A GERMANE ANECDOTE
Anyone who arrives early for 8am classes at Ajose Lecture Theatre in OAU will recognize this scene: Guy wearing a taqiyah, scruffy beards and sofe pants down on the raised platform denying the Trinity by affirming its mad logic, asserting the absurdity of an Immaculate Birth and the inferior anobi-ness of Yisa Christ, all in a bid to prove the superiority of Islam.
Perhaps the hum of conversation increased ever so slightly. But life simply hubbubbed on till the lecturer’s arrival brought a hush.
Some four years later, I became friends of sorts with one iteration of Guy. We were classmates and had been assigned to the same project supervisor (along with fourteen others, because Nigerian university). I ribbed him about those days, good-naturedly of course. He laughed it off. And then we took turns to streak Staphylococcus aureus over a plate of mannitol salt agar.
And for those of us who live in the right places, we hear similar sentiments expressed from speakers in music stores and sometimes from mosques. There’s a great deal of emphasis placed on denigrating Christianity.
The takeaways are evident.
THE REAL BLASPHEMY
Yes, free speech is not entirely free. We do not exist under an atmosphere conditioned specifically to our urges, our biases, our prejudices.
Speech, in its broadest conception, is representation, expression. Man has always sought to represent, to express, be that in art, in orality, or in writing.
By hook or crook, Islam now counts representation of Prophet Muhammad blasphemous. Fine. But because man is inherently human as opposed to being inherently Islamic, the real blasphemy is Islam’s straitjacketing of the Promethean instinct of humans.
(And blasphemy is a funny old concept. If we were to extend the logic of blasphemy – disrespect for something sacred – to include all that human beings hold sacred, we no go comot here today, or in decades. But say I hold my ego sacred and you denigrate my ego, have you not blasphemed against my ego? Have you not? Or, say, you break my heart. Have you not blasphemed against my heart, you… you… kafir?)
In states where religion coheres with government, perhaps it might be legal to punish blasphemies against religion, because what is legal is not necessarily what is human or humane. In a secular or pluralistic society, blasphemies must not extend beyond the confines of that religion (and within the confines of law). So if an extremist Muslim wants to murder another one for perceived blasphemy, well, in a sense, we may simply observe.
With alarm. And nothing more.
THE CHARLIE HEBDO MURDERS
But what justification can there be for extrajudicial murder? Say we agree that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were insulting and disrespectful and “unnecessary” (and everything else Teju Cole calls them) – it cannot be an easy task determining what is “necessary” and what is fair or unfair game. Say we agree. In what space do we equate insult and disrespect and unnecessariness to murder or grievous harm? In what time?
I would invoke Chinua Achebe to say: “If you don’t like my cartoons, draw your own.” Dear Violent Extremist Muslim (made or in the making), grab a pencil and mock in return. Mockery, thankfully, is not the exclusive preserve of any race, gender or class. Mock freedoms. Okay, maybe this is a low blow. But you get the idea.
The world needs all the laughter it can get. I am an extremist for laughter.
ON THE VICARIOUS CULPABILITY OF A GOOD MINORITY OF MUSLIMS
There are Muslims – a large amount – who recognize that there is a multiplicity of religious ideologies. They live and let live. Some of them say: “See, there once was this woman who delighted in provoking Muhammad as he passed by her house. One day Muhammad passed and there was no abuse. Alarmed, he checked in on the woman. And hey, moved by such an unlikely gesture, the woman accepted Islam.”
Even if they don’t carry guns or wield knives, there is another large amount of Muslims, who are conceptually violent: some find newer and newer ways of contorting humanity to excuse madness; some change the subject or construct – with righteous indignation, or better, with a straight face – transparent straw men to deflect from a conversation that must be had. For them, to have these conversations goes leg in trouser with painting Islam in a bad light. Some obfuscate deliberately; for others it is instinctual. Ultimately, this conceptually violent minority propagate an insidious propaganda to drown out the voices of progress. Unfortunately.
I can deplore Israel’s inhumanity to Palestinians, an extremism of its own. Many do. Continually. The immediate aftermath of a deadly attack by violent extremist Muslims – on a magazine no less – is not the time.
WETIN BE MY OWN?
Yes, they are coming home to roost. As they have been for a fair few decades now. The historicity of these chickens – the West’s disruptive meddlesomeness around the world – is not a matter of debate, even if the West seems to suffer from an intractable amnesia.
So, why get in the middle of a roforofo fight? Wetin be my own?
Wetin, be my own?
Well, my own is: that in Nigeria violent extremist Muslims kill too many Muslims (and many of other religions) for comfort, in the name of censure and censorship; that protesting cartoons – very violently – you never even saw is a hop away from full blown Shekau; that, think about it, a powder-keg lit in Denmark could have exploded in Nigeria; that touching a Qur’an or touching something that has touched a Qur’an is deemed worthy of censure; that preventing a pageant from taking place in Kaduna is conceptually violent.
These intolerances – “I’m right; you’re dead”, to quote Wole Soyinka – are the ideological underpinnings of Boko Haram.
BUT THEY ARE NOT MUSLIMS!
