Radical Muslims are persecuting thousands of Christians in the West African nation of Nigeria. Much of the Western world knows little about the hardships these Christians face, but the Rev. Johnnie Moore and Rabbi Abraham Cooper hope to change that.
Moore and Cooper, two globally recognized human rights advocates, co-authored the new book “The Next Jihad: Stop the Christian Genocide in Africa.” The rabbi and the pastor join the show to explain what is happening to Christians in Nigeria and why they chose to come together to shed light on a situation the media is largely not covering.
Plus, we read your letters to the editor and share a good news story about a family who was once homeless themselves, but is now giving back to those in need.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
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Virginia Allen: I am so pleased to be joined by Reverend Johnnie Moore and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, two globally recognized human rights advocates and authors of the new book “The Next Jihad: Stop the Christian Genocide in Africa.” Reverend Moore and Rabbi Cooper, thank you both so much for being here today.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper: Pleasure.
The Rev. Johnnie Moore: Thanks for having me.
Allen: The book “The Next Jihad,” it dives deep into what is going on in Africa as it relates to the persecution of Christians. We hear a lot in the news about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and parts of Asia, but we really don’t hear much about Africa.
Reverend Moore, can you just first explain what exactly is happening in Africa? What is the situation here?
Moore: Well, I think a lot of people would be surprised to learn that in 2015, when ISIS was at its very height in Iraq and Syria, and the destruction was on the news every single day, that simultaneously in Africa’s largest country, Nigeria, there were ISIS-like terrorists that had already that year killed more Christians and basically anyone that stood in their way, including plenty of Muslims, than ISIS killed in Iraq and Syria.
In fact, they have probably killed as many as 100,000 people over the last couple of decades. All of this has been escalating very, very quickly.
Again, it’s Nigeria that we’re talking about. It’s the largest country on the continent. It has the largest economy on the continent, the 10th-largest oil reserves in the world. It is a type of suffering that has been happening in the shadows, and the world needs to awake into it.
Allen: Why do you think we haven’t been hearing about it? I mean, those numbers are staggering.
Moore: I think this is one of the great mysteries and one of the reasons why Rabbi Cooper and I traveled there. I should say it was Rabbi Cooper that encouraged me to go. Rabbi Cooper’s Jewish. I’m Christian. He said, “Johnnie, we have to go meet with the Christians that are suffering in Nigeria,” and that’s what we did.
I mean, we traveled over before COVID-19 shut down the world and it was February. We spent days meeting with victims and hearing their stories.
The most important thing that could happen from this book, “The Next Jihad,” is that people can hear the stories of these people who have suffered incomprehensible harm at the villages that have been raised, the women that have been taken as slaves, the children that have been killed in grotesque ways in cold blood for their fate alone, the pastors who’ve been beheaded, the people who’ve been forcibly converted. I mean, it just goes on and on and on.
When the media reports it, they generally, which [is] rare, they report it as tribal warfare or a dispute over resources. And one of the things that we sort of came away settled with is … while all those things might also be true, at its very heart, there is a religious component to this conflict.
I mean, when you have terrorists running into villages saying, “Allahu akbar,” as they burn down the homes and churches of people whose property they feel religiously entitled to, I mean, that is religious.
But whenever your opinion is, if it’s religious terrorism or resources or tribal conflict, it doesn’t change the fundamental facts on the ground, which is that there’s a very, very bad situation.
The Nigerian government, a democracy, an ally of the United States, is not taking care of their people, and we’re saying, “Enough is enough. Nigeria needs to act now.”
Allen: Yeah. Rabbi Cooper, you have been advocating for human rights and really standing up on behalf of those that don’t have a voice for about 50 years. Tell me a little bit about that trip to Nigeria that you all took earlier this year, what you saw, what you experienced, and why this issue is so critically important to you.
Cooper: Right. Well, the goal here was really to put a human face on what had been until now a drip, drip, drip of horrific headlines of CNN, The National, BBC, “17 Murdered.”
The one that especially got my attention at the Simon Wiesenthal Center was the takeover of a college dorm in the middle of the night. Students were woken up, and they were told that knife point, “If you’re Muslim or Christian, can you recite the Quran?” And the young people who were Christian had their throats slit.
