By Obadiah Mailafia
I DID not invent the phrase “Age of Extremes”. It is actually the title of a book by the leftist British historian Eric Hobsbawm. When some of us were children, we were least concerned about religion or tribe. During Christmas, Christians and Muslims celebrated together. The same happened during Sallah. We ate together and had merriment together. We even holidayed in each other’s homes. Something went wrong along the way. Things fell apart and the centre could no longer hold. We began to distance ourselves from one another, degree by degree. Today, we face each other largely as aliens. We do not visit one another anymore. The true sign of friendship is when you visit each other’s homes and break bread together. We have become ships that pass each other in the deep primeval silences of the Atlantic Ocean.
Of course, when children grow up in a world where they have no memory of having received people of other ethnic or religious communities in their own home, they will develop no fellow-feeling across ethnic and religious boundaries. This is the kind of atmosphere that gives birth to extremisms such as Boko Haram, militia herdsmen and all forms of ethno-sectarian jingoisms.
Today, the whole world is in turmoil. War has continued to rage in Syria, leading to so many deaths and such immense human suffering. Low-intensity warfare continues to define relations between Israelis and Palestinians. The war in Yemen has caused havoc on a gargantuan scale. After a bloody conflict, Libya faces the peace of the graveyard. Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been persecuted and hounded out of their ancestral homeland in Myanmar. There have been flare-ups in North Korea, with potential to cast a pall of nuclear anxiety throughout the world. South Sudan is licking its own wounds from a crisis provoked by the selfishness of its leaders.
Here at home in Nigeria, we have been at war with each other for a decade. We thought that the head of Leviathan – the serpent of Boko Haram – had been cut off. But the serpent has risen Phoenix-like from its death throes. It has also mutated into the murderous armed militias that have gone on a rampage throughout the Middle Belt and beyond. Their killing sprees know no boundaries: old and young, male and female – including pregnant mothers whose wombs have been ripped open and their unborn placed under the sword. Priests have been disembowelled while saying mass at dawn. The murderers adorned themselves with their cassocks while dancing triumphantly on the Altar of the King of Israel.
Only last week, in Godogodo in my own Southern Kaduna, armed militias descended on a wedding, gunning down 15 people and wounding 30 others. It hardly made the news. Two years earlier, in that same settlement, 18 people were hacked to pieces, including my own cousin and her two little children. Then as now, nobody has been arrested.
Over 2,000 years ago, a child was born in a manger in the sleepy town of Bethlehem in faraway Palestine. Wise men found a blazing constellation of stars around his birth. Angels alerted shepherds as they tended their flocks by night about the birth of the child King. Herod, the Governor of Roman-occupied Palestine took more than a passing interest on the matter. The parents had to flee with the child to Egypt. By age 12, the boy-wonder was debating heavy theological questions with the rabbinical clerisy of the day. By age 30 he gathered together a team of 12 disciples. He wrought wondrous miracles. He raised the dead; healed the sick; the blind regained their sight while the deaf and dumb began to hear and speak. He fed thousands from just three loaves of bread and five fishes. He turned water into wine during a wedding in Cana.
The throng flocked to him. He taught them through stories and parables. His ministry was of all but three years. He never once committed an act of violence, except for picking a whip and driving away the money changers who had turned His Father’s temple into a money market. One of his own later betrayed Him. One of his vocal disciples, Peter, brought out a sword and chopped off the ear of a Roman soldier. The Master rebuked him; took the fallen ear and put it back on the man. He was convicted on false charges under Pontius Pilate. He was hung on a tree between two thieves — flogged and spat upon. A crown of thorns was placed on His head. A Roman soldier pierced His side with a sword.
Hanging naked on a cross was the most painful and most disgraceful way to die. His mother and siblings stood at a distance, wailing. His disciples deserted Him. He died and was buried. On the third day He rose again. It was the women that first saw the Risen Lord at dawn. And thousands later saw Him and bore witness. Even the pagan Roman historian, Josephus, spoke about the little palaver of the Risen Christ.
There are some who said that He never died but that another man was surreptitiously substituted for Him. It is a damnable lie from the pits of hell. Thousands saw the Risen Lord. Thomas, who did not believe, touched Him and felt the fresh scars of His wounds. Thousands saw Him when He ascended into heaven with the clouds. If the entire thing was a mere hoax, then we must conclude that this man was the greatest 419 in the entire history of humanity.
His disciples could never have staked their entire lives on a lie. St. Paul, who met Him on the road to Damascus, was nobody’s full. He was a rabbinical doctor who had studied under the great teacher Gamaliel. Paul was decapitated in a Roman jail. Andrew was crucified in Asia Minor. Thomas was impaled with swords in India. Philip met a gruesome death in Asia Minor. Matthew was stabbed to death in Ethiopia. James the son of Alpheus was stoned and then clubbed to death in Syria. Andrew and Matthias were burned to death also in Syria. Bartholomew perished in Ethiopia. Only John the Beloved is said to have lived on to a grand old age and dying a natural death.
The holy apostles lived and died for the Gospel of Peace. They never lifted a sword either in aggression or self-defence.
According to Open Doors, a centre that researches the phenomenon of religious intolerance, some 215 million Christians face persecution world-wide. According to the same source, every month 215 Christians are killed for their faith; 180 Christian women are raped, sexually harassed or forced into marriage; 66 churches are attacked; and 160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned. In the north east of our country Nigeria more than 13,000 churches have been destroyed while more than 400 clergymen have been killed. Leah Sharibu continues to languish in captivity as a prisoner of conscience because of her faith.
The Prince of Peace never promised any of His followers a life of ease. He warned that the price of following Him ultimately leads to the Cross – to suffering, martyrdom and death. We are commanded to love those who hate, revile and persecute us. We are to bring love where there is hatred; peace where there is war. A New Nigeria will be born. It will be a land of hope and glory. Happy Christmas to you all!