NIGERIAN ELITE FORCE ACCUSED OF MURDERS IN PLATEAU STATE
Ongoing violence in Nigeria’s mixed Christian-Muslim Plateau State took a new turn when an elite force of Nigerian troops tasked with restoring order were accused of attacks on civilians in two Christian villages that killed eight, creating a new national scandal as the country approaches general elections in April. Over 100 people have been killed in the region surrounding the state capital of Jos since Christmas.
The government’s response to the violence was Operation Safe Haven, a campaign to be implemented by a Special Military Task Force (STF) drawing on members of the army, navy, air force and police. The STF is led by Brigadier-General Hassan Umaru, whose wife is believed to have been killed by attackers last month (NigerianNewsService.com, December 7, 2010).
On the night of January 24 the villages of Hamman and Farin Lamba (both roughly 25 km from the state capital of Jos) were attacked by uniformed gunmen who assaulted villagers with machetes and firearms (Next [Lagos], January 25). The attackers in Farin Lamba were observed arriving and leaving in a Toyota Hilux van of the type used to transport police in the region, an observation later confirmed by Plateau State Police Commissioner Abdurrahman Akano. Many of the attackers appeared to be wearing body armor of the type worn by security forces. However, Commissioner Akano also suggested that the reported theft of 100 cattle belonging to Fulanis was the cause of what he termed “a reprisal attack,” though he provided no evidence of a connection between the two events (Next, January 25; Vanguard, January 25; Daily Trust, January 25).
The attackers at Farin Lambo first struck a vigilante squad of villagers, killing three before torching homes and barns. The vigilante group was created to repel assailants after the two villages were attacked four times in the previous two weeks (Next, January 25). The military complains that difficult terrain in the region hampers their response to incidents of violence outside the major towns, leaving such villages with little in the way of defense.
After word spread of the killings, women dressed in black attacked the camp of the largely Muslim-officered STF in Vom, shouting anti-STF slogans while throwing stones and setting fire to STF tents. Six women were reported to have been shot by the STF during the demonstration (Nigerian Tribune, January 25; Reuters, January 25).
STF commander Brigadier Umaru said he thought it unlikely that any of his troops would attack people whose safety was in their hands and asked locals to provide him with proof of such allegations (Vanguard, January 25). Some STF members were recently arrested for failing to stop killings in Jos, and the ID card of an STF member was found at the site of some of the killings (Vanguard, January 20).
Even before the latest incidents, Chief Solo Akuma, the senior advocate of Nigeria, called on military authorities to closely monitor the STF for partiality and to reassure locals of the neutrality of the STF when carrying out their duties (Vanguard, January 20).
On January 18, a Nigerian military spokesman warned that soldiers would fire on any community members seen attacking civilians or burning mosques, churches or residences (BBC, January 18).
The sectarian violence in Plateau State began in 1994 and has since claimed thousands of lives. Since 1994 there have been seven commissions of inquiry into the violence, though the results have either been concealed or largely ignored. Though the conflict is often characterized as being a religious-based confrontation between the Muslim Fulani- Hausa and the Christian Berom, Afizere and Anaguta tribes, the dispute has more to do with competition for land and political power between indigenous Christian farmers and so-called “settlers” from the largely nomadic and Muslim communities of northern Nigeria (Next, January 23; Reuters, January 25).
There are also political differences, with the local Christian tribes generally supporting the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), while the nomadic Muslims are viewed as supporters of the opposition All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP).
SHAYKH YUSUF AL-QARADAWI URGES MERGER OF SALAFISM AND SUFISM
Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Muslim Brotherhood ideologue and one of the most influential men in modern Sunni Islam, has long resisted the Salafist trend of condemning Sufi Muslims as heretics and even apostates. Though he has been offered the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood several times, al-Qaradawi has always declined, saying he would prefer to be a guide for the nation in general, rather than be the leader of a specific group. The Shaykh has pursued this goal through a highly successful media strategy, involving a satellite television show and a popular website, IslamOnline. Nevertheless, he is held in suspicion by the West and is banned from travelling to the UK and the United States. The Shaykh recently offered his views on several issues, including the Sufi-Salafist split in Sunni Islam, in an interview carried by a pan-Arab daily (al-Sharq al-Awsat, December 23, 2010).
Al-Qaradawi naturally objects to Egypt’s official ban on political participation by the Brotherhood, asking if it is really possible that religious people are banned from practicing politics and participating in the development of the country: “There is no doubt that this is a crime, because religion is the essence of life, and the religious individual has the right to participate in building the country through his personal opinion, be it political, economic, educational, or health opinion… If the groups are banned from working publicly, they will start to work underground. The Islamist groups might be forced to work secretly. This is an unhealthy situation, because whoever works in the open can be held to account for his actions, and you can criticize him, but how can you hold to account whoever works in secret?”
Though the interview took place shortly before the uprising in Tunisia, al-Qaradawi noted that many of the governments in the Arab and Islamic world do not have any popular support and derive their authority solely from rigged elections disguised as democracy: “They are governments that are hated by their peoples, and they govern their countries by brute force and martial and emergency laws rather than governing through the consensus of the people.”
With regard to a growing perception in the Sunni world that Shi’a Islam is intent on expanding its numbers and territory in the Middle East, al-Qaradawi warned that Shiites are trained for preaching their creed and have access to large funds to promote Shi’ism as well as having the support of a major nation — Iran— behind them.
In his defense of Sufism, al-Qaradawi brought up the names of two medieval theologians who are regarded as providing many of the intellectual underpinnings of Salafist Islam: Shaykh Ibn Taymiyah (12633-1328) and his disciple, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim (1292-1350). According to al-Qaradawi, the two were “among the greatest Sufis,” but rejected what was inappropriate in Sufism: “Personally, I call for ‘making Sufi into Salafi’ and ‘making Salafi into Sufi.’ The Sufi takes from the discipline of Salafi in not following the fabricated Hadith, polytheist rites, and tomb-side rites, and we want the Salafi to take from the Sufi tenderness, spirituality, and piousness. From this mixture we get the required Muslim.”
In his search for reconciliation between the two trends of Sunni Islam, al-Qaradawi also called upon the thought of Muslim Brotherhood founder Shaykh Hassan al-Banna (1906-1947), saying al-Banna conceived the Brotherhood as an inclusive grouping of Sunni Muslims: “It is a Salafi movement as it calls for returning to the Koran and Sunna, it is a Sufi tendency as it calls for purifying the hearts and returning to God, it is a Sunni way that is based on honoring the Prophet’s companions and on the work of the Sunni school of thinking.”
Al-Qaradawi suggested that, contrary to public perceptions, Salafism is in fact a constantly evolving trend in Islam that now encompasses several schools of thinking, including those that are close to “centrism” and the ideology of the Muslim Brothers. After long denouncing the Brothers for participation in politics, the Salafists have now taken to politics in a major way. Exposure of the modern Salafists to developments in the wider world through travel after years of isolation and access to theological literature previously unavailable has also led to changes in Salafist jurisprudence.
Al-Qaradawi said the violent Salafi-Jihadi groups do not share the same agenda as the Muslim Brothers, who have told them: “We have tried such things, but they have not been helpful, and we have not gained anything out of them other than detention, suffering and victimization.” He noted that many of these groups, especially those in Egypt, have now reconsidered their strategies, issuing books of “Revisions” outlining their mistakes. Nevertheless, “All Islamist movements are entitled to try for themselves, and start from zero until they reach the conclusions of the preceding groups.”