The news from the West African nation of Niger is heart-breaking. Around 70 churches have been set on fire, and more than a dozen people killed, as Islamists sought to take some kind of twisted revenge over the Charlie Hebdo outrage in France.
Never mind that the scummy magazine regularly attacks Christians as profanely as it vilifies Muslims. Never mind that the president of Niger flew to Paris to participate in the giant march organized there to protest the murder of some of the magazine’s staff.
The Islamists decided that they were upset at a new cover from the magazine, deemed to be provocative, and that they needed to protest.
But should we really be surprised that they chose to burn down churches and slaughter Christians?
My thriller “Festival in the Desert” was set in the West African nation of Mali, adjacent to Niger. It concerned Islamists trying to close down a hospital there that was run by Christian missionaries. I chose Mali, because it is a relatively exotic country, boasting some great music, an exciting annual festival in the desert and the famous city of Timbuktu.
In fact the hospital was based on one in Niger, in the town of Galmi, run by the SIM Christian mission organization. I even included some incidents based on stories told to me by a former missionary doctor at Galmi.
And why should a Christian hospital be under attack? Because throughout Muslim Africa a virulent form of fundamentalist Islam, often dubbed Wahhabism, has been spreading, with roots planted especially by the Saudis. For such people Christians, Jews and even moderate Muslims are the enemy.
Here is an excerpt from “Festival in the Desert:”
“It’s also all these new Saudi-sponsored mosques in town,” said Dr Steyn. “There’s more than a dozen of them. All recent. They send their imams from Saudi Arabia. Telling the women they have to wear veils and the men that they have to stop drinking alcohol and stop talking to people of other religions.”
“Yes, that’s exactly right. And according to the briefing I received, both Al Qaeda and the new mosques are recruiting young men, sending them off for training at madrassas in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. These men come back home with radically new beliefs. They’re not tolerant any more. They hate the West, hate America, hate Christians.”
The commentator Mark Steyn (no connection to the Dr Steyn in my book) has written:
The most successful example of globalization is not Starbucks or McDonald’s but Wahhabism, an obscure backwater variant of Islam practiced by a few Bedouin deadbeats that Saudi oil wealth has now exported to every corner of the earth…You can live on the other side of the planet and, when Starbucks opens up in town, you might acquire a taste for a decaf latte, but that’s it: otherwise, life goes on. By contrast, when the Saudi-funded preachers hung out their shingles on every Main Street in the west, they radicalized a significant chunk of young European Muslims: they transformed not just their beverage habits but the way they look at the societies in which they live.
Some African countries are trying to halt this radicalization. I have written of attempts by Senegal, which borders Mali, to reach out to Israel, in part as a reaction to the worrying spread of radical Islam.
We can only wish that country luck. But, given the power and money behind the Wahhabi tentacles, we should not really be surprised when Islamists in West Africa choose to burn down churches.
And we should not be surprised when it happens again.