Father Jake has beaten us to the punch with an essay on Eliza Griswold's cover story in this month's Atlantic Monthly in which Archbishop Peter Akinola declines to distance himself from a retributive rampage in Yelwa, Nigeria, in which more than 650 Muslims were killed by Christians.
What follows are the relevant passages of Griswold's story. (You can read it all, here. And yes, she is the daughter of the former Presiding Bishop.) It began with a Muslim attack on Christians:
One Tuesday at 7 a.m. in Yelwa, about 70 people were praying their morning devotions at the Church of Christ in Nigeria (founded by none other than the fiery Kumm himself). It was in February 2004, about a year after the elders had issued their edict that no Christian woman was to be seen with a Muslim man. As the worshippers finished their prayers, they heard gunshots and a call from the loudspeakers of the mosque next door: “Allahu Akhbar, let us go for jihad.” “We were terrified,” recalled Pastor Sunday, who had been standing outside the gate as the churchyard swarmed with strangers. He stayed near the church gate, but many other people fled toward the road behind the church. There, men dressed in military fatigues reassured them that they were safe and herded them back to the church. Then the men opened fire.
Pastor Sunday fled; that’s why he survived. The attackers—who were not, in fact, Nigerian soldiers—set the church on fire and killed everyone who tried to escape. They chased the head of the church, Pastor Sampson Bukar, to his house next door and ran him through with cutlasses. They set fire to the nursery school and the pastor’s house. During my first visit to Yelwa in the summer of 2006, his burned Peugeot was still outside. The church had been rebuilt and painted salmon pink. Boys were playing soccer, each wearing only one shoe so that everyone could kick the ball. “Seven in my family were killed,” said Sunday as we sat in the churchyard. “We call them martyrs.” He pointed to a mound of earth not far from where we were sitting. On top was a small wooden cross: it marked the mass grave for the 78 people killed that day.
Then came the Christians retribution:
Two months after the church was razed, Christian men and boys surrounded Yelwa. Many were bare-chested; others wore shirts on which they’d reportedly pinned white name tags identifying them as members of the Christian Association of Nigeria, an umbrella organization founded in the 1970s to give Christians a collective and unified voice as strong as that of Muslims. Each tag had a number instead of a name: a code, it seemed, for identification. They attacked the town. According to Human Rights Watch, 660 Muslims were massacred over the course of the next two days, including the patients in the Al-Amin clinic. Twelve mosques and 300 houses went up in flames. Young girls were marched to a nearby Christian town and forced to eat pork and drink alcohol. Many were raped, and 50 were killed.
Griswold was introduced to two young women, Hamamatu Danladi and Yasira Ibrahim, who had survived the incident.
During the Christian attack, the two young women took shelter in an elder’s guarded home. On the second day, the Christian militia arrived at the house. They were covered in red and blue paint and were wearing those numbered white name tags. The Christians first killed the guards, then chose among the women. With others, the two young women were marched toward the Christian village. “They were killing children on the road,” Danladi said. Outside the elementary school, her abductor grabbed hold of two Muslim boys she knew, 9 and 10 years old. Along with other men, he took a machete to them until they were in pieces, then wrapped the pieces in a rubber tire and set it on fire.
When Danladi and Ibrahim reached their captors’ village, they were forced to drink alcohol and to eat pork and dog meat. Although she was obviously pregnant, Danladi’s abductor repeatedly raped her during the next four days. After a month, the police fetched Danladi and Ibrahim from the Christian village and took them to the camp where most of the town’s Muslim residents had fled. There, the two young women were reunited with their husbands. They never discussed what happened in the bush.
Later, Griswold interviewed Archbishop Akinola.
At the time of the massacre, Archbishop Peter Akinola was the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, whose membership was implicated in the killings. He has since lost his bid for another term but, as primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, he is still the leader of 18 million Anglicans. He is a colleague of my father, who was the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America from 1997 to 2006. But the American Episcopals’ election of an openly homosexual bishop in 2003, which Archbishop Akinola denounced as “satanic,” created distance between them. ....
“My views on Islam are well known: I have nothing more to say,” he said, as we sat down. Archbishop Akinola has repeatedly spoken critically about Islam and liberal Western Protestants, and he was understandably wary of my motives for asking his thoughts. For Akinola, the relationship between liberal Protestants and Islam is straightforward: if Western Christians abandon conservative morals, then the global Church will be weakened in its struggle against Islam. “When you have this attack on Christians in Yelwa, and there are no arrests, Christians become dhimmi, the vocabulary within Islam that allows Christians and Jews to be seen as second-class citizens. You are subject to the Muslims. You have no rights.”
When asked if those wearing name tags that read “Christian Association of Nigeria” had been sent to the Muslim part of Yelwa, the archbishop grinned. “No comment,” he said. “No Christian would pray for violence, but it would be utterly naive to sweep this issue of Islam under the carpet.” He went on, “I’m not out to combat anybody. I’m only doing what the Holy Spirit tells me to do. I’m living my faith, practicing and preaching that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to God, and they respect me for it. They know where we stand. I’ve said before: let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence.”
Despite claims by some Christian leaders that it was “spontaneous,” on the basis of the testimonies of eye-witnesses and residents of Yelwa, it would appear that the attack was carefully coordinated and involved not only Christian residents of the immediate area, but also Christians from other local government areas.
Large groups of attackers surrounded the town from different directions and blocked all the main roads leading out of Yelwa. Witnesses estimated that they numbered several thousand and described them as an “army of men.” A man who saw the attackers as they entered the town said: “I could see them on the outskirts. It was as if they were a cloud, so dark, so many of them.
