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Charlie Hebdo and the fear of islamization in the Nigerian context

By Tabia Princewill

I WON’T dwell too much on the unfairness of Muslims permanently being made to feel they must apologise for the erring of a few mad men.

It is what Niger Deltans feel when they must either apologize for, defend or explain to the rest of Nigerians “Goodluck’s Good Work” (or lack thereof). Instead I’ll focus on the parallels between the West’s relationship to Islam, our own dealings with our Muslim community and how one must understand terrorism to fight it.

Some have described Charlie Hebdo’s work as “Muslim Baiting” i.e. going out of one’s way to anger the Muslim community and to portray Islam as backward and intolerant. “France is the land of Voltaire, but too often editorial foolishness has prevailed at Charlie Hebdo”, The Financial Times’ Europe Editor, Mr. Barber says.

Of course, he doesn’t condone the murderers, or suggest that freedom of expression should not extend to religion but advises “common sense” as “such publications purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims, but are actually just being stupid”. Although Mr. Barber has been criticized for his unabashed view, one must see the truth behind it.

Today’s world is by and large returning to old civilizational rivalries present since the crusades, where Europeans, fighting a “holy war” against the ancient caliphates of today’s Middle-East, saw Islam as violent and unprogressive, which is interesting because a large number of inventions we enjoy today were created by Muslim Arabs.

Degree granting institutions

The Muslim Golden Age gave the world algebra without which modern maths and engineering would not be possible. The first degree-granting institutions originated in the Arab/Muslim world and then spread to Europe, which had no culture of granting certificates to universally certify students had mastered a subject.

Modern science and art owe more than is recognized or acknowledged to the Muslim world. Fine, you might say, but what does this have to do with us Nigerians? I’m getting there.

Hatred that poisons:Hatred based on ethnicity, race or religion can “poison a nation’s spirit, instigate brutal life and death struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity and block a nation’s progress to freedom and democracy” (Liu Xiaobo, Chinese human rights activist). Sound familiar?

This exemplifies Nigeria where politically motivated fears rule. Over time we began to despise anything Muslim or Northern: whether one is a Buhari supporter or not, one must wonder why he had no issues with his “missing certificates” before this election or how he gained admission to such a prestigious institution as the US Army War College without proving he had attained any level of formal education.

If in Nigeria one can bribe a dean to look the other way at a student’s ineptitude, one cannot do so at the United States Army War College. It is tacitly allowed in today’s international society (so not just in Nigeria), to berate Muslims, to declare them uneducated and uncultured.

As terrorists maim and kill in the name of God, or so they believe, it is easily assumed by fearful observers that their faith is the issue.

One commonly hears: “Hausa people don’t want to go to school, instead, they will join Boko Haram”. Interestingly, no one seems to agree on terrorism’s root causes. What are islamists, jihadists or terrorists (the terminology itself is vast) fighting for?

Anarchists believe violence is the only way to bring about radical social change: the end justifies the means. In many developing countries, the concepts of statehood and ethnic nationalism remain unresolved so economic inequality is juxtaposed with certain political resentment: a group feels it has been kept out of power, another believes it must cling to it whereas the common man of both ethnicities sees no benefit or change to his daily life whether group A or B holds sway.

Arbitrary boundaries

The same prevails in the Arab world where colonization created arbitrary boundaries, division and conflict, which certain leadership, propped up by these same colonizers, preys on.

Divide and rule politics has brought our societies to the point where some citizens kill for God and others are lost in another kind of mysticism and slavery, chained not to the cross they worship but to the pastors of the day.

Enter the oil crash, corruption and the ensuing job-loss: some “strongmen” promote religion as a unifying identity to defend their interests in a complex, unstable world.

In Nigeria, groups are often armed before elections to secure politicians’ bids for power and it seems no one has yet bothered to question what happens to young armed and unemployed men when politicians no longer need them.

In both cases, terrorism seems to be the consequence of disillusioned, lost young men whose misguided and misdirected anger harms innocent citizens. Some “big men” in society see no harm in brainwashing and sacrificing lives while what they truly seek is control.

Political instability

Westerners cannot begin to understand the evil at play in much of Africa and the Middle-East, where some elites knowingly ideologically and physically arm their people to create division, opportunities for corruption and enough political instability for them to do as they please.

Interestingly, the West uses this fear of Islam we inherited from our colonial masters—after all, from a historical perspective Islam was introduced to Africa in the Middle Ages and therefore before Christianity—to create the impression that there is a global anti-Muslim movement which we must adhere to.

Rather than obsess over islamization (Nigerians are too boisterous to be sheep, or to be forcefully converted by anyone), let us work together to fix our economy (and therefore our society) by increasing trade between Northern and Southern Nigeria.

Let us export goods within Africa (the Economist describes inter-african trade as “pitifully weak”). The West has come together, at several defining moments in history and decided to subjugate the rest of the world. It is my fundamental belief that Nigeria can lead the charge that will give the earth’s bottom billion it’s dignity and prosperity back.

 


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