Escalating bloodshed in Nigeria is fueled in part by religious extremism – and the United States must recognise this in order to achieve peace, says a former U.S. religious freedom ambassador.
According to former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, who was speaking on the violence in Nigeria, “This thing is going to blow upon us, as we would say: ‘bigger than Dallas’, if we don’t get in there and really start taking this seriously at this point”, on Wednesday.
Recall that due to the scope of violence against civilians in Nigeria, the U.S. State Department in December designated Nigeria a “country of particular concern (CPC)” for the first time ever—a listing reserved for the countries with the worst records on religious freedom, such as China, Iran, and North Korea.
In addition, the agency’s ‘Annual Religious Freedom Report’, published on Wednesday, cited numerous terror attacks on civilians in Nigeria in the past year in the country’s North-East, including attacks on churches and mosques.
“Terrorist groups, including Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA), attacked population centers and religious targets, targeting the local civilian population, including churches and mosques”, the report noted,
“In the country’s North-Central region, a long-standing conflict “between predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen and predominantly Christian farmers” continued in 2020”, the State Department said.
The report cited “some religious groups and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs)” who said, “this conflict had religious undertones”.
“Some domestic and international Christian groups stated that Muslim Fulani herdsman were targeting Christian farmers because of their religion. Local Muslim and herder organisations have said that unaffiliated Fulani were the targets of Christian revenge killings”, the report added.
Brownback said the references to the religious nature of the terror attacks and killings is a positive sign that the U.S. diplomatic Corps is beginning to acknowledge the role of religion in Nigeria.
Speaking on the terrorists using religion to promote civilian violence, Brownback said members of the Islamic State “are winning the hearts and minds of the villagers that are killing people”.
Religion, he added, “is not the only issue, but it’s a key issue. The most powerful thing in most peoples’ lives in the world is what they believe”.
The United States, he said, must work with faith leaders in the region to promote peace through religious leaders.
Nigeria has been rocked by violence in 2020