on Christian Armenians.
In Nigeria, there was a rivalry between the Hausa and Igbo in politics which spilled over into the military. There was also an economic dimension: the dominance of Igbos is the economic life of the mainly Muslim North. The Igbos were not being attacked on a 'convert-or-die' mission of homicidal proselytization but out of the fear, jealousy and resentment caused by the Igbos in their midst.
The perception that the Igbos were determined to establish hegemonic rule over Nigeria came from the lop-sided assassinations of army and political leaders from the North in the first army mutiny of 1966 which was dominated by officers of Igbo ethnicity. The implementation of the Unification Decree merely consolidated their thinking. A unified Nigerian Civil Service would, they perceived, have meant that the less educated Northerners would not stand a chance of competing for the higher, middle and even lower echelon posts.
It mattered not that the coup was nationalist in nature and that the likes of Major Nzeogwu who was born and bred in the North, spoke Hausa and was named after the city of Kaduna, were the embodiment of 'One Nigeria'.
A similar situation occurred between the Turks and the Armenians as the Ottoman Empire began to decay. Resentment over Armenian dominance in aspects of commerce and government had built up. As the Turks became more threatened by the idea of losing territory during the First World War, part of their elites determined that the Armenians should not profit from this. They noted that their long-term rivals, the Russian Empire, was supporting some Armenian guerrillas and decided to genocide Armenian men, women and children as their protection from what they perceived could become a 'fifth column'.
It mattered not that tens of thousands of Armenian men were fighting for the Ottomans or that the Russians were not likely to give any territories they might conquer to the Armenians.
These were primordial and atavistic reactions to threats and man the animal has a habit of coming out and acting violently to prevent himself from being out-competed.
To characterise anti-Igbo and anti-Armenian pogroms as being predicated on Islamic Jihadism or that mass homicidal inclinations are the remit only of Islamic communities is highly erroneous. After all, the propaganda apparatus of Biafra shifted between tribal emancipation and religious persecution. The Christian-Muslim element cannot explain the persecutions visited upon Igbos. Most of the Northern soldiers who turned on their Igbo counterparts were themselves Christian. Major Martin Adamu, the co-leader of the July 1966 counter-coup was Christian as was Major Theophilus Danjuma. It was because the rank and file soldiers were dominated by Christians from the Middle Belt that Yakubu Gowon, a Christian, was able to emerge as the Nigerian head of state.
That conflicts of this nature often have nothing to do with religion was seen in Rwanda, a country which is dominated by Christianity with Roman Catholicism being the largest of the Christian denominations. The genociding of Tutsis by Hutus was motivated by tribal grievances and the 'peace loving' religion of Christianity failed to act as a restraining mechanism.
In Central Africa, Christians slaughter Muslims with impunity in the Central African Republic and the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Movement incorporates certain tenets of Christianity in its spiritual doctrine. It is effectively a Christian cult much in the manner of David Koresh's Branch Davidians religious sect.
It would be remiss not to mention the historical conflict between Serbians and Croats. The Roman Catholic Croatian Ustase murdered hundreds of thousands of Christian Orthodox Serbs, Jews and Roma in Yugoslavia during World War 2.
Yugoslavia like Nigeria was a conglomerate nation; an artificial construct composed of different ethnic-nationalities. Perhaps, Nigeria, as was the case with Yugoslavia, should split up - preferably peacefully- but my point is that the problem of Nigeria cannot be centred only on the Christian-Muslim divide, such divides have occurred in majority Christian nations such as the old Yugoslavia and in majority Muslim nations such as Pakistan from which East Pakistan seceded to become Bangladesh.
To sum up this point, I would strongly argue that the Christian-Muslim divide cannot be solely affixed as the problem holding back Nigeria. It is a lack of political and intellectual imagination on the part of its leaders who have been unable to create a unique socio-political structure and mentality to harness the huge potential of all communities be they Christian, Muslim or Animist.
This leads to to a shorter point.
2. Peaceful Co-Existence Between Muslims and Christians
The thesis that Muslims do not live in peace when they are equal in size to non-Muslims in a country is not necessarily correct.
One example is Tanzania where Christian and Muslim communities are more or less equal in population size and live in relative harmony.
