Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tenth Parallel - Nigeria

I’ve just started reading Eliza Griswold’s book The Tenth Parallel, and already I doubt that the jihad of Muslim extremists and the resistance of the Western world will ever be peacefully resolved.

Griswold is a journalist who has for the past seven years traveled along the tenth parallel (the seven hundred mile wide band of land north of the equator, which includes Nigeria, the Sudan, Somalia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines) to investigate and report on the ongoing bloody conflicts between Christians and Muslims.

So far I’ve read only about the situation in Nigeria which she describes as “sub-Saharan Africa’s major petroleum producer,” “America’s fifth-largest supplier of oil,” and “one of the continent’s wealthiest and most influential powers…(and) one of its most corrupt democracies.”

Part of the conflict is about whose beliefs are sanctioned by God: Muslims’ or Christians’? Another part is economic. Some non-Muslims have converted to Christianity as a way of combating Muslim oppression. Christian Pentecostalism is growing fast, and one form of Pentecostalism focusing on a “prosperity Gospel” (i.e., the belief that God blesses Christians with economic prosperity) has proved to be a threat to the spread of Islam.

Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi puts it bluntly, “In Nigeria both sides are growing, and that growth engenders competition.” Kwashi likes to say, “For Christians, God has moved his work to Africa.” He believes that the western world is guilty of relativizing the Gospel, that mainline Protestant churches have moved away from a strict interpretation of the Bible and are leaving to Christians in Africa and Asia the job of spreading the Gospel. According to Kwashi this is where America in particular has gone wrong.

Author Griswold recounts the story of a February, 2004, attack by Muslims against Christian worshippers in the town of Yelwa. Jihadists, shouting "Allahu Akhbar," set fire to a church, shot those who tried to escape, and burned a nursery school, killing at least 78 people that day. Two months later Christians surrounded the town and over a period of two days, according to a report by Human Rights Watch, massacred over 600 Muslims. By 2006 Yelwa was a ghost town.

Abdullahi Abdullahi, a Muslim human rights lawyer, explained to Griswold that the conflicts in Nigeria did not begin with religious differences, but with shrinking natural resources. Muslims then bought into the rumor that Christians were plotting to eliminate them. “If someone attacks you, you have the right to defend yourself –call it jihad or whatever you want—but this was Christian attacking Muslim,” a school’s headmaster told Griswold. “The Christians came in the sense of crusade.”

Archbishop Peter Akinola, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, formerly from a southwestern corner of Nigeria where Christians and Muslims coexist peacefully, faults western Christians for abandoning conservative morals which in turn weakens the global Church in its struggle against Islam.

“People are thinking that Islam is an issue in Africa and Asia,” Akinola told Griswold, “but you in the West are sitting on explosives. What Islam failed to accomplish by the sword in the eighth century, it’s trying to do by immigration so that Muslims become citizens and demand their rights.”

(Bishop Akinol was once a colleague of author Griswold’s father, also a bishop of the Anglican Church.)

I have much more of The Tenth Parallel to read, as Griswold reports on the situation in the Sudan in Africa, and then about Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines in Asia. I do not know whether she sees any light at the end of this long dark tunnel of religious, economic, ethnic, and cultural conflict. At this point in her expose I am not especially optimistic.

The Tenth Parallel by Eliza Griswold was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2010, $27.

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