A Different Sort of School Shooting…

If you don’t like the way a school is run in the US of A, what’s the worst thing you’d be willing to do?  Historically, the 1974-1975 fight over textbooks in West Virginia might have been the bloodiest in this country.  But sad news from Nigeria updates us on a much more brutal sort of educational culture war.

Conservative militants in Northeast Nigeria yesterday attacked a remote boarding school, killed the male students, and dispersed the females.  Why?  The group, Boko Haram, believes that the national curriculum taught at the school teaches corrupt Western values.  Indeed, the group’s name translates roughly as “Western Education Is a Sin.”

The remains of the school.

The remains of the school.

According to teachers, the militants attacked the school in Buni Yadi and shot dead at least 29 students, wounding another 11.  The militants told female students to leave, to abandon education and to get married.

This is not the first of these school attacks.  According to the BBC, Boko Haram has killed almost 300 people in similar school attacks this year, thousands since 2009.

All the more reason for us to speak carefully when we disagree with one another about schools, culture, and politics.  Language that dehumanizes the opposition can lead all too quickly to this sort of pogrom.

War and Culture War

What is a Culture War?  In America, it generally means an angry squabbling over such issues as the proper role of religion and traditional culture in the public square.  Should public schools teach evolution?  Does a fetus have equal human rights?  Should homosexuals be allowed to marry?

Recent headlines demonstrate the terrifying possibilities of other forms of culture war.  In central Nigeria, for instance, Islamic militant group Boko Haram has sharpened a bloody conflict between Muslims and Christians.  The organization has bombed Christian churches and killed Christians who would not convert to Islam.

BBC: “Who Are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists?”

Could such atrocity result from America’s milder culture wars?  After all, America is no stranger to intensely violent civil war.  It’s not hard to imagine a new breakout.  Jonny Scaramanga of Leaving Fundamentalism has argued recently how easy it is to envision a Bible-Christian theology of suicide bombing.  And unfortunately we don’t even need to imagine.  With shootings of abortion providers and murders of homosexuals, not to mention generations of lynchings and white-supremacist violence, Fundamentalist America has proven itself capable of war, genocide, and atrocity.The Left, too, has shown its teeth.  When the Students for a Democratic Society splintered in the late 1960s, the Weather Underground faction devoted itself to a nearly suicidal campaign of bombings.   More recently, too, angry anti-fundamentalists such as Dan Savage have demonstrated their willingness to demean and belittle their Christian audiences.

Now, we need to be careful here.  There is a vast gulf between Dan Savage’s culture-war anger and the bombing of churches.  There is also, thankfully, a huge divide between ardent advocacy for a more thoroughly Biblical public culture and pogroms.  The point, though, is that the aggressive bombast of America’s culture warriors makes it depressingly easy to imagine an America in which culture war turns into real war.

At the risk of sounding apocalyptic, let’s imagine some of the ways America’s culture wars might escalate into something far more horrific.

1.)    Geographic contiguity.  If two or more regions developed a sense of beleaguered cultural identity, those identities could form the bases of separate warring nations.  For instance, when the eleven states of the Confederacy determined that their interests were no longer defended in the Federal government, they seceded.  Similarly, during the War of 1812, the Hartford Convention nearly led to the secession of the Northeast.  In today’s politics, we can see some sense of a sharpening coastal/flyover divide, a red state/blue state antagonism.

2.)    Connection of culture issues to existing racial/ethnic/religious divisions.  These divisions have often proved the most explosive in American history.  Wars and riots among groups such as Native Americans, Irish-Catholic Americans, and African Americans have burned America’s cities and bloodied America’s plains.  Were similar connections be made between ethnic status and religious affiliation, similar violence could certainly emerge again.

Our hopes, of course, remain high that America’s culture wars will mitigate, not escalate.  The purpose of this blog is to build intellectual bridges between Fundamentalist America and its critics.

Nevertheless, the depressing norm from history and current world events is for culture wars to attach themselves like lampreys to other sorts of conflicts, escalating the bloodshed as each side sees itself as holy warriors in a righteous cause.