The same should be said about the Yoruba in southwestern Nigeria who have Christian and Muslim populations of relatively equal size. Muslims may even be the majority as there is some contention about the ratio of Muslim to Christian governors of Yoruba states in recent times. There have been more Christians than Muslims although governors of Muslim heritage are becoming more common. The highly syncretic culture of Yorubas and the generally tolerant disposition towards non-Yorubas demonstrates that Islamic communities around the world should not be viewed as monolithic societies without variation and with a predisposition to violence against others not of the same faith.
Some might argue that Muslims and Christians in Ghana present a model of peaceful co-existence albeit that Muslims form a smaller percentage of the population at less than 20%. Perhaps these peaceful Muslim-Christian models are simply better at pursuing the "dialogue of life" through which interactions and mutual respect between communities ensure the manageability of tensions.
3. The Myth of the Clash of Civilizations
After the end of the Cold War, an American scholar named Samuel Huntington coined the phrase 'Clash of Civilizations' in which he posited an argument that the major conflict in the post-Cold War era would be between the West and Islam. This is arguably as woefully a contrived phrase and as shaky a philosophical construction as was Francis Fukuyama's 'End of History' formulation.
The first point to stress is that Huntington focuses on Islam as been a barrier to global domination by the Western world. This speaks volumes. It can be strongly argued that this thesis, picked up by hegemony-seeking American neoconservatives, diehard believers in 'American Exceptionalism' and the Israel-lobby supporting Christian Zionists, has been manufactured to suit certain geo-political and geo-economic agendas.
The threat of Islam has been manufactured as much as the supposed threat posed by Vladimir Putin's Russia which American neoconservatives would prefer to be a compliant, weak vassal state serving American and Western Europe's energy and resource needs as is the aim of the Brzezinski Doctrine.
There are numerous position papers which point to an agenda to invade Muslim countries, balkanize them and exacerbate Sunni-Shia tensions in order to:
i. Better exploit their natural resources such as oil and gas
ii. Overthrow largely secular and strongly nationalist Arab governments not compliant with the dictates of the United States
iii. Secure the regional military hegemony of the state of Israel
The Project For the New American Century's 'Rebuilding America's Defences' position paper, the 'Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm' report and the Pentagon-sponsored RAND Corporation document entitled ‘Unfolding the Future of the Long War: Motivations, Prospects and Implications for the U.S. Army’ are a few key examples.
The United States has orchestrated a scenario which has enabled the development of violent, fanatical Islamist militias to flourish. These groups effectively function as America's foreign legion. Many of the Islamist fighters presently operating in Syria are foreign mercenaries. Some estimate that at least half come from the Chechen republic. The U.S. and it allies trained and aided Islamists in the overthrow Colonel Gaddafi and those seeking to overthrow Bashar al Assad. Al Qaeda and IS are basically the creations of US intelligence. This is well documented via secret memoranda, emails and the admissions of the likes of retired US Army generals such as Wesley Clark and Michael Flynn.
The aforementioned document produced by the RAND Corporation explicitly states that Sunni-Shia tensions will be exploited. It even noted somewhat cynically that these conflicts would keep Sunni militants occupied to the extent that the threat of terrorist attacks in the Western world would diminish. The end result of these Western fomented conflicts and the accompanying devastation of Muslim lands is increasing radicalisation. The action and reaction breeds more extremism and violence which then provides justification to the West to keep on bombing and destabilising Muslim lands. It all adds up to the endless war -the so called 'Long War'- promised after 9/11. This is a state of affairs suited to the Military Industrial Complex and NATO who were in danger of going out of business after the end of the Cold War. The instability caused to its neighbours also bolsters the position of State of Israel.
This so-called 'Clash of Civilizations' and a supposed 'War on Terror' are concepts posited by Benzion Netanyahu and his son Binyamin since the late 1970s as a strategy to embroil the West, led by America, in wars on Israel's behalf in the Middle East.
The creation of an atmosphere conducive to anti-Muslim sentiment would help in their endeavour.
The claim by the Yonathan Institute that they set up was to convince Western opinion that their struggles against Palestinian guerrillas and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon was one of civilizational values rather than the matter of colonizing Palestine and persistently seeking to fragment the Lebanese state.
4. Terrorism and Islam
The so-called War on Terror is totally unjustified. It is an artificially constructed phenomenon which has only succeeded in adding an extraordinary amount of money to the US national debt, the loss of long and hard fought for rights and freedoms of its citizens and an increase in extremism among Muslims.
But the question must be asked. Notwithstanding the barbaric actions of IS, al Nusra, Boko Haram et al, what proportion of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims have actually taken up arms and actively serve as terrorists?
It is of course a minuscule amount.
