Can the Paris rally launch unified action against terror?

How about more attention on massacres, at the very least?

That’s what Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama virtually cried out for after the latest  breathtaking wave of crimes against humanity there.

As the world mourns the vicious massacres in Paris, one of Africa’s top religious leaders suggested that the lack of a similar outcry across the globe over the slaughter of up to 2,000 people by Boko Haram last week in northeast Nigeria is further evidence that Black lives don’t matter as much as whites’.

Ignatius Kaigama, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos and president of the Nigerian Bishops Conference, said the international community has expressed “solidarity,” but hasn’t done much to offer real help.

“We have always said that there should be concern expressed more concretely by the West beyond just expressing their solidarity,” Kaigama said. “They should do more than that. Compare what has happened in Paris and what is happening here. There is a great difference.”

According to Amnesty International, most of the people killed in Baga and the surrounding villages were women, children and the elderly, who were not able to flee in time. Reports say that the villages are overwhelmed with dead bodies lying as far as the eye could see. Amnesty International said it was the deadliest massacre Boko Haram has staged in the years of its murderous reign.

In addition to the dead, another 30,000 people are thought to have fled their homes, with about 7,500 seeking sanctuary in Chad and the rest adding to the tens of thousands of displaced people already scattered throughout that region of Nigeria.

On Twitter, Imad Mesdoua, a political analyst at consultants Africa Matters, said, “No breaking news cycle, no live reports, no international outrage, no hashtags,”…

Harry Leslie Smith, the 91-year-old who the Independent said electrified the Labour Party conference last year with a speech on the NHS, said on Twitter: “Note to the media and Western politicians that Paris isn’t burning but Nigeria is.”

On his Facebook page, Hollywood actor Boris Kodjoe congratulated the world leaders for taking part in the Paris march and asked “can somebody tell me why nobody is marching for those [Nigerian] victims? Any world leaders planning a trip to Lagos or Abuja this week? Too Busy? Bad flight connections?”

Thankfully, Angelina Jolie gets a lot of attention on just about everything she does and says, and she’s stepping up and speaking out about these atrocities, and calling out world leaders to send relief. This CNN report tells the raw story.

The attackers sped into a Nigerian town with grenade launchers — their gunfire and explosions shattering the early morning calm.

As terrified residents scattered into bushes in Baga town and surrounding villages, the gunmen unloaded motorcycles from their trucks and followed in hot pursuit.

Residents hid under scant brush. Bullets pierced them.

Some sought refuge in their homes. They were burned alive.

Many who tried to cross into neighboring Chad drowned while trying to swim through Lake Chad.

By the time the weapons went quiet, local officials reported death tolls ranging from hundreds to as many as 2,000 people.

That was January 3, nine days ago.

On Monday, bodies still littered the bushes in the area.

“It is still not safe to go and pick them up for burial,” said Musa Bukar, the chairman of the local government where Baga is located.

No emergency crews will enter the villages where militants are still running amok, local authorities said.

“Baga is not accessible because it is still occupied by Boko Haram,” said Sen. Maina Ma’aji Lawan of northern Borno state.

The strategic Nigerian town borders Chad, giving the extremists better access to both countries.

Boko Haram has terrorized northern Nigeria regularly since 2009, attacking police, schools, churches and civilians, and bombing government buildings. The Islamist group has said its aim is to impose a stricter form of Sharia law across Nigeria, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.

The group’s brutal tactics have shocked and stunned the world.

It has kidnapped students, including more than 200 schoolgirls who were abducted in April — and remain missing.

On Saturday, explosives strapped to a girl detonated at a crowded marketplace in Nigeria, killing at least 20 people. Although no one has claimed responsibility, Boko Haram militants are the main suspects.

But the scale of the early January attack — the death of hundreds, possibly thousands — defies belief.