To us at Simon Wiesenthal Center, that sounded horrible echoes of earlier eras, including during the Nazi period when Jews were selected and taken out.
Secondly, institutionally, we’ve met with Pope Francis twice, and we’ve emphasized as a Jewish human rights organization that, of course, is concerned about anti-Semitism and the defense of our people, how Christian minorities are targeted all over the world.
I kept telling Reverend Moore, whereas I called him Johnnie, “Johnnie, we have to go to Nigeria.” And not the easiest place to get to or to go, but we felt instinctively that what needed to happen was a transformation from occasional headlines to putting a human face on suffering.
Then from a practical point of view, as you’ve heard, the geopolitical importance of Nigeria, the fact that ISIS is now relocated and it’s putting down roots right next door to Nigeria, and you have Islamist terrorists operating and a million kids on streets of that country that should be in school, you don’t have to be an expert to know that we’ve got the human rights disaster, we have [a] humanitarian disaster in the making, and potentially cannon fodder for, God forbid, a resurge in ISIS that could strike at the heart of Africa, and obviously, try to come back and hit us again.
On every level, this crisis is important. When you asked before why doesn’t anybody do it, why don’t we don’t hear about it, out of sight, out of mind.
As we learned from the Soviet Jewry movement during the Cold War, what we learned even today, we teach about the Holocaust each day, [Josef] Stalin said, “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic.”
So putting a human face to an issue is the core reason we went, and writing the book was just fulfilling a commitment we made to the victims who some of whom had only just within a week or two had just escaped with their lives, barely, and [we made] a commitment to them that they’d be heard and they’d be seen.
Allen: What are some of those stories that have really stayed with you all that maybe you think about certain individuals on a regular basis and what they’ve lived through and what they’ve experienced?
Moore: I think of an 18-year-old seminarian, Michael Nnadi, whom we write about, who decided to give his entire life to serving his faith.
In the middle of the night, his seminary was awakened by the attack of these terrorists that kidnapped four of the seminarian. It’s a seminary of almost 300 people.
The headmaster of the seminary, he gives this quote to the media that is almost like nonchalant, and not nonchalant in that he didn’t care, it was nonchalant in the sense that, “Well, here we go again. This happens every three Fridays.”
Again, where’s the government? Among the four seminarians, three of them were able to be ransomed out through a series of events, but Michael was found dead on the side of the road, and no one knew why he had died.
There was a lot of speculation in the press that, “Well, they killed him in order to increase the ransom of the other three,” but we’ve since found out that this situation, which only took place earlier this year, they found the perpetrator, and the perpetrator told the press that the reason why he killed Michael was because Michael wouldn’t stop talking about his faith.
The perpetrator was a radicalized Muslim, and Michael, obviously, was a seminarian. He said, “He just kept preaching to me and preaching to me and preaching to me, and it just annoyed me, and so I eventually killed him to shut him up.”
It just shows somehow in this country with the largest Christian population on the continent, it’s split in half, sort of half-Christian, half-Muslim, 200 million people. The government’s inaction on the terrorism northeast of the country has made lots of other people feel like this is acceptable behavior.
I think Michael is the one that occurs to me. I’m sure Rabbi Cooper, you have your own stories.
Cooper: Well, two people come to mind. No. 1, there’s a 9-year-old girl who was brought by her uncle. Big eyes. Beautiful little kid. Her uncle described the situation that she saw her entire family, her parents, siblings murdered before her eyes just a few weeks before. The profound sadness, many of the people were still basically in shock, I think. God forbid we all would be in those kinds of situations.
I remember a lot of us trying to work hard to get a smile on her face. My main job in the synagogue I attend on our Sabbath is I give out Laffy Taffys. I went back to my room where I have an emergency stash. I remember that little smile coming up.
The other was also kind of a stunning moment for me. I’m an Orthodox rabbi. We’re dealing here with a Christian problem. We were at a lunch where I think there were about 25 people, witnessing their personal experiences, and they came in from all over the country.
There was this one woman who spoke for four or five minutes essentially explaining how her entire life had been destroyed, her community had been destroyed, her family, with the exception of one son who was in and out of hospitals, and your heart was breaking.