And what do the statistical figures provide so far as Muslim terror is concerned in the United States which is leading this War on Terror on behalf of the so-called free world? An FBI report shows that only a small percentage of terrorist attacks carried out on U.S. soil between 1980 and 2005 were perpetrated by Muslims. Princeton University’s Loon Watch compiled a chart from the FBI’s data showing 6% of terror attacks were attributable to Muslims. Less than the 7% committed by Jewish extremists, much less than the 25% committed by extreme Left-wing groups dwarfed by the 42% committed by Latinos.
It is worth reminding that the chances of a person being killed by a terrorist attack are very slim. A person is more likely to die from being crushed by a flat-screen TV or falling in the bathtub than from an act of terrorism.
What is one to make of an increase in Muslim terrorism when George W. Bush launched an illegal war of aggression against Iraq in 2003 which created the basis of IS?
Incidentally, plans to invade both Iraq and Afghanistan were already made BEFORE the events of September 11, 2001; an event which was a 'god send' for the neoconservatives who admitted that the American public could not be convinced to support the many wars they envisaged "absent (of) some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor."
Again, what is one to make of any increase in Muslim terrorism after the destruction by NATO of Libya and its reduction to the status of a failed state? What is one to make of the increase in Muslim terrorism when by the admission of former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, the conflict in Syria was planned years in advance? Is it any surprise that terrorism would increase and Western nations would be eventually targeted when a country such as Iraq has been subjected to almost consistent bombing for well over a decade? What happens to the inhabitants of Syria, the Pakistan-Afghan border areas and Yemen when children, women and men are blown apart by US drones targeting individuals designated as terrorists when they are attending weddings, funerals and going about their business?
France and Britain as Roland Dumas revealed were at the heart of planning the insurrection against the Syrian government. France supplied weapons to anti-Assad rebels -all of whom are of the Islamist stripe. France played a key role in bombing Libya to smithereens aiding in the process Islamist anti-Gadaffi forces, key of which was the now disbanded al Qaeda affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group which received training from British Special Forces. In one notorious incident, a criminal case against a person prosecuted in Britain for suspected terrorist activities in Syria had to be abandoned because the British Secret Intelligence Service would have been embarrassed by the exposure of its links with Islamist rebel groups operating to overthrow Assad. It had been reported soon after the start of the anti-Assad campaign that NATO officers were stationed on the border Syria shares with Jordan offering to train rebels.
5. The Influence of Instability and Poverty on the rise of Extremist Islamic Groups
It is clear that the rise of groups such as IS and Boko Haram has a lot to do with instability and poverty. These factors play a good part in breeding radicalised fighters.
Grievances caused by the invasion of Iraq are being channeled through Islamic militancy. In a different age such rage might have been channeled through secular nationalist organisations. However, the balance in the struggle between Gamal Nasser, the leader of Arab secular nationalism on the one hand and the theocratic Saudi monarchy on the other appears to have tipped in favour of the latter who after the fright caused by the Siege of Mecca in 1979 devoted a lot of money in spreading their puritan strain of Islam known as Wahhabism via the creation of numerous Madrassas throughout the Islamic world.
Many members of IS who metamorphosed from disparate anti-NATO and anti-Shia Sunni groups after Saddam's overthrow were born and bred under a secular system. However, they seem to have adopted the Sunni Islamist ideology as a political identity at the expense of Baathism which of course is a socialist creed that is inclusive of those they now consider their enemies - particularly the majority Shias.
They fight because they feel marginalised in the post-Saddam era. When ISIS conquered Mosul, they proceeded to kill the judge who had condemned Saddam Hussein to the hangman's rope. Why kill someone in revenge for a man who was a secular ruler and against expressions of Islamism? It tells you that this new found Islamism is merely a new nationalist identity.
The Saudi and Gulf sponsors of Islamist fighters in Syria apparently pay them a good wage. The 'soldiers' of Boko Haram come from abject poverty. Remove the circumstances of poverty in Northern Nigeria and there would arguably be little reason for radicalisation. This holds true notwithstanding tales of relatively comfortable youngsters leaving the West for Syria or of the highly suspicious 'short period' radicalisation process that Western government and Western mainstream media propagate about recent attacks carried out by debauched individuals who are discovered to have imbibed alcohol, took drugs, operated as petty thieves or even led homosexual lifestyles.