Any one of those sentences is a jaw dropping stunner. Why is this continuing? Isn’t anyone doing anything? Where’s the ‘international community’? Where’s the massive rally and outcry and gathering of world leaders? Where’s the social media campaign to activate people around the globe to stop the madness and inhumanity to innocent children, women, elderly, everyone in the path of this murderous gang?

Angelina Jolie wants to know, too. And in her position with the UN and the media in general, she has a voice and is using it, thank God.

“Each new crime committed by Boko Haram exceeds the last in brutality. This is a direct consequence of the environment of total impunity in which Boko Haram operates. Every time they get away with mass murder, rape and the enslavement of women and children, they are emboldened,” Angelina Jolie, special envoy of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement.

She urged the United States and other nations to offer Nigeria help to “collect evidence and bring the perpetrators of these attacks to justice.”

Amnesty International called the massacre Boko Haram’s “deadliest act.”

“If reports that the town was largely razed to the ground and that hundreds or even as many as 2,000 civilians were killed are true, this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught,” said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International.

The Nigerian military said the description of the attack as “the deadliest” was “quite valid.”

“The attack on the town by the bloodhounds and their activities since January 3 should convince well meaning people all over the world that Boko Haram is the evil all must collaborate to end,” it said.

Should is such a weak term, an innocuous one in this case. Convince? Does a case need to be made? Don’t the brutal facts shock all “well meaning people all over the world” into taking some action, any action, to call their members of government to DO something? And to do something themselves to send any form of relief available to us all?

What forms might that take, many good people desperately want to know. The first things I think of are the heroic relief organizations on the ground desperately trying to get life saving help to the thousands and thousands of innocent people terrorized and barely hanging on to life and hope, if they even have that.

Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders seems to be assisting survivors in the stricken region. CNEWA, CRS, Caritas and Samaritan’s Purse are great organizations doing so much globally. It’s not evident they can get into Nigeria, though they’re certainly on location where Iraqi and Syrian refugees have fled persecution and need help. So I checked out what Archbishop Kaigama is saying. Here’s what he’s saying about the help his people need:

The Archbishop said prayer was necessary, because the situation has gone beyond what “can be managed at the human level.”

What comes after the Paris demonstration for unity against terrorism?

Will it be a new direction, or a short term distraction?

The massive rally in France drew European leaders together with a defiant and determined population in response to last week’s lethal attacks there by Islamic radicals. As big as it was, it was still little and late. It was trending, live in Paris and on social media, the thing to do at the moment. It was impressive to witness and encouraging to consider the opportunities this moment in history presents. Still, in these days in the immediate aftermath.

But look with the longer lens.

Why is free speech so fierce a battle cry now? The sudden, vicious and terrifying attacks on a publication in France started this new wave of international unity for free speech. Pens have become emblematic of this revolution against violent extremism that seeks to destroy free expression of ideas repulsive to the terrorists. But it took this week of terror to come to this unified stand against radical extremism. Before this, even the threat of such violence worked to stifle free speech, as Nina Shea has said time and again, and most recently here.

What lesson will Europe draw from the Charlie Hebdo massacre? Will it get serious about ending Muslim extremism within its borders, or will it try even harder to curb offensive political cartoons and speech about Islam? Up to this point, Europe has responded to Islamist violence in retaliation against ridicule, and even against sober critique of Islam, by taking the latter course.

In 2008, the EU mandated religious hate-speech laws, with European officials indignantly declaring that there is “no right to religious insult.” More revealingly, one official European commission delicately explained that this measure was taken to “preserve social peace and public order” in light of the “increasing sensitivities” of “certain individuals” who “have reacted violently to criticism of their religion.”

