RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM AND INTOLERANCE IN THE 21ST CENTURY THE BANE OF HUMAN HISTORY
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This study critically examines religious extremism and intolerance in the 21st century the bane of human history. Religious extremism is a global issue that raises questions and tensions in many countries. In Nigeria, it is a known fact that religion has been abused in many ways to suit the interests of some groups of people who consider themselves as custodians and defenders of religious values and faith. Extremists use religion as a shield either for political or economic agenda and manipulate their gullible followers in order to impose their ideology on them. The reality of religious extremism in Nigeria is a challenge to tertiary education to search for a lasting solution that will enable Nigerians overcome the problem and focus on their economic, social and genuine religious progress. Nigeria need to produce people with critical minds that can challenge religious extremism. This study, therefore, recommends that Nigerian religious leaders, through public sensitization, should educate the citizens to be self-reliant so that they are not lured by religious extremists to achieve their political and economic agenda. Tertiary institutions should also develop general studies curriculum in religion to teach students about human convictions on religion and consequently promote religious dialogue for the common good.
1.1 Background to the Study
The world has witnessed a new wave of religious extremism that has taken the lives of many innocent people of different faiths, races and nationalities. Majority of religions is currently associated with variant forms of extremism and religiously-motivated acts of intolerance, including terrorism. Since the beginning of the 21st century there has been more than a nine-fold increase in the number of deaths from violent extremism and terrorism, from 3,329 in 2000 to 32,685 in 2014 (Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), 2015). The year 2015 saw a decline but with 29,376 deaths it was still the second deadliest year on record. OECD countries however saw an increase in terrorist related deaths from 77 in 2014 to 577 in 2015. 2015 was also the deadliest year for the Taliban in Afghanistan (both terrorist deaths and battle field deaths) (Amman, 21-22 August 2015).
Nigeria is a country that is extremely culturally and religiously diversified (Osaghae and Suberu, 2005). The modern state of Nigeria has its origins infused in British colonization, which extended from the 19th century to the 20th century. The British colonial rule saw the merging of the numerous kingdoms and tribal states situated within its territories being merged into the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate (Adkins, 2015).
The beginning of July 2009, recorded more than 5000 people being killed in bombings and gun attacks by Boko Haram, an extremist Islamist group from north-eastern Nigeria whose avowed aim is to overthrow the secular government in Nigeria and impose an Islamic state governed on the basis of Sharia law (Agbiboa 2013a). These violent attacks, which show evidence of increasing coordination and sophistication, adds a further complication to the festering security challenges in Nigeria by exacerbating existing ethno-religious tensions and inter-communal violence in northern Nigeria (Maiangwa et al. 2012). As the crisis escalates, the Nigerian state has intensified its efforts to rein in the threat of the group.
At first glance, the link between religious extremism and terrorism seems obvious. Religious extremists are willing to murder because they embrace theologies that sanction violence in the service of God. They have no sympathy for their victims, because they view those victims as enemies of God. And they readily sacrifice their own lives because they expect huge and immediate afterlife rewards in return form “martyrdom” (Wintrobe. 2003), and (Sprinzak, 2000).
Religion, like many concepts, has multifarious definitions. But suffice it to, in agreement with Adua (2012), take religion here as a system whereby there is recognition of the existence of a supernatural controller of the universe -God- who is the object of worship, obedience and love, that ultimately results in practical piety and morality. There are so many religions in the world with their varying religious traditions. Nigeria is populated by the adherents of Islam, Christianity and African Traditional Religion. However, the adherents of three religions, especially Muslims and Christians are often engaged in conflicts, leading to lose of lives and property. A day hardly passes without the adherents of these two religions engaging in one conflict or the other. The religious scenario in Nigeria has assumed a violent dimension, leading to suicide bombing, loss of innocent lives and property. The area that is most affected with terrorists attacks is the defunct Northern region. That is, the North and the area called today “Middle-Belt” of Nigeria today. Even if there is a seeming peace, the relationship between Christians and Muslims is marked with mutual suspicion and distrust (Amadu, 1989). These religious crises are more frequent in the North and they sometimes give birth to reprisal attacks in Eastern part of Nigeria. The reprisal attacks by Christians in Eastern Nigeria are directed to all the Northerners without distinction of religious affiliation. That is, both Christians and Muslims are victims of such attacks (Dzurgba, 2006). The Northern Christians particularly suffer death casualties at every twist of events. They loss lives in the Eastern part of Nigeria during reprisal attacks.
