.- As bombings against Christian churches in Nigeria continue, a religious liberty scholar is calling on the U.S. government to recognize the scope of the problem and take steps to end the violence.
Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the D.C.-based Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, explained that Nigeria has experienced “increased religious violence and attacks on Christians for about 12 years.”
He told CNA on August 5 that the violence has been “worsening a great deal in the last three years, with the rise of Boko Haram – an al Qaeda affiliated militia, that has been targeting Christians, amongst others.”
But despite this rise in violence, he warned, the United States government has yet to “recognize the religious element of the conflict” and take strong steps against the extremist organization.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful,” has been responsible for thousands of deaths in recent years, according to human rights groups. The organization has previously stated that its goal is to “purify Islam” and that it intends to “continue to wage war against the Nigerian state until we abolish the secular system and establish an Islamic state.”
A July 29 attack on Christ Salvation Pentecostal Church and two other Christian communities in the northern town of Kano left nearly 50 people dead, the latest in a wave of ongoing violence in the region. Local military forces have said that the attacks appear to be the work of Boko Haram, though the organization has not claimed responsibility for the violence.
Marshall noted that more than 1,000 Christians were killed in 2012, and U.S. State Department reports have noted mass movement of Christians away from the country’s predominantly Muslim north.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has in its 2011 and 2012 reports highlighted the group’s terrorist attacks against both Christians and Muslims, and stated that the organization has led to “a dramatic deterioration of religious freedom and stability in Nigeria.”
The commission has repeatedly asked the State Department to label Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern,” thus allowing the U.S. government to take more forceful action to promote religious freedom in the nation. However, the State Department has not done so.
Marshall commented that Nigerian Christians have a “large and strong community” that may be able to withstand persecution. He took hope in the fact that the “U.S. military is training government forces in West Africa on combatting terrorism.”
But overall, he said, there is “little international activity” in fighting Boko Haram and violence in Nigeria more broadly.
He suggested that the global community target Boko Haram’s aims and modes of attack, adding that the U.S. could “also help in supporting good education in the north of Nigeria” in order to curtail the organization’s recruitment efforts.