Consider this recall Shea makes:

Europe was frightened and wanted to cool down its angry Muslim populations and appease the censorship lobby that claims to represent them in the 56-member-state Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Since 2004, it had seen the assassination of Theo van Gogh in an Amsterdam street for his and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s film on abuses against Muslim women; worldwide Muslim riots and economic boycotts over an obscure Danish newspaper’s caricatures of the Islamic prophet Mohammed; and yet more rioting and murders after Pope Benedict presented a paper to an academic audience at Regensburg University that questioned Islam’s position on reason. The subjective hate-speech laws were intended to placate those — including Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who in 1989 issued a fatwa against novelist Salman Rushdie — who demand that Europe police its own citizens for conformity to Islamic blasphemy codes. European leaders insisted that this could be accomplished while somehow still upholding Western principles of free speech.

These hate-speech laws have failed in both aims. Islamist extremism continues to grow in Europe, while speech critical of Islam is undertaken at ever greater personal risk, including risk of criminal prosecution. Some are so intimidated that they remain silent even when it is their duty to speak up.

And so on. Read Nina Shea’s whole article. She’s an expert on persecution and terrorism against minorities, and continually shines the spotlight on hard truths that slip into obscurity if not recalled as she does so often.

NRO’s Andrew McCarthy makes the same case, about what has happened for years when the fundamental principles, liberties and essential identities of Western nations were threatened by radical extremists opposed to their core values and being.

What is the response of Western governments, particularly in the United States — the leader of the free world, whose government was formed for the primary purpose of protecting our God-given fundamental liberties, including the right to free expression?

Surely we know this as a knee-jerk response by now.

Snug among her “Istanbul process” partners in Turkey, then–Secretary Clinton lamented that — despite energetic Obama-administration efforts — the campaign to muzzle “Islamophobia”…had been hampered by a legal inconvenience: Throughout American history, free speech had been deemed “a universal right at the core of her democracy.”

But there was, she declared, a way around the First Amendment, a way around the parchment promises of law. The United States government would “use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming so that people don’t feel they have the support to do what we abhor.”

Was that clear enough? Since we can’t make the law prohibit critical examination of Islam, we hereby endorse coercion.

It wasn’t long afterwards that four American officials, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were murdered by jihadists in a terrorist attack on Benghazi. Almost all of the terrorists are still on the loose, but Secretary Clinton, President Obama, and their underlings took pains to blame the attack, falsely, on an anti-Islamic video. In particular, they choreographed a high-profile jailing and prosecution of the video producer.

That was shameful then, all the more culpable now for probably emboldening radical jihadists.

This Wall Street Journal editorial continues the point. Consider it carefully.

Wednesday’s massacre, following a long string of plots foiled by police in the U.K., France and elsewhere, is a reminder that jihadism isn’t a distant Middle Eastern phenomenon. There will be many more such attempts at mass murder, and authorities in the U.S. and Europe need broad authority to surveil and interrogate potential plotters to stop them.

This offends some liberals and libertarians, but imagine the restrictions on liberty that would follow if radical Muslims succeed in blowing up a soccer stadium or half a city. Men willing to execute cartoonists in Paris and 132 children at point-blank range in Peshawar in the name of religion

(remember that?)

won’t shrink from using more destructive means to impose mass casualties. Better to collect metadata and surveil some people now than deal with public demand for mass Muslim arrests or expulsions after a catastrophe.

Wednesday’s attack also demonstrates again that violent Islam isn’t a reaction to poverty or Western policies in the Middle East. It is an ideological challenge to Western civilization and principles, including a free press and religious pluralism. The murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists is merely the latest evil expression of a modern arc of Islamist violence against Western free speech that stretches back to Ayatollah Khomeini ’s 1989 fatwa calling for the killing of novelist Salman Rushdie.

There are the reminders again. How quickly we forget atrocities when the cameras go away and the headlines move to other news. Or fail to cover atrocities at all.

Like the story I heard Saturday on the BBC about a 10 year old girl strapped with explosives and sent into a busy market in Nigeria.

The bomb exploded in a market in the city of Maiduguri, in Borno state.

“The explosive devices were wrapped around her body,” a police source told Reuters.

No group has said it carried out the attack. The market is reported to have been targeted twice in a week by female bombers late last year.

Correspondents say that all the signs point to the militant Islamist Boko Haram group.