Honestly, you sort of said to yourself, “How could this woman go on?” And then at the end, she just, as Johnnie said, used the term nonchalantly, or it just seems so natural to her, well, she quoted King David Psalms, which are so central to our prayers.
She quoted a line, though, ” … I will die. I will stay alive in order to witness the good that God has brought to this world.” I was so moved by it that I stood up and I finished the rest of that quote from King David in Hebrew.
As I found, and I think Reverend Moore’s done also, tremendous amount of travel from different generations, you go to try to help people, and you find out from those experiences that you’re the one who primarily is the one who’s been uplifted, whose life has been transformed by people whose names we’ll never know, but those experiences stay with you forever.
Allen: Yeah. No, that’s incredibly powerful and hard not to walk away just completely changed. How could you be the same? That’s really, really incredible.
Cooper: If I can—
Cooper: … a little biblically here and to be very much rooted in reality. We’re now reading “The Jewish World” on the Sabbath. We’re started reading the Five Books of Moses again in Genesis.
Right from the get-go, there are situations, even within families where brothers do harm to each other, when people you would think would intervene and help stand by and don’t do anything. That’s an indictment, according to Genesis.
Clearly, God wants us to be involved when we see that kind of suffering. It’s not just a test for the people who, unfortunately, have suffered, but it’s a test to the bystanders, and they’re individually and collectively in that position. Obviously, people of faith, we feel, we hope, a deeper moral obligation to act and not just to consider this only in geopolitical terms.
Allen: I’ve heard a great quote of people saying that we’re held accountable for what we know. I think that’s very true. When we hear these things going on in the world, there’s a responsibility to act. Let’s talk a little bit about that.
I mean, I think for individuals like me [who] live in the Western world and you hear stories like this and it’s like, “Oh, gosh, I want to do something, but I don’t know what my role is here.” So how would you all encourage people to be involved and be fighting for those that can’t defend themselves?
Moore: Well, in the book, we have a entire chapter called “The Moral Imperative to Act,” which basically says what you said a moment ago, which is we have now imparted upon our readers and those listening to us now knowledge, and they have to do something with this knowledge.
One of the promises we made when we met with these victims is that we would do what we could, but the first thing we could do was to tell their stories.
I always tell people that it’s not just enough to know what’s happening in these circumstances around the world. You have to really internalize it. You have to put yourselves in the shoes of people who [are] traveling to their family members over the religious holidays and they’re scared to death, they don’t even carry their IDs, so if they get pulled over, maybe they could pass as not being a Christian.
I mean, you have to put yourself in the shoes of these people.
There’s a big, long list of all the things that you can do, and the Nigerian government can do, and the U.S. government can do. There’s a whole chapter dedicated to that.
But practically speaking, I just think now, as we’re talking to everyone listening to us, they need to know the stories of these victims. They need to pray for these people the way they hope someone would pray for them if they were in their shoes.
When we give to support these people, and we all have our favorite organizations, we need to give like we hope someone would give to us. If you pick up and you call your member of Congress, whatever political party they are, because of whatever district that you live in, advocate for these people the way you hope someone would be fighting for you.
The fact is, on that front, Nigeria is an ally of the United States of America. It’s a very, very important country.
And we’re not meaning to disparage Nigeria, but we are encouraging the leaders of the United States to, as just happened, actually, a few days ago, the No. 2 person at the State Department, the counselor to the secretary of state, met with the vice president of Nigeria because of issues going on in Lagos. The business capital of the country made it very, very clear that the United States government was dissatisfied with this and it needed to change.
You never know how telling the story of a single victim will inspire people to act. Maybe it’s just one more email or phone call that gets our politicians to do something themselves.
Cooper: I’d just like to add two points. We’re still reeling from the last debate between the presidential candidates, and if Reverend Moore and I were there, we would have asked about Nigeria, but here’s the bottom line: No matter who’s sitting in the Oval Office on January 20th, there’s no diverting or averting our eyes anymore from what’s happening there.
God forbid this should just be viewed as a left or right issue or, quote-unquote, “Only for the faithful,” and it’s not our business, we’re not the world’s cops, etc. Whoever is sitting in the Oval Office will have to deal with Nigeria sooner or later.
I think that we have a sleeping giant in the American Christian community in the, probably, tens of thousands of churches across the country that should take the time also to collectively marshal its forces, let the political establishment know.
