By H. Sergio Mora

ROME, JULY 20, 2012 ( Going to Mass on Sunday in Nigeria just might mean not returning home.

A recent survey in the country showed that 70% of the population believes that interreligious dialogue is the only way out of the problem of attacks on Christian churches, and they reject the violence of the fanatics.

To come out of the present situation several factors are necessary: interreligious dialogue is essential, as is the training of the police and support for non-fanatic Muslim political groups.

This was pointed out to ZENIT in the interview that follows, with Professor Massimo Introvigne, sociologist and historian, who took part on Thursday -- at the Foreign Press Association in Rome, together with the Italian Foreign Minister, Giulio Terzi and other authorities -- in a conference on the massacre of Christians in Nigeria, promoted by the Observatory of Religious Liberty of Italy’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

ZENIT: What is the function of the Observatory of Religious Liberty?

Introvigne: The Observatory of Religious Liberty has the function to coordinate activities on several levels.

In the first place, it must insist before international organizations that they mobilize. Here the methodical insistence of Italian diplomacy enters so that the problem of Christians in Nigeria is considered in all initiatives of peace and development, from the United Nations to the European Union.

ZENIT: However, the delay with international organizations is always long.

Introvigne: In fact, bilateral cooperation is the second point. Italy has developed good systems of security and vigilance of sensitive objectives. Sadly in Nigeria among the sensitive objectives now are the Christian churches, so that there are already programs to give formation to administrative officials of the forces of order, of the police and Nigerian border guards.

ZENIT: Hence dialogue and security are good, and what else?

Introvigne: The third factor is to support the local police to the degree possible. I’ll explain myself better: although interreligious dialogue is the task especially of religious institutions – and on this the Catholic Church gives us an example of courage – dialogue is the true solution to the problem. Hence it must include persons that are reference points of political Islam, excluding of course those who are violent or terrorists. Those who like a leader of the armed Boko Haram group in Nigeria, who said that for Christians there are only three alternatives: to die, to convert to Islam or to emigrate. These individuals must be excluded from the dialogue, although some of the forces of political Islam could engage in it.

ZENIT: Is there another important point?

Introvigne: Yes, a fourth factor is the regionalization of the conflict which is continental, and sees the important presence of centers of terrorism in places outside the control of the State, such as half of Somalia and the north of Mali. In recent days we had proofs of the presence of the Nigerian Boko Haram in the region of Gao, in Mali, and in areas controlled substantially by Al Qaeda, where they go to be supplied with arms and fuel.

ZENIT: In this case, dialogue and the police can do little.

Introvigne: And here there is a problem that must be resolved including all options, even the military which, however, requires caution. For the time being the United Nations Security Council does not authorize them until it is clear what type of military initiatives will be used of those proposed by the East African Economic Community (EAC).

There are countries that see things differently, such as Burkina Faso, which would like to extend the dialogue also to one of the Muslim fundamentalist formations, but Nigeria doesn’t want this.

ZENIT: Military options that in some cases are not excluded?

Introvigne: In the case of Mali the military option cannot be excluded as we find a territory that functions somewhat like the Tortugas Islands for pirates. Whoever wishes to do so can go and open barracks for arms and indoctrination.

It’s no accident that Nigeria said that if there is military intervention it would make its troops available.

ZENIT: How is aggression against Christians to be prevented?

Introvigne: Dialogue is one of the two legs with which the struggle advances against the persecution of Christians. It is the one that has the greater horizon and is decisive, given that every Sunday Christians continue dying, and intervention of a police type is also necessary.

ZENIT: Is Italy helping with the formation of the forces of order?

Introvigne: Yes, as an initiative of a bilateral character, because Italy believes that one must not go above the Nigerian government, which is democratic and friendly, where the president is a Christian. It’s not the government that fosters this violence and is a victim of it. In the meantime, the problem has centers outside of Nigeria.

ZENIT: Is there a silent majority in Nigeria that doesn’t want violence?

Introvigne: Yes, and they would like interreligious dialogue. A recent survey in Nigeria showed that 70% of the population proposes interreligious dialogue as the way out of the problem, even if it doesn’t make news and no one speaks of this.

[Translation by ZENIT]