They have been fighting to establish an Islamic caliphate in the north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, which have borne the worst violence in their five year insurgency.

Where and when did you hear of this, if at all?

Have you heard about the attack carried out by Boko Haram after that one? The horrific “deadliest massacre” to date, in the words of Amnesty International?

Reporting in northern Nigeria is notoriously difficult; journalists have been targeted by Boko Haram, and, unlike in Paris, people on the ground are isolated and struggle with access to the internet and other communications. Attacks by Boko Haram have disrupted connections further, meaning that there is an absence of an online community able to share news, photos and video reports of news as it unfolds.

But reports of the massacre were coming through and as the world’s media focused its attention on Paris, some questioned why events in Nigeria were almost ignored.

On Twitter, Max Abrahms, a terrorism analyst, tweeted: “It’s shameful how the 2K people killed in Boko Haram’s biggest massacre gets almost no media coverage.”

Musician Nitin Sawhney said: “Very moving watching events in Paris – wish the world media felt equally outraged by this recent news too.”

If the unity rally was to be a consequential tipping point – and I believe it was intended as that and has the potential to be that – then it has to quickly spawn groups resolved to focus global attention on all the atrocities committed by violent extremists against innocents, and ready to direct relief, aid and protection to those children, women and elderly innocent people especially endangered by them.

Full stop.

Religious freedom as antidote to terrorism

It’s an idea that hasn’t been tried and found wanting, to say the least.

Robert P. George, new Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, published this proposal on CNN’s news site on September 11.

A dozen years ago today, the 9/11 attacks brutally awakened the American people to the global reality of terrorism – of lethal groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban, which manipulate religion in violent pursuit of totalitarian aims.
In the ensuing years, the nation rightly focused on these groups, and especially on the regions of South Asia – including Afghanistan and Pakistan – and the Middle East.

Yet in many ways, an overlooked story of the past few years has been the disturbing rise of like-minded organizations elsewhere, particularly in Africa. As the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has documented, the forces of violent religious extremism have gained footholds on the continent, terrorizing populations, violating fundamental rights including religious freedom, and posing a serious security threat to the region and potentially beyond.

Prof. George goes on to detail some accounts of such violence in Nigeria, Somalia and Mali, and the whole piece should be read and deeply appreciated in its entirety. He continues:

The question for the United States and its allies remains how best to counter such forces no matter where they appear. For years, the answer has been to employ a wide array of tools, from intelligence gathering to police work to military action. But if the fight is to succeed, it also must include efforts to promote freedom of religion or belief. This is a battle of ideas as much as brawn, and environments that promote freedom of thought and belief empower moderate ideas and voices to denounce extremist hatred and violence.

(emphasis added)

Central to this effort is understanding two things. First, extremist groups seek to capitalize on the fact that religion plays a critical role in the lives of billions. Nearly 84 percent of the world’s population has some religious affiliation. In many areas of the world, including the African continent, religion matters greatly.

Second, people across Africa (and elsewhere), Muslim and non-Muslim alike, are rejecting the hijacking of religion by these extremists. For some, this rejection has come from bitter personal experience.

Pay attention to this.

Wherever violent religious extremist groups have held sway, be it central Somalia or elsewhere, they have penetrated every nook and cranny of human endeavor, imposing their will on families and communities in horrific ways. In many instances, they have banned routine activities such as listening to music and watching television. They have crushed all forms of religious expression other than their own, even seeking to destroy historic Islamic religious sites. They have imposed barbaric punishments on dissenters, from floggings and stonings to beheadings and amputations.

As a result, especially in places where these forces operate, people want an alternative: They want the right to honor their own beliefs and act peacefully on them. And as a number of scholars in recent years have shown, societies where this right to religious freedom is recognized and protected are more peaceful, prosperous, and free of destabilizing terror.

