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Nigerias Potent Cocktail

Nigeria is the 10th largest oil producer in the world, and its delta region provides much of America’s oil needs. But because the nation is plagued by violence, corruption and environmental degradation, the resulting wealth benefits few of its poorest inhabitants. The International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization that works to prevent and resolve conflict, released a report in August called The Swamps of Insurgency: Nigeria’s Delta Unrest. The unrest stems mostly from a guerilla conflict that causes hundreds of deaths every year. Since January, fighters from an umbrella group of insurgents known as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) have been fighting with government forces.

Insurgents and criminal groups have made the violence worse by using the proceeds from stolen oil to purchase arms. Oil companies have added to the violence through their own paid security forces, hired to protect the oil facilities. Many Nigerians, frustrated by the lack of clean water, electricity, schools and clinics, have shown support for the insurgents, a support that has increased the volatility of the situation. The Crisis Group urges the United Nations to mediate between the Nigerian government and the Delta groups, an idea that MEND has already accepted in principle. But currently, the report notes, the situation presents a potent cocktail of poverty, crime and corruption...fueling a militant threat to Nigeria’s reliability as a major oil producer. U.N. intervention could help defuse this all too destructive mix.

A Fundamental Education

A new documentary film called Jesus Camp, released this month, follows the efforts of an energetic evangelical youth minister who sponsors a summer camp for children in rural North Dakota. It is the most chilling film of the year, opening a window onto a facet of American religious culture largely hidden from the mainstream media.

In the film, evangelical and fundamentalist parents introduce their young children not only to important concepts like salvation and redemption but also to religious divisiveness (the world is depicted as sharply divided into those for or against Jesus), spiritual hubris (one girl claims she is never in doubt about what God is asking her to do), anti-intellectualism (in local home-schools, parents airily dismiss concepts like evolution and global warming) and the duty to unite church with state (a life-size cardboard cutout of President Bush is carried into a rally so that children can pray over him). Far worse is the intense emotional manipulation that prompts campers as young as 9 to confess to being hypocrites before collapsing on the floor in hysterical tears.

Nearly every mainstream religion educates young children according to its belief systems. But the forced indoctrination of Christian youth overlooks the fact that Jesus, during his ministry, did not coerce so much as invite. If one wonders why some people on the Christian far right seem not only so powerful but also so antagonistic to doubt, nuance and rational argument, one might consider this film, which gives a partial answer to the question of how religious extremism is fostered.

Remembering Digna Ochoa

Murdered five years ago on Oct. 19 in Mexico City, Digna Ochoa was a human rights lawyer who had worked with the Jesuit-founded Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Center for Human Rights. She was shot to death in her office. An anonymous note found near her body warned members of the Pro Center that they could be next. Ms. Ochoa, a 37-year-old former Dominican nun, received numerous death threats and had twice been kidnapped. Fearing for her life, she spent several months in the United States and on returning to Mexico disassociated herself from the Pro Center. She continued, though, to work on rights cases.

Ms. Ochoa aroused the anger of powerful financial interests by defending two environmental activists, Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, who organized farmers against logging companies that work illegally in the state of Guerrero. Beaten and tortured, they were forced to confess to fabricated drug and weapons charges and were sentenced to prison. Amnesty International declared both men prisoners of conscience. With pressure from several human rights groups, they were released shortly after the murder of Ms. Ochoa. She herself had received Amnesty’s Enduring Spirit Award and was a recipient of a MacArthur genius award. The prosecutor in Mexico City claimed that her death was a suicide, but the city’s Human Rights Commission alleged that the police had covered up some evidence. With contradictions in the autopsy report and irregularities in the investigation as well, human rights organizations have never accepted the suicide theory.

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