6. Similarities between Islam and Christianity
The divisions between Nigerian Christians and Muslims would be far less if the leaders of each side spoke more about the similarities between both religions. They of course emanate from what is termed the Judeo-Christian tradition. Jesus is a revered prophet in Islam. He is not God the Son but according to Islamic eschatology, it is he and not Prophet Mohammed who will come back to earth at the end of time when he will slay Gog and Magog. This contrasts with the situation in Judaism where the Talmud states that Jesus was the "son of a whore," Mary, who slept with Roman soldiers and gave birth to a "bastard." It claims that Jesus was a sorcerer who deceived the people and that Jewish rabbis resurrected him four times in order to put him to death in four different ways. He is according to the Talmud boiling in a vat of excrement for the rest of eternity.
In the early days of Islam, the religion Muhammad was attempting to spread was virtually identical to that practised by Jews. It was only after a disagreement with Jewish communities failing to support him that aspects of its practice was changed. Islam like Christianity is universal whereas Judaism is particularistic and non-proselytizing.
If a modern and influential Rabbi confirms to his students that Halachic law permits a Jew to profit from the mistake of a non-Jew in a commercial transaction then why is this not raised by those concerned about the Koran permitting the use of deception against non-believers? A Jewish businessman would not be obligated for instance to return goods accidentally given to him by a Gentile competitor. He is only obligated to return the item or items if failure to do so would cause anti-Semitism or a 'Khilul Hashem', that is, desecration of God’s name.
If there is concern about the Koran permitting violence and terrorism on non-believers, does this concern also apply to those Jewish rabbis who justify the slaughter of the men, women, children as well as the destruction of the homes and places of worship of their enemies in Palestine? Does such concern extend to Israeli rabbis who claim that the Book of Deuteronomy allows for the rape of captive women? Does the religious and secular based claim to the right to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel,' permit the ethnic cleansing of what was formerly Palestine of Muslim and Christian Palestinian communities? The Israeli General Moshe Dayan was an atheist but religiously read and re-read tracts from the Old Testament. Do the following passages in Deuteronomy hold any significance so far as the Israel-Palestine conflict is concerned?:
"When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you...and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them."
And when speaking of violence in the Middle East, American foreign policy and the chances of a peace settlement, note should be made of the phenomenon of Christian Zionism not only as a force among those who are high echelon policymakers in Washington, but also of the money sent by Christian Zionist organisations in support of illegal settlements on the West Bank.
By all means challenge fanatical, violent Islamists but do not neglect to note that money from American Christian Zionists is leading the Middle East and the world to an Armageddon, which of course is what they believe has been divinely foretold.
While religion may factor in as the cause of much of the trouble in the world, the default position of culture, tribe and nationality are just as important. Devolution and secession based solely on the grounds of religion for reasons addressed will not always serve as the panacea to the problems of national development.
While it is true that the Christian New Testament projects peace, forgiveness and the last resort use of violence in self-defence as important themes, it should not be forgotten that the Old Testament remains a part of the Christian text and has been used in the past and can still be used as the justification of violence.
Those tracts contained in the Old Testament, the Talmud and Koran which appear offensive, violent and barbaric need not be taken literally in a scientific world where adherents are exposed to modernity. It is clear that Islam may need its own brand of the Enlightenment.
Where Judaism, Christianity and Islam can eschew 'chosenness', 'sectarianism' and hate for non-believers or non-members and instead focus on piety, modesty and charitableness, religion becomes more tolerable to those who do not follow their respective faiths. There is much to commend about religion where it promotes ethical and humanitarian precepts. And how could any objective person living in the contemporary world not be seduced by the Islamic banking system which forbids usury? The whole raison detre of the secular West is after all based on the creed of Mammonism: mass consumerism, globalisation, corrupt elites and governments that serve the interests of the one per cent.
Those who point the finger of accusation at any one religion as the cause of the malaise or violence in societies should be concerned with the contradictions and shortcomings of all religions.
In a country such as Nigeria, it is important not only to vigorously pursue the "dialogue of life" as a means of diffusing tensions between Christians and Muslims, greater and more imaginative efforts need to be made to cut down the levels of poverty in the mainly Muslim North which has lagged behind the mainly Christian South economically and educationally. Above all, it is the upliftment of the African mind that will be the decisive factor because even if the country is sub-divided into polities which reflect religion and ethnicity, it will not solve the underlying problem of transforming the collective African psyche in fully meeting the challenges of the post-colonial age.
July 30, 2016
© Adeyinka Makinde (2016)
Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.