To label religious extremism the product of ignorance, coercion, or psychopathology is to foster misunderstanding. To combat extremism (as opposed to extremist violence) with the powers of the state is to invite conflict if that extremism represents a widespread unmet demand for some set of services. A high level of corruption and the looting of state resources is another serious and ‘pandemic’ (Dike 2005) problem that makes all forms of conflict and trouble worse in Nigeria. The country is ‘richly endowed with natural resources and high quality human capital’ (Ogbeidi 2012:1), but corruption is one of the main reasons that affect the development of the country in a negative way. The appropriation of state resources by certain hands makes poverty and bitter anger inevitable aspects of daily socio-economic and political routine. In this sense, though corruption is not peculiar to Nigeria, many sources call it the ‘bane of the country’ (Dike 2005; Ogbeidi 2012:21). And of course, corruption is considered to be one of the main causes of ethno-religious conflicts (Nwankwo 2015). Poverty and injustice caused by corruption weaken any sense of mutual tolerance, social solidarity or coexistence, while reawakening social hatred, radicalism and violence. For this reason, corruption is seen as one of the most important issues that has to be resolved in order to cope with religious extremism and intolerance in Nigeria.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The recent increase in religious extremism has created the mentality that religion is not relevant to societal development in Nigeria. Religion has been used, abused and misused by political elites, and unfortunately by the so-called clerics of Christianity and Islam, so much that it has continued to cause conflagrations in Nigeria. Even in the so-called secular societies, religion has not only penetrated but has also continued to be a source of concern as a result of its damaging nature in those societies. Nigerian experience is one among many of the countries witnessing religious extremism and Islamic extremists’ senseless killings and maiming of innocent lives (sadly women and children are not spared) in Nigeria.
There have been reoccurring threat to national and individual security in the form of organized crimes, election related violence and violent extremism. Including oil bunkering and kidnapping initially associated with the Nigeria Delta Crisis but which later spread to the other part of the country following the amnesty deal in 2009 (Salawu, 2012). There have also been alarming incidence of armed robbering, car snatching and ritual killings in the country, the most recent is the insurgency of the deadly Fulani Herdsmen killing and Boko-Haram in the Northern Nigeria. The activities of these two violent group constitute serious security challenges in the contemporary Nigeria state. However, the researcher is examining religious extremism and intolerance in the 21st century; the bane of human history.
- Objectives of the Study
The primary objective of this study is to examine religious extremism and intolerance in the 21st century; the bane of human history. The research intend to outline the following sub-objectives;
- To ascertain the factors promoting religious extremism and intolerance in River State.
- To look into the problems eroding between religious leaders leading to religious extremism and intolerance in the 21st century.
- To examine the significant relationship between terrorism and religious extremism.
- To proffer possible solutions to the challenges of entho-religious crisis and religious extremism in Nigeria.
1.4 Significance of the Study
The findings of this study will be useful for the government, church leaders and the general public on the need to set up policies that will reduce religious extremism in Nigeria. This research will also serve as a resource base to other scholars and researchers interested in carrying out further research in this field subsequently, if applied will go to an extent to provide new explanation to the debate on religious extremism. It will provide valuable insights into existing relationship between the terrorism and extremism and providing sustainable peace in our society. It will bring to the fore the prominent roles the Church has been playing in sustaining peace since she made her advent and the situation today. It could also motivate the various stakeholders in community development to partner well with religious leaders in bringing sustainable peace to the grassroots. It will add to existing knowledge and equally serve as a benchmark for further studies. It could also bring to the knowledge of every religions that religion is not just “otherworldly,” that they work for the material and psychological wellbeing of men and women when they are being well practiced.
1.5 Research Questions
The following research questions will guide the study;
- Are there reoccurring issues and conflicts between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria?
- Are religious leaders still the major cause of religious extremism in the 21st century?
- Is there any significant relationship between terrorism and religious extremism in Nigeria?
- To what extent has the Church been relevant in sustaining peace and unity in River State?
1.6 Scope/Limitations of the Study
This study will cover the activities that has taken place as a result of religious extremism with reference to River State with special focus on the bane of human history in the 21st century. There were some constraint that tends to hinder the flow of this study, such limitations include:
Financial constraint– Insufficient fund tends to impede the efficiency of the researcher in sourcing for the relevant materials, literature or information and in the process of data collection (internet, questionnaire and interview).
Respondents Reluctance: In most cases the selected people for oral interview often feels reluctance over providing required information required by the researcher. This result in finding information where the structured questionnaires could not point out.
Researcher’s Commitment: The researcher, being of full time student spent most of her time on other academic activities such as test, class work, assignment, examination etc which takes average focus from this study.
Inadequate Materials: Scarcity of material is also a major hindrance. The researcher finds it difficult to lay hands on several required material which could contribute immensely to the success of this research work.
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