Re: Muslims, Stand Up to Be Counted! By Okey Ndibe
I read the above article written by Okey Ndibe and a mixed feeling was stirred in me which I thought I should communicate so as to fill a part of the article I thought was missing. To start with, Okey is appreciated for his outspokenness on issues of national concern some of which have earned him the wrath of those in power before, for whoever is familiar with the Nigerian terrain where many among men of the pen profession have become errand boys of moneybags; this is no little a credential. However the fact that the article in my opinion missed out on some facts relegated some and refused to acknowledge others necessitates that I write this piece, all in an attempt to provide a wider and broader view of that collective heritage that is under siege – our humanity. My intervention is hinged on about two key areas which the article implied; (a) that Muslims –by their ‘silence’ –consented to the senseless and irrational mayhems perpetrated by extremist groups which makes it imperative for them to ‘stand up to be counted’ as it were on the side of ‘humanity’ and (b) to make a plea for a broader view of ‘humanity’ that seemed to be getting narrower in our daily application of the term conditioned as it were by a selective reading/interpretation of events that arrive at preconceived notions/destinations, imposed upon us by none other than a climate of phobia and prejudice.
To start with Okey himself knows that the issues behind all these mayhems are far more complex, and the forces behind them are not less predatory than Al Shabbab and Boko Haram, for whoever is conversant with the opinions of experts on the increased state of anarchy in global affairs will realize the near unanimity of apportioning of the larger chunk of the blame to the super powers even while condemning in the strongest of terms insurgents who think they are doing ‘a clash’ with them. From Noam Chomsky’s numerous treatises on the American empire, to William Blum’s “Rogue State’, and Tariq Ali’s ‘Clash of Fundamentalisms’ which asserted rightly that ‘American imperialism is the mother of all fundamentalism’ blocking all exit routes out of a global threat of extinction for most people of the world, virtually all have noted the imperialist ambitions of the big powers behind most of these mayhems we see today.
Okey too dropped this hint when he said that Al Shabbab’s demand that Kenyan troops leave its soil may not be unreasonable. However like he rightly pointed out, that is not even the point! The point has to do with the means employed by these sinister ‘warriors’; and talking about these ‘warriors’ they include both those who wave the daggers of ‘holy wars’ and their counterparts who throw ‘rationalist bombs’ all on the innocents and the most vulnerable of society –children, women and the aged; both religionist and secularist fundamentalists and extremists are guilty of bloodshed, but because secularists terror and violence wear the tag of ‘officialdom’ they seldom receive attention even though they are the most lethal and destructive! And this is where I intend to start a communication of my feelings.
It is worrisome to me that our concept of humanity appears to be taking a selective rendition in many of our analyses; we seem to assume that some parts of humanity bleed less from the same injury than others, and this explains why we still could listen to “Today’s Sports and Entertainment News’ and jump up in excitement, even after hearing that drones have just been dropped on a sleeping ‘madrasah’ in Pakistan, or Palestinians have just been killed and evicted from their homes with armored tanks by Israeli troops, or protesting pro Mursi Egyptians have been shot dead and some of them hounded into prisons by the new usurpers of democracy in that country.
I am worried that as a people we have become so selective in our reactions to issues that threaten our collective humanity. Till date, I can count on the fingers of my palm the number of Christians, animists or so called humanists (groups or individuals) that have spoken and condemned in any strong terms the rape on democracy in Egypt and its attendant bloodletting, not to talk of issuing a call for a restitution of the institutions that were sacked. What a section of the Malian military did that brought about the invasion of that country was greeted in Egypt with a pat on the back for the military by none other than those who claimed to be building a world based on the sovereignty of the people. And talking about ‘means’ deployed at ‘objectives’ which like Ndibe I am also worried about, I know of no place where drones and bombs have drawn out less blood than AK 47 or Kalashnikovs. Or are sleeping children in Pakistani ‘madrasahs’ less human than those caught in the Westgate mall attack that we could not grieve with them? Whither our humanity?
To be more precise, it is not just the faith of Islam that is under a siege and thereby under a challenge to prove its humanity; rather it is all of us- our collective conscience- that is being challenged by these incidents to justify our innermost humanity by being holistic in our conception of the human being. For example, I did not hear of any statement from groups like CAN as in previous cases over the tertiary institution killings in Yobe state and the ones before it; or is it because it is ‘Mallams killing the children of Mallams’ this time around that made us to be so comfortable? And why do we have to wait for the Westgate mall incident in Kenya before writing about ‘Humanity and Against’ when on our own soil we heard of how alleged Boko Haram insurgents wore military camouflages and murdered more than three scores in number of inhabitants of the northeastern part of the country ? I have noted that since the introduction of the emergency rule when the deadly Boko Haram operations became restricted to the northeastern part of the country, there has been a corresponding reduction in our reactions to the gruesome killings that we hear thereafter, because it is not difficult to imagine whom the victims of those killings would have been!
To show again that many of the time when we see reactions, it is seldom borne out of genuine human consideration than the ‘gains’ we intend to get thereof. Today the Nigerian security forces is engaged in a war in the northeastern part of the country in which no media coverage is allowed, draping across the frontiers of its operation a thick blanket of censorship that makes difficult if not impossible, a verification of the real situations behind those scenes. Of course this is a new style in warfare since the Gulf War of the 90s. From the first Gulf War virtually all the wars fought by the ‘global gendarme’ and its allies have been brought to us live in our living rooms; Iraq (first and second), Afghan-Pakistan, Yugoslavia and recently Libya. It was in Mali early this year that the ‘strategy’ of locking out reportage from a warfront became adopted and little wonder the war went without a whimper from any parts of the world whatever happened to innocent Malians caught in the cross fire. At least, France which led the invasion to restore a ‘democracy’ was spared the ‘indignation’ of explaining what it would have referred to as ‘collateral damage’ when in attempts to capture few unspecified combatants, not few innocent civilians are sacrificed. There was no ‘humanist expression’ of feelings on this occasion and nobody stood up to be counted on the part of humanity perhaps because Mali is predominantly Muslim and the invading forces from France are not only adherent of a ‘peaceful’ religion, but are also ‘rationalist secularist’ to make up for any polarization along religion!, Perhaps too because what the eyes do not see the heart does not grieve about; everyone just assumed the French troops were ‘civil’ enough to avoid the casualty of the innocents, or that perhaps ‘collateral damages’ were inevitable in such situations, and this is a reflection of our acclaimed humanity! For the records Muslim nations have had the misfortunate of being ‘testing grounds’ for the latest weapons in the arsenal of global powers, and this often for the most trivial of reasons-
In the same vein when the emergency rule was being imposed on those states in the north, I did not hear of any of our humanists, strategists or so called experts who expressed concern of any sort about the modalities of operations of the Joint Task Force (the JTF); accountability and openness were thought less of with regard to the enterprise! Nobody asked what areas of strategic interests should constitute the focus for protection; everyone was just interested in the insurgents being routed out, irrespective of the sufferings the innocents are bound to undergo, and this, despite repeated experiences that military operations never went without leaving in their trail, blood, tears and sorrow that is sufficiently distributed to the innocents and the guilty alike! If these genuine concerns have been expressed, perhaps schools (of which the School of Agriculture that was attacked) and other modern institutions would have had the same priority alongside military installations for protection. Another thing of intrigue since