Yes, they are Muslims. Piers Morgan became the latest addition to the But They Are Not Muslims camp. But They Are Not Muslims is not helpful to anyone, let alone Muslims. I don’t find every Muslim culpable for the action of some Muslims; I find it incredibly troubling that anyone would do that. But I also find it incredibly troubling – and dubious – when someone breaks out this excuse. I prefer that you stay silent, as I do when some Johnny Foreigner makes “princes” of all Nigerians.
The backdrop of the crimes of Boko Haram is Islam. That is undeniable. Same as ISIS. Their reading of the Qur’an, Hadith and associated texts may be warped and diabolical, yes. But they are not distorting the Bible, or the Torah, or the Odu Ifa, or the Bhagavad Gita, or whatever religious text Tom Cruise’s people use. Their Shura Coucil is not made up of Rabbis and Olowus and Pastors and Maharajs.
The prerogative for combating violent extremism must come from within Islam. There’s only so much outsiders can do. There are conversations that need to be had. Rather than hide behind cardboard shelters of silly deflections, those Muslims whose stock in trade is deflection must speak truth to the violence of the so-called “genocidal monsters” loosing their incontinence upon the world. Hands up to Al Sisi for framing the problem in its proper global perspective, and not a limited and limiting West versus Islam construct commentators like Boda Teju seem to favour.
#IAMBAGA VERSUS #JESUISCHARLIE
In seeking to understand the world, why? is usually the right question to ask. Or at least that is how I try to go about it. For instance: why is there a phenomenon called Nigerian English? Could it be that time and space influences language? Could it be?
Well-meaning jingoism can colour your conception of the world so much it becomes jaundiced.
Juxtapose: 12 dead in Charlie Hebdo attack; 2000 dead in Baga attack. Why are we so easily drawn to identify with the French whose suffering is a mere ripple in the ocean of ours?
For starters, we are not Nigerian in the way the French are French. Charlie Hebdo wasn’t simply attack on humanity, it was an attack on the French who overwhelmingly subscribe – however glibly – to “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite”, the founding principles of their Republic. It was an attack on the French with a collective history of Resistance. Like I heard a woman on Al Jazeera – or was it the BBC now?, “I am French first before I am Muslim.”
Amalgamation of the Nigerian vintage can only imagine forging such bonds over such space in its wildest dreams.
There is of course distance. The insensate carnage of Boko Haram is mostly confined to North-Easternmost corner of the country, with occasional forays inward. Baga – and the North East – is so far away it could be heaven. Perhaps we would be better empathizers, if – all the Gods combined forbid – we were to share the North East’s reality more intimately.
There is accessibility to information and truthfulness. Just as it happens with movies, the cinematic viscerality of the pictures we saw readily transported us into the French imagination. Like the Boston Marathon bombing, this was one more good-confronts-bad movie in whose almost inevitable “happy ending” we were invested – I’ll have my catharsis thank you. (We never seem to tire of these movies: Terrorists terrorize or threaten to; Authorities hunt; Authorities find and liquidate; Audience screams hurrah.) Thus we are able to surmount the challenge posed to empathy by the liminalities of time and space.
The news media of course are primarily Western and very much advanced in terms of news-reporting capability. Resources therefore can be deployed more wholesomely to continually feed our fetish for high-stakes entertainment.
And if our government has conjoined truth and legitimacy so inseparably that it has now become its sacred duty to obfuscate truth to preserve legitimacy, what much can we do? After the Kouachi brothers were brought down, a French prosecutor put names to faces and details to processes, which has a galvanizing effect. Here, our government, well, simply is our government.
There is also something to be said for shock value. In 2009, fresh from being declared the happiest people in the world, it was laughable to imagine Nigeria and imagine terrorism. We love life and go to extreme lengths to preserve it – a factor implicated in Nigeria’s puzzling defeat of Ebola. But we’re a long way away from 2009 and Farouk AbdulMutallab’s hot pants. As a person consumes one more unit of shock value in a definite space, shock becomes less shocking.
(THE MANDATORY BALANCING ACT: AN UNFUNNY PARODY
Perhaps Bishop David Oyedepo fits the bill of the violent Christian extremist. After all, didn’t he avenge Jesus Christ on the ears of a girl who, perhaps in a fit of sa mi lada iyanu, declared herself a witch for Jesus – you’re what?
Perhaps Reverend King and his incendiary Christian exorcism? Or the countless pastors and prophets who beat the shit out of people to get at the problems in them? Well, at least they haven’t started beating random people yet.
The violence of a perversion of Christian values is insidious. It is inflicted on the psyche. It engenders a materialist arms race which has a greater effect on wider society because it is the El Sha Squeeze, the Invisible Squeezer. For a group who perceive the Bible as impenetrable except the reader is impregnated by the Holy Spirit, the literal and contrived readings of the Bible astound. Somehow I think the Holy Spirit is more intelligent than to be so literal.
I recognize that I may be mischaracterizing man’s proclivity for deleterious selfishness as psychological violence. Or may be not. Extremist Christianity certainly permits it to the extreme.)