It’s impossible to know exactly what went through the mind of the 12-year-old boy when he refused to become a child soldier of the terrorist group Boko Haram.
When the Boko militants came to his village armed with machetes and axes, he and his mother made a run for it. They weren’t successful. As Boko has done with countless children, they demanded that this 12-year-old join their army as a “child soldier.” He was a Christian; they were Islamic militants. We don’t know if it was his faith that led him to say no, but we do know what happened next. The militants hacked him to death.
There will be no Christian burial for this 12-year-old boy. There will be no grave. And his name won’t ring through the ages as a monument to the power of one’s conviction in the face of certain death. He will join the ranks of the tens of thousands of anonymous children who have been killed or conscripted by one of the most vicious terrorist groups to ever grace God’s earth.
As Christians the world over began to prepare to celebrate Christmas, it’s easy to forget that, in Nigeria and Cameroon, one can face persecution simply for being a Christian. Women, children, innocents—Boko Haram doesn’t pay any heed to who may or may not be an innocent. In their branch of Islamic fundamentalism, you are either a soldier in their army—or a threat to their future.
It’s worth considering this grisly murder now, particularly as the United States goes through a period in which its foreign policy thinking is more often focused on China and the Middle East than Africa. Cameroon and Nigeria matter today–both because of America’s duty and commitment to the persecuted and because of our fight against fundamentalism the world over.
This attack is just the latest in a series. In November, Boko Haram attacked a church in Moskota, and they killed a retired pastor named David Mokoni. In the same attack, they took the life of a hearing-impaired Christian boy. This was just days after they butchered a 15-year-old boy in a nearby village, splitting his skill with an axe.
Of the almost 200,000 people driven from their homes by the violence in Cameroon, the vast share are Christians, and they, like religious people the world over, are a population under assault. It is America’s responsibility to stand up, call this violence what it is, and combat it how we must.
That begins by assisting the Cameroonian and Nigerian governments in their fight against terrorism. US Special Forces have been engaged in this part of the world for some time. That commitment, while less visible than our presence in the Middle East, is no less vital—and as comforting as it might be for us to pull up stakes and bring our soldiers home, we must remain there and remain steadfast in the fight.
Cameroon and Nigeria’s enemies are America’s enemies. They are the enemies of freedom—freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and yes, freedom of religious people to practice as they wish. Their fight is our fight.
There are those who would prefer to attack the Cameroonian government, an American ally and the front lines against this war on religion. Unsurprisingly, these critics are left-leaning Democrats, including Representative Karen Bass, who has been attacking the Cameroonian leadership more vocally than she attacks the Boko Haram threat they are fighting. The Democrat hostility to religion within America’s borders is well-known. Is it at all surprising that they would be unwilling to come to the defense of religious people abroad?
No, it isn’t. And that’s why it’s important for conservatives and Republicans to encourage the Trump administration and the US Congress to beef up our efforts to support the Cameroonian and Nigerian governments. It’s also why it’s important to call out Democrats like Karen Bass when they take positions that run counter to religious freedom around the world.
Christianity was born in a moment of persecution against conviction. Today, that same spirit of proud and faithful defiance is alive and well in corners of the world that do not make the headlines. American must stand resolutely behind those brave Cameroonians and Nigerians who refuse to submit to fanatics and terrorists. There is no more urgent fight—and there are lives that hang in the balance.