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Moral equivalency is a matter of dogma in the mainstream media: When five hundred Christians were massacred in their homes by machete-wielding Muslims in Nigeria’s Plateau Province on the night of March 7, news reports claimed it was simply retaliation for previous attacks on Muslims. That is an outright falsehood, according to The Barnabas Fund, an interdenominational Christian organization devoted to assisting Christians around the world who face persecution.

Here is the Barnabas Fund’s press release laying out the facts :

Nigeria: Media Distortions Of Anti-Christian Massacres In Jos:

The world has been horrified by the bloodshed in Jos, the capital of Nigeria’s Plateau State, as reported by the international media during the last six weeks. It appears, however, that deliberate manipulation and deception at a local level have meant that international reporting has been inaccurate, and has created the false impression that Christians were the aggressors and Muslims the victims when the reality is the opposite. So Christians have become double victims, suffering not only violence but also unjust blame.

Two incidents of large-scale violence have occurred, first in the city of Jos itself on Sunday 17 January 2010, and then in three mainly Christian villages to the south of Jos on Sunday 7 March.

In the latter incident men from the Muslim Fulani tribe, armed with swords and machetes, arrived at the villages in the early hours of the morning. The residents of Zot, Dogo Nahauwa and Rastat were woken by the sound of gunshots and ran terrified into the streets, where the attackers were waiting for them. A horrendous massacre followed. Local police say 109 people were killed, but other sources suggest this figure could be much higher, perhaps up to 500.

Some media sources have reported that this atrocity was in retaliation for an attack by Christians on Muslims in Jos in January, where up to 300 people died. It is clear, however, that this earlier violence was started by Muslims who attacked a church. (See previous article: Nigeria: Religious Violence in Jos – The Christians Speak Out ) Christian leaders in Nigeria acknowledge that some Christians retaliated and do not condone their actions, but there is no evidence to suggest that their response was on the size or scale reported in the media. There are conflicting reports about how many of the dead in January were Christians and how many Muslims. Baroness Caroline Cox notes that “In the violent attacks, not only in Plateau state but also in neighbouring Bauchi and other northern states, a consistent pattern has emerged . . . the Muslim militants take corpses to mosques, where they are photographed and released to the media, creating the impression that these are Muslim victims.”

In January a church leader in Jos expressed his belief that Muslims had carried false reports about the conflict to the international media in order to discredit the Church. Confirmation of this view may be found in a video report produced by the Aljazeera news channel in co-operation with a powerful Nigerian Muslim organisation called Jama’atu Nasril Islam and later posted on YouTube via various Muslim websites. Not only does this video suggest that the January violence was simply a massacre of Muslims by Christians; it also appears to use footage from other contexts altogether, spliced in to give bogus support to its story.

It is in this context that the violence on 7 March has been reported as “retaliation” by Muslims against Christians, but this has been denied by the governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, who said that it cannot plausibly be seen as a reprisal for the earlier outbreak. He has also criticised another Aljazeera report on the January violence, saying, “Some people moved Aljazeera there and then covered dead bodies and started labelling them. When you cover dead bodies and start labelling them, who knows who you are covering?”

An eyewitness account from 7 March describes how “attackers were shooting to herd fleeing villagers toward another group of attackers carrying machetes . . . The attackers asked people, ‘Who are you?’ in Fulani, a language used mostly by Muslims, and killed those who did not answer back in Fulani.” By Sunday afternoon the bodies of the dead were lining the dusty streets. Many of the victims were among the most defenceless – elderly people, women and children, including a four-day-old baby. All the churches in Dogo Nahawa had been burned down, and many homes had been torched. The next day Christians wailed in the street and sang hymns to Jesus as a truck carried dozens of bodies to a mass grave. Hundreds of Christians have fled their homes, fearing further attacks. Significantly, Ben Kwashi, the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, has called the attacks “systematic and quite well organised”, indicating that they were pre-planned.

Incidents of large-scale anti-Christian violence have occurred periodically in Nigeria’s Middle Belt (where Christians and Muslims are roughly equal in number), and sometimes in the Muslim-majority North, for many years. But recently these have become more frequent and severe, with major outbreaks in Jos (November 2008), Bauchi State (February 2009), Borno State (July 2009) and Jigawa State (February 2010), in addition to those described above.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, comments,

“Once again our brothers and sisters in Jos have suffered grievously in anti-Christian attacks. The seemingly skewed reporting by the international media of the January violence has exposed them to the risk of unjust ‘retaliation’. Please join us in praying for them in their acute distress, and ask that the Lord will protect them from further harm. It is so rare that the international media report incidents in which Christians suffer violence or injustice. How tragic that in this case they have done so but with such a strong anti-Christian bias as to make the Christians seem the aggressors not the victims.”

Barnabas Fund is sending assistance to those bereaved or made homeless by the violence.

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