If you want to take one other piece of advice from an Orthodox rabbi, I think that individual churches may want to and should adopt a church over in Nigeria.
The goal here, I believe, in order to help improve or change that situation, is if you put a human face on what’s going on in one venue, if you learn about one pastor, if you help uplift members of your own denomination over there who are facing challenges that go beyond their worst nightmares, I absolutely believe it will change the situation quickly.
Because, as Reverend Moore mentioned, we’re talking about a government which technically isn’t a democracy. There’s a police force. There’s a well-armed army. When you get all these—these are vital people, but this slow-motion genocide will probably pick up steam if we collectively do nothing.
One last point is that I believe, in terms of “The Next Jihad”—we’re all locked up here still on the West Coast. I hope things are better elsewhere around the country. But teenagers and youngsters, especially during this period, must be asking themselves, “Am I going to make a difference anywhere during the course of my life? Is there anything we could really do to help others walk their way here?”
I think the book and the issue might be one for faith communities, members of communities, parents to actually sit down with their kids and talk about it. Because you’d be surprised out of the mouth of babes of young people who have that instinctive way of utilizing social media better than dinosaurs like myself, [they] could come up with some very interesting and creative and impactful ideas.
Allen: I really love how you all have written this book first by choosing first and foremost that you want to tell people’s personal stories and then also by laying out so practically, “These are the ways that we can get involved, that we can actually do something.”
I really love the fact that you all, as a reverend and a rabbi, that you came together to write this book in unity. What was that like for both of you bringing your faith backgrounds to the table in order to write on this really important issue?
Cooper: I’m going to jump in here by saying that I got to know Reverend Moore because the Simon Wiesenthal Center, our institution, actually made him our youngest honoree some years ago for his amazing work and saving Christians in Iraq in real time during the ethnic cleansing there.
What I saw in Reverend Johnnie Moore was a man of faith, but also a man, a person of action. That’s what I’ve been my entire life. I think it’s the combination of we’re believers with our own paths, obviously, to God. We’re also doers in the field of human dignity and human rights. I’m honored to have been with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, now my 44th year.
We bring a lot to the table, and plus, we can pick up a phone or send an email. A little bit later today, I’ll be talking for the third time by Zoom to Sudan … Reverend Moore has been to Saudi Arabia. We’ve both been to Azerbaijan and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, etc., etc.
I believe that putting theological issues, and they’re not inconsequential, but putting that aside, God wants us to do good. We find partners to do good, and we can figure out a way to work together, we’re going to do better.
Moore: Yeah, it’s interesting that this book is about Nigeria, and that’s the most important part of it because of the people whose lives are on the line today. But actually, maybe my favorite part of the book is this subtext about how a Christian pastor and a Jewish rabbi can work together to make good.
We say it’s a multi-faith partnership, not an interfaith partnership. It’s multi-faith. He’s doing his work as an Orthodox too and I’m doing mine as an evangelical Christian. And we’re living in this unusual time in history that despite centuries of anti-Semitism, largely that came from the Christian community, where the evangelical Christian community has become a great friend of the state of Israel and of the Jewish people.
Rabbi Cooper and I happen to also be very patriotic Americans. It’s because we have an American passport that we could go get on an airplane and go over and sit with these leaders and talk to these people. It’s because we have religious freedom in this country that we can be an example as to what countries should have around the world and the fact that we come from different generations and different experiences.
In the back of the book, there’s this amazing Q&A where I ask Rabbi Cooper what it’s been like to stand in the gap for all of these persecuted people all around the world for 50 years.
It’s an incredible, incredible story that I just hope lots and lots of Christians read and are inspired by. It’s deepened my faith and allowed me to reach a lot more people by locking arms Rabbi Cooper. I’ve learned so much along the way, and we try to pass a little bit of that along as we tell the story of what’s happening in this great country in Africa.
Allen: Yeah. Well, we could keep going for hours talking about both of your work on this issue and what you have seen and written about, but we will just allow our listeners to get the book. It’s “The Next Jihad: Stop the Christian Genocide in Africa.” It’s available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
Reverend Moore and Rabbi Cooper, thank you both so much for your time today, and thank you for your work on such an important issue.
Cooper: God bless.
Moore: Thanks for having us.