It has happened just as we feared. The response by the editors of Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hedbo to publish indecent, crude depictions of Muhammad (we will not show them here) in response to the recent massacre in Paris has led to at least seventy churches in Niger being burned to the ground (mostly evangelical churches), rioting, willful desecration of the bible (see video above), and the deaths of at least ten Christians. The destruction of bibles is especially surprising considering most Muslim countries would say those who deface any holy book, including the Bible, should be tried and imprisoned or even executed under Islam’s anti-blasphemy laws.
A friend said this to Charlie Hedbo: “I can’t see how this response in any way increases the trust and solidarity in European society we so badly need. I totally missed any message from Europe’s leaders – or the world’s leaders – calling for responsibility and respect. The answer is not more offensive, biting satire – although I accept it has become a necessary evil within our democratic societies. The answer is truth, love and justice – Not “in your face”, vulgar provocation for which Charlie Hebdo stands. The elite’s response to last week’s tragedies is sowing more fear and confusion among Muslims in Europe which will only polarize our society further, when we badly need bridges. While I empathize with those who mourn, I’m greatly disappointed in our leaders for the lack of appropriate leadership on this score.”
Of course, those at Charlie Hedbo are not Christians, and their reaction or actions should not be held to that standard, but it does show how the world’s response to tragedy and suffering is to strike back either by pen or by sword, rather than turning the other cheek or using the front page of their magazine to honor their fallen friends and coworkers.
Many are confused in thinking these new riots and burned churches are in Nigeria (which ranks #10 on Open Doors Worldwide Persecution Index), but it is actually the smaller, lesser-known country of Niger, located above Nigeria, where these events are taking place, including over 30 Christians homes which were also looted and burned. Images of worshippers having service in the burnt out churches have begun springing up on Facebook and other social media sites online. Others have fled their homes including taking refuge in a military barracks in order to stay safe.
A local church leader, Pastor Sani Nomau called on Christians in Niger to respond with the love of Christ, “I call on every single believer in Niger to forgive and forget; to love Muslims with all their heart, to keep up the faith and to love Christ like never before. I am saying this with tears on my cheeks. Although it is painful and what we are experiencing is really difficult, we are God’s children. We must love our persecutors. We must welcome them into our houses, give them food when they are hungry and give them a drink when they are thirsty. We are called to be different. We are people of peace. Let no one seek revenge. God will strengthen us in this difficult time. Muslims in Niger, we love you with the love of Jesus Christ.”
In a television address on Saturday evening, President Mahamadou Issoufou (who attended the unity march in Paris in support of the magazine) condemned the anti-Christian violence and expressed surprise at the attack.
“What have the Christians of Niger done to deserve this? Where have they wronged you?” he said. “Those who plunder those places of worship, those who desecrate them, those who persecute and kill their Christian compatriots, or foreigners living on the soil of our country, did not understand anything about Islam.”
While Niger has a democratic government, somewhere between 80-98% of the population are Muslim.
Persecution.org which monitors acts of individuals and governments against Christians has these stories:
Muslims Outraged by French Publication Ravage Christian Communities Across Africa
10 Reported Dead in Wake of Niger Church Burnings
Muslim Mobs Leave Christian Communities in Niger Decimated in Wake of Violent Riots
Protests in Niger Turn Violent: Christians Killed, Churches Burnt
World Monitor has this story: https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2015/01/churches-burned-down-over-anti-charlie-hebdo-demonstration-in-niger/
Christianity Today has more on the story here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/january-web-only/scores-of-churches-destroyed-charlie-hebdo-protests-niger.html
The cover has been described as insulting to Muslims and needlessly provocative.
Protests against the new cover were also reported in Pakistan, Jordan, Algeria, Mali, Somalia, Senegal, and Mauritania.
Planning to visit Niger?
Here is the WikiTravel guide: http://wikitravel.org/en/Niger
And the Lonely Planet guide to Niger: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/niger
We also recommend a strong medical and emergency evacuation travel plan for anyone going to Niger either long-term (over one year) or for short-term travel to Niger.