The attackers were operating in different groups and their mode of operation indicated a high level of coordination. A witness said that on May 3, “the attackers came and retreated. They had a system: one group attacked and retreated, then another group attacked.”
One witness said that at about 6.30 p.m., they heard the sound of whistles and the attackers withdrew. Just before they withdrew, some of them were seen dancing and shouting “we are retrieving our town today!” There was no fighting during the night. The following morning, on May 3, at around 7 a.m., they returned and attacked again. The killings continued until about 11 a.m. Several witnesses confirmed that the violence was worse on the second day, and that the attackers seemed even more numerous, better organized and better armed.
Muslim residents of Yelwa estimate that around 660 Muslims were killed on May 2 and 3. On the basis of its own research and detailed testimonies from residents, including some who buried the bodies and others who were present as the bodies were counted, Human Rights Watch believes this figure to be credible, and that the real figure may be closer to seven hundred.
Human Rights Watch spoke to a Christian Gamai, who was formerly in the army, who claimed to have mobilized and trained large numbers of Christians in the area in the period leading up to May 2. He had not been living in the area during the events of June 2002 and February 2004, but decided to return at the end of March 2004, specifically for the purpose of organizing Christians to defend themselves against Muslim attacks, “because Christians were being massacred and slaughtered like rams.” He boasted about how he had mobilized “all the Gamai in Gamai land” (the area in and around Shendam) and trained them in military skills. He made no secret of how they had prepared themselves and how he had “encouraged Gamai youths to protect Gamai land in case there was any attack.” He complained about the arrest of 39 Christians by soldiers following the attack of May 2-3 in Yelwa. When Human Rights Watch researchers asked him whether those arrested had participated in the violence, he said: “Even if they did, it was war. Now it is peace. They shouldn’t be arrested.” In a sign of the intransigence which persists among some sectors even since the situation has calmed down, he said: “Before there is peace, there must be a village head in Yelwa who is a Gamai man.”
Even the Anglican Primate of Nigeria and national president of CAN, Archbishop Peter Akinola, told Human Rights Watch: “I don’t have records of Christian groups going out deliberately to attack. The church says turn the other cheek, but now there is no other cheek to turn. Some Christians are struggling for survival in their land.” (Emphasis ours.)
In addition to the widespread killings, the attackers abducted scores of Muslim women and children and took them away from Yelwa, to private homes in a variety of villages in the surrounding area, some situated at quite a distance from Yelwa. Some witnesses estimated that at least two or three hundred were abducted; some quoted even higher figures. A police official referred to a list of more than 370 people who had been abducted. Many of the women and children were taken from the area in Angwan Galadima where the attackers had cornered the population on May 3. The attackers threatened to kill them if they refused to go with them.
The attackers gradually released the women and children over the following days and weeks. Many were released in the days immediately following the attack; others were kept for several weeks. When Human Rights Watch researchers visited Yelwa in July, some had still not been released. The army and the police were trying to trace their whereabouts and had managed to free some of them from their captors.
A number of women who were abducted were raped by their captors. They were distributed among them as “wives” and were kept in houses, in different locations, where they were repeatedly raped, some by several men. They were not allowed to go out of the houses, except to accompany the men to farms where they were made to work. Some said that during their period in captivity they were fed pork and locally brewed alcohol—both of which are prohibited in Islam.
Residents of Yelwa told Human Rights Watch about other women who had also been raped. One woman was reportedly sexually abused by five men during her abduction. In another case, three men had argued over a woman whom each of them wanted as his “wife”. A fourth man said that as they couldn’t agree on who would take her, he would kill her. According to other women who were present at the time, he then shot her dead.
It is difficult to draw firm conclusions from the Archbishop's unwillingness to comment on the situation in Yelwa when Griswold asked him about it two years later. It doesn't prove he was involved in organizing the men who went to Yelwa, or even that he knew that an attack was being planned. But it doesn't foreclose those possibilities, and neither does his curiously constructed response of Human Rights Watch--"I don't have records...." Given the enormity of the crimes that took place, the apparent involvement of CAN and the fact that the archbishop was its president at the time of the massacare, he would seem to owe the people of Nigeria and the Anglican Communion some answers.
It would be worth knowing, too, why even two years after the incident he could not bring himself to condemn the murder, maiming and rape visited upon the Muslims of Yelwa, and why he never publicly denined that CAN played a role in the massacre. The leaders of CAN repudiated the archbishop when he stood for re-election as president, going so far as to waive the by-law under which he would have been awarded the vice presidency. Unsurprisingly, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates of the Anglican Communion and Akinola's American surrogates, Bishops Martin Minns and David Anderson, have done nothing to distance themselves from him since Griswold's report became public several weeks ago.
It is sometimes said that in electing Gene Robinson its bishop, the people of New Hampshire "exported" the American argument over homosexuality to the rest of the Anglican Communion. It is fair to ask whether, through organizations such as Minns' and Anderson's Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) and initiatives such as the the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), scheduled to be held in Jordan and Jersualem this summer, the archbishop and his financial backers are attempting to export his approach to Christian-Muslim relations to the wider world.
More from Griswold:
“People are thinking that Islam is an issue in Africa and Asia, but you in the West are sitting on explosives.” What people in the West don’t understand, he said, “is that what Islam failed to accomplish by the sword in the eighth century, it’s trying to do by immigration so that Muslims become citizens and demand their rights.”
The culture warriors who funded the Anglican right's campaign against the Episcopal Church may be preparing to graft an anti-Muslim branch onto anti-gay roots. They may well employ Akinola and a few other bishops to persuade the world that millions of impoverished Africans think precisely what militant American conservatives need them to think. It worked once. At least for a while.