In November 2002, I wrote about Philip Jenkins' startling predictions that the Christian and Muslim competition for converts and for influence has brought them into a collision that could lead to some countries being "brought to ruin by the clash of jihad and crusade."
In this context, today's Associated Press headline, "48 Dead in Nigeria Religious Clash" is chilling. The details from Yelwa, a mainly Christian town in Nigeria's Plateau State, are as macabre as they are familiar:
Suspected Muslim militants armed with guns and bows and arrows killed at least 48 people in an attack on a farming village in central Nigeria. Most of the victims died as they sought refuge in a church, police said Wednesday. … The killings appeared to be the latest retaliatory attack in a sporadic conflict that has rocked the central region since an outburst of sectarian violence in 2001, pitting Christians against Muslims in once-peaceful Jos. In the initial outburst in Jos more than 1,000 people died in one week. Since then, several hundreds more have died as rival Muslim-Christian militias attacked isolated villages and towns. … Since 1999, ethnic and religious violence has killed more than 10,000 people in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country.
That comes to about six persons every day, day in and day out.
On the one hand, the diurnal quality of violence across this religious divide in places like Nigeria , Sudan, and the Philippines renders it no longer newsworthy; on the other, given the billions of persons potentially involved, the very routineness of these deaths makes them especially frightening and of the highest importance to all humanity. (February 25, 2004)
March 16, 2004 update: John Edward Philips points out that the Associated Press dispatch above should not imply that the more than 10,000 killed in ethnic and religious violence are all the casualties of Muslim-Christian conflicts. He explains:
Nigerian politics is a complex mess of ethnicity, religion, ideology, kinship (think Montagues and Capulets), patronage, ambition, class, personality, region, secret societies, ethnic subgroups, "indigenes" vs. guests/strangers (the word is the same in most if not all Nigerian languages) and even (believe it or not) disagreements over policy, and other factors.
To reduce it all to any one factor is simplistic to the point of being simple-minded. Even the religion factor involves serious struggles within each religion (especially among Muslims) between various sects. There is conflict not only between Sufi and Salafi, but even between tariqas.
Statistics are very unreliable, but as serious as the religious factor is, it is probably responsible for only a minority of the violence, death and destruction. You can't just divide the total number of deaths from all political causes and then attribute it to religious conflict. It's neither logical nor factual. The struggle over oil revenues ("derivation" is the Nigerian shorthand) is probably far more serious. It's one major factor that led to the Biafra War. It's an important cause of the Delta conflict now.
Concerning the Delta conflict, Human Rights Watch notes that "The perpetrators of violence in Delta State are armed ethnic militias belonging to the three major ethnic groups in the state—the Ijaw, Itsekiri, and Urhobo—and also the state security forces." (And these three ethnic groups are all overwhelmingly Christian.)