Two thoughtful articles on Islam and violence in Northern Nigeria

By | January 14, 2011

Both on NigeriansTalk.

First, in a post titled Jos and Maiduguri Attacks: If not ethno-religious, then what? Yomi Ogunsanya writes:

The crises can also be understood in the context of Nigeria’s perverse inequality, high rate of unemployment, and worsening poverty rate, all of which are, of course, largely the upshot of institutional dysfunction, absence of socially answerable state structures, and the lack of legitimacy between the government and the governed. All these, I daresay, are material conditions that can be exploited for selfish purposes just as they can act as a catalyst—where there is widespread discontentment—for revolt or insurrection. But—and this is the point I wish to stress—religion and ethnicity are not coextensive with such material conditions as poverty, unemployment and social inequality. Religion, in particular, is conterminous with belief and opinion and is often underpinned by an emotional or spiritual sense of certainty which, in many cases, would not brook any criticism or opposition. It is a very dangerous terrain of sociality that, more than anything else, is preoccupied with our fears, our anxieties really. It is this fear, this anxiety, that, in my opinion, makes some people to be overly religious (or extremists) and therefore very dangerous to live with. Members of the Boko Haram sect, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other fundamentalist movements (including the group claiming responsibility for the Christmas Eve bombings) represent a most menacing face of religion. Now, to say that these extremists who are burning, maiming, killing and bombing are doing so because they are poor or because they are jobless is to miss the point. Abdul Muttallab, the young man who attempted to detonate a bomb mid-flight in Detroit on Christmas Eve in 2009, was not from a poor home.

In a rejoinder titled In Jos and Maiduguri Religion is Politics, Benson Eluma writes:

It is important to factor in the recruitment of foot soldiers for the purpose of doing this violence. It has always largely been among the poor and the underclasses. Mutallab, whom you cite, is the exception that proves the rule about the recruitment of actual fighters in the north. And Mutallab did not risk his life in a Nigerian fight, even though that point is not relevant to this argument. The pattern in the recruitment of people to carry out acts of violence reveals an economic angle that must not be ignored. From the days of the Maitatsine, this pattern has been a constant source of concern, for it points up the sorry fact that so long as there is a vast army of people who have nothing to lose in a life of abject poverty and deprivation, the task of recruitment is made easier for the political entrepreneurs of ethno-religious violence in the north. But a new pattern of recruitment is unfolding before us. I refer to the sophistication of the weapons used by these new ‘Islamists’, especially in Jos. I refer to numerous eye-witness accounts that the attackers come attired in military fatigues. The new recruitment is done among people who have good knowledge of the use of assault rifles and bombs. They show mastery of military precision and ample field experience in scorched-earth policy. There is somebody investing in these new fighters. These are no mere Fulani herdsmen armed with bows and arrows, amulets and incantations. There is plenty of evidence that the power game has entered a new phase.

The two articles are fairly long but they are both worth your time. They both raise some really important issues about the relationship between culture, religion, politics and violence.

Enhanced by Zemanta