by Matthew Hamilton
Even though Muslim groups in Nigeria like Boko Haram have been murdering Christians in a campaign of religious cleansing for years, Nigerian Christians have demonstrated enormous restraint in their responses to the incessant attacks. The great lengths they have taken not to respond with similar atrocities against Muslims has largely been overlooked by the media who at every turn try to force the narrative that what transpires in Nigeria is “sectarian violence,” and use Christian attempts to defend themselves from their attackers as evidence to support their fallacious narrative that there is no aggressor but that both religious groups are at fault. Reality however is that Christian communities are under attack from a determined enemy that seeks an Islamic caliphate to replace the existing state of Nigeria.
Debate is raging in Nigeria between Christian pacifists and Christians who believe in Just War Theory, or at the very least, in the God given right to self-defense. Some church leaders are calling upon their congregations to offer no resistance to the attacks by Islamic Jihadists while other leaders are calling on Christians to defend themselves.
The Western church has also weighed in on the situation, with the vast majority of Western church leaders calling upon Nigerians not to use violence to defend themselves, but rather pray, find peace in the Lord, and stay calm while they get slaughtered; no doubt the pious and noble thing to do.
So which course should Nigerian Christians take? Should they defend themselves with force of arms or should they do nothing besides pray and run for their lives as their homes and livelihoods are destroyed?
On July 14th, 1683, the Ottoman Vizier Mustafa Pasha arrived at the gates of Vienna at the head of an army of nearly 140,000 men; the Viennese defenders numbered a mere 11,000 men at arms. One year earlier, the Islamic Ottoman Empire had declared war on the Christian Habsburgs saying:
“We order you to await us in your residence city of Vienna so that we can decapitate you… We will exterminate you and all your followers… Children and grown-ups will be exposed to the most atrocious tortures before put to an end in the most ignominious way imaginable…”
This was not empty rhetoric. On July 16th, 1683, the city of Perchtoldsdorf was ordered by the Islamic army at its gates to surrender; the defenders threw down their arms and opened their gates. The population was massacred, the city looted, the women raped, and many of its surviving inhabitants enslaved and taken to be sold in the markets of the Ottoman Empire.
Needless to say, the defenders of Vienna refused to surrender. For nearly a month, the immensely outnumbered Viennese valiantly held the city against the Muslim army despite several sections of their walls being destroyed by Ottoman sappers and untold hardship being endured from being deprived of provisions.
The Habsburgs had sent emissaries to Christian kingdoms across the continent pleading for aid, and on the 12th of September, with the defenders of Vienna near their breaking point, 80,000 men from Austria, Bavaria, The Holy Roman Empire, Poland, and Saxony converged and crushed the Ottoman army. Vienna was saved, and the battle marked a turning point in the centuries long Central European struggle to defend against Islam’s advance.
Imagine if Vienna’s allies had done what Christians today are doing… which is essentially nothing. Vienna would have been razed to the ground and its inhabitants would have suffered the same gruesome and terrible fate as those of Perchtoldsdorf. And God only knows how far into the heartland of Europe the armies of the Ottoman Empire could have marched, slaughtering and pillaging along the way.
Vienna wasn’t saved by weekly prayer meetings for the Christian defenders to not lose faith or for them to engage in “interfaith dialogues” with the Islamic army battering down their gates. Vienna was saved by the force of arms wielded by grim men strengthened by prayers for God to grant them victory over their enemies. If it wasn’t for the courage and ferocity of such men, the Christian pacifists of today may have never had the chance to condemn them for not “acting in the opposite spirit.”
The Christians in Nigeria face a situation not altogether dissimilar than that experienced by the Habsburgs in the 17th century. Whether they know it or not, pacifists advocating for Christians not to defend themselves are asking for the horrors of Perchtoldsdorf to be repeated. The noble piety of pacifism is easily diluted in a river of blood and human misery, and there will certainly be rivers of blood and misery if Nigerian Christian follow the example of Perchtoldsdorf.
Perhaps Nigerian Christians in the 21st century should remember what the Viennese did in the 17th century when they faced an Islamic invasion. Perhaps they should do whatever they can to defend themselves, their families, and their country. The media will vilify them, Western churches will disown them, but they will be doing what is right and just in the eyes of the Lord.
Perhaps Christians in the West should also remember how Vienna’s allies saved the city from destruction and massacre through strength of arms. Perhaps we should be coming to the aid of Nigerians rather than sitting idly by.
But if praying for God to comfort the Nigerian Christians and for them to hold onto their faith while they are being slaughtered helps you sleep better at night then by all means continue. At least one person is being comforted.