(emphasis added)

Countries plagued by violent religious extremist forces have options which, while difficult, can be taken…

In other words, in a world where religion matters, a key answer to violent religious extremism in the post-9/11 era is for governments to act in such ways to affirm and protect freedom of religion. It is not only a moral imperative – it is a practical necessity, empowering people everywhere to choose a better way.

Ideas and ideologies have consequences. The time to apply this idea has arrived.

Pay attention to Egypt and Nigeria

In the US, we’re consumed with presidential campaigns, debates and primary elections.

We’d better keep an eye on what’s happening abroad. Where to being on that….there’s so much.

Most urgently, look at what’s happening in Nigeria.

A militant Islamic group whose almost daily attacks have put Nigerians on edge left the country stunned Saturday after a well-coordinated strike with disturbing echoes of Al Qaeda’s brand of mayhem.

More than 150 people were killed in the Friday evening carnage in the northern city of Kano. The group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attacks, whose targets included the secret service headquarters, an immigration office and a passport office.

It was the group’s most deadly strike, far exceeding previous death tolls.

Boko Haram, which wants to impose sharia, or Islamic law, on Nigeria’s 160 million people, killed more than 500 people in almost daily attacks last year. Before Friday’s violence, it had killed more than 70 people this month.

U.S. officials have expressed fear that the group, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege,” may be getting support and training from Al Qaeda affiliates on the continent, given the increasing sophistication of its attacks and growing use of suicide bombers.

Nigeria is divided between the mainly Muslim north and the oil-rich, mainly Christian south…

In other news

Anti-Christian violence continues in Egypt, according to local sources, the episodes are linked to the attempt of fundamentalist Islamic fringe – Salafis – to block the vote of the religious minority in the next election. On 19 January, a mob attacked the Coptic Christian community of the village of Kebly-Rahmaniya, near the town of Nag Hammadi, Qena governorate, Upper Egypt. The assailants, chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) attacked and burned down houses, huts, shops and businesses…

Witnesses quoted by Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) report that Egyptian security forces did not intervene promptly to repel the onslaught and defend the Christians. Even the teams of firefighters delayed their intervention, arriving only 90 minutes after the assault, and when most of the buildings were already in flames. A source adds that a hut belonging to a Coptic Christian was burned to make room for the construction of a mosque. Moreover in the area there are now 300 Muslim places of worship, compared to only one Christian church even though Christians are 50% of the local population.

According to the Copts, the anti-Christian violence is related to the upcoming parliamentary elections: the Salafis, in fact, want to prevent the religious minority from voting which, with its 20 thousand members, can shift the balance of power in the area. The Copts are close to the Muslim moderate wing, which opposes the Islamist front.

And this is important to understand in fuller context.

A new political era in Egypt began Saturday as Islamist parties won nearly three-quarters of the seats in parliamentary elections to inherit a nation mired in economic crisis and desperate to move beyond military rule and the corrupt legacy of deposed President Hosni Mubarak.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s dominant political and religious force, won 47% of the 498 seats in the lower house of parliament, according to official final results. The ultraconservative Salafi Islamist party Al Nour won nearly 25%, followed by the secular parties New Wafd and the Egyptian Bloc, with about 9% each.

We need to see news not only as outbursts of events, much as they capture the world’s attention, but as signal events that alert watchful observers to changes of destiny in the course ahead.

The elections were a sobering lesson for young activists whose nascent parties were no match for the grass-roots networks and entwined religious and political message of the Islamists. The liberal activists helped ignite the revolution that brought down Mubarak but, winning only seven seats, they have been surpassed by more formidable political powers.

They didn’t foresee this in the euphoria of change.

The relatively moderate Brotherhood and the puritanical Salafis are likely to battle over how deeply Islam should shape the constitution and be ingrained in public life. Both parties have said social and economic challenges are the most pressing concerns, but the Salafis, who receive funding from Persian Gulf nations, are certain to push for an Egypt more rooted in sharia, or Islamic law.

The movements for change are sweeping the globe. Be careful what you wish for.