WASHINGTON — 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 persecution of Christians and take steps to end the violence.
Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, explained that Nigeria has experienced “increased religious violence and attacks on Christians for about 12 years.”
The religious-liberty expert told Catholic News Agency 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 said, the U.S. government has yet to “recognize the religious element of the conflict” and take strong steps against the extremist organization.
Boko Haram, which name means “Western education is sinful,” has previously stated that its goal is to “purify Islam” and that it seeks 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. The organization has since claimed responsibility for the violence.
Marshall noted that more than 1,000 Christians were killed in 2012, and the U.S. State Department reports a mass migration of Christians away from the country’s predominantly Muslim north.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has highlighted the group’s terrorist attacks against both Christians and Muslims in its 2011 and 2012 reports 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,” which would allow 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 said that Nigerian Christians have a “large and strong community” and may be able to withstand Boko Haram's persecution. He also took hope in the fact that the “U.S. military is training government forces in West Africa on combating terrorism.”
But, overall, he said, there is “little international activity” in fighting Boko Haram and the violence plaguing Nigeria.
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.