We should all be outraged by the murder of innocent Saturday shoppers in Nairobi, but far greater numbers of civilians are being killed in the name of fundamentalist Islam in Nigeria and Sudan. Their misery does not rate the same interest because it is happening every day, away from cameras and white journalists. However, the world's indifference to the suffering of Christians in Nigeria and Sudan is not simply due to our callousness or racism.
In the case of Nigeria, their government is strangely silent about the relentless and murderous campaign of the Boko Haram terrorist group which has been targeting Christians for years. Human Rights Watch estimates 3,600 have died in religious violence since 2009 (1). Nigerian Christians complain their armed forces and the government could do much more to stop the stream of attacks on churches and Christian communities throughout northern and central Nigeria. News reaches beyond the area affected thanks to the dedication of groups such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide and British activist Baroness Caroline Cox.
When the Nigerian leader, Goodluck Jonathan, spoke on the BBC World Service this week, offering his condolences to the victims of the Nairobi mall attacks, a flood of his own citizens tweeted and called the radio station, asking why he wasn't paying as much attention to Christians being killed by Boko Haram at home in Nigeria.
In the case of Sudan, the government itself is doing the killing. Christians have lived in Sudan since the 5th century, but the avowedly Islamist regime which seized power in 1989 has no place for them, declaring its new constitution to be wholly Islamic and wholly Arab (2). It has been "cleansing" its territory of non-Arabs and non-Muslims for decades. Its aim is to create a "pure" Arab and Muslim nation, an absurd objective, given centuries of intermarriage in Sudan. Nevertheless, it is believed that at least 1.5 million have died as a consequence of its campaign of aerial bombardment and forced starvation (3). So profound was the Khartoum regime's hatred for its non-Arab population in the southern part of the country that when given a chance, southerners voted by 98 percent to form an independent country in 2011.
The regime's jihad continues to this day in Sudan's South Kordofan and Blue Nile States where more than a million people, most of them described by human rights groups as non-Arab and non-Muslim -- meaning they are Christian and black African- have been displaced by the conflict (4). A quarter of a million have fled to refugee camps in neighboring South Sudan and Ethiopia, preferring to face hunger and disease in a foreign land than their own ruthless government. Sudanese Armed Forces bomb farms and villages almost every day, stopping local people planting or harvesting the crops on which they survive. Civilians are cut down by shrapnel, or they face starvation hiding in caves. The Sudanese regime has shrewdly forbidden all foreign aid groups or journalists from entering its killing zone, so bad news emerges in drips, rather than horrific gushes, as in Nairobi.
Last week a bishop from Kadugli in South Kordofan State wrote to President Obama, urging him to press the Khartoum regime to stop its "government-sponsored crimes against humanity." (5)
Some U.S. politicians famously flaunt their Christian credentials, yet they are silent on the persecution of Christians oversees. They demand President Obama is "tougher" in the war on terror, but they want overseas aid cut to the very people on the front line facing persecution at the hands of fundamentalist Islamist extremists. In case they hadn't noticed, the war on terror is claiming most lives in terrorist outrages far from the reaches of the Department of Homeland Security.
Leaders who wish to kill a religious or ethnic minority within their own country should take note: the world will not notice if you slaughter people little by little, and away from TV cameras, cell phones and white expatriates. The incremental murder of a minority can be undertaken with almost no interference from the outside world so long as you avoid splashy, dramatic events like the Nairobi mall siege.
So what can we do? The Nigerian economy depends on oil revenues, and the US is its biggest customer. Therefore the U.S. has significant leverage over the Nigerian government. In the case of Sudan, the west must make it clear to the Khartoum regime that sanctions will remain in place and will be tightened, and Sudan's vast foreign debts will not be forgiven until its leaders guarantee the rights of its ethnic and religious minorities. Moreover, it must abide by its promises to allow international aid agencies immediate access to the starving people of South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
1. Nigeria: Massive Destruction, Deaths From Military Raid | Human Rights Watch
2. Fears grow for minorities in north Sudan if south votes to secede | Peter Moszynski | Global development | theguardian.com
3. BBC News - Sudan country profile - Overview
4. Country updates: Sudan | Human Rights and Democracy 2012
5. Sudanese bishop urges Obama to save lives in Blue Nile, Nuba Mountains - Sudan Tribune: Plural news and views on Sudan