Why anti-Christian violence broke out in Niger after Charlie Hebdo
by Mary Reichard
Posted 1/22/15, 01:01 pm
The brutality last weekend in the African nation of Niger garnered relatively little media attention, yet, 70 churches in the southern part of the country were torched, people were killed, and thousands fled for their lives.
The attacks appear to be in retaliation for cartoons printed depicting Muhammad, the founder of Islam, in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo—the same paper that was the subject of a deadly attack in Paris on Jan. 7. Some say the weekend violence was a response to Niger’s President, Mahamadou Issoufou, marching in a Jan. 11 Paris rally in solidarity with other world leaders.
But Paris is far from Niger, a poor country and former French colony that is largely illiterate and overwhelmingly Muslim. Its secular government allows for religious freedom.
“The Charlie Hebdo cover may have been the spark that ignited this recent round of violence over the past weekend, but I think the tinder for that spark was laid months and months ago, if not years ago,” said Isaac Six with International Christian Concern (ICC). The group works with other organizations to help persecuted people around the world. ICC has contact with people on the ground in Niger. Six said the president of Niger might have underestimated the influence of radical Islam in his own country.
“Over the years, we’ve seen the messages coming from imams and from mosques in Niger grow increasingly radical,” Six said, pointing out that the leader of Boko Haram, the radical Islamic group terrorizing Nigeria, is from Niger. His name is Abubakar Shekau.
“His sermons are often played over the mosques. His sermons call for jihad against the West, against Christians, destruction of Christian property,” Six said. Not often discussed is how an amateurish cartoon could so inflame people far from Paris, where Charlie Hebdo is published. Six says people tend to generalize: The West is Christian, the West produces pornography, the West has loose morals, and therefore, “when something like Charlie Hebdo happens, it’s not as hard for them to make a logical connection between that and the Christian who lives down the street.”
Those Christians down the street in Niger last weekend paid the ultimate price for something with which they had nothing to do. Six said most of the Niger attacks were carried out by people not formally associated with any terror group, but who, in response to radical teaching, launched attacks on their neighbors.
“It’s not quite as clear-cut as just a few isolated, radical leaders who are inspiring this,” Six said. “It is becoming, unfortunately, very widespread.”
Despite everything that’s happened—destruction of churches, pastors and families left homeless, and Christian business owners losing everything overnight—Christians in Niger are trusting in the God who has made even the grave a place hope. Six has seen video of worship services already happening again in burned-out churches where worshipers are using chairs for musical instruments.
“Even though they’ve undergone just a horrific experience over the weekend most of them are, incredibly, almost excited about the possibility that this is going to open the door to the gospel in Niger,” he said.
Listen to Mary Reichard’s report on anti-Christian violence in Niger on The World and Everything in It.