Editor’s note: Robert P. George is chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The views expressed are his own.
A dozen years ago today, the 9/11 attacks brutally awakened the American people to the global reality of terrorism – of lethal groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban, which manipulate religion in violent pursuit of totalitarian aims.
In the ensuing years, the nation rightly focused on these groups, and especially on the regions of South Asia – including Afghanistan and Pakistan – and the Middle East.
Yet in many ways, an overlooked story of the past few years has been the disturbing rise of like-minded organizations elsewhere, particularly in Africa. As the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has documented, the forces of violent religious extremism have gained footholds on the continent, terrorizing populations, violating fundamental rights including religious freedom, and posing a serious security threat to the region and potentially beyond.
In Nigeria, Africa’s largest nation, the longstanding sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians, which has claimed more than 14,000 lives since 1999, has been exacerbated by the rise of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram in the northern provinces. According to USCIRF’s Religious Violence Project, Boko Haram has killed hundreds since January 2012 – including Christians, dissenting Muslim clerics, and politicians – and targeted churches, schools, government buildings, newspapers and banks. Its tactics include drive-by shootings, the use of IEDs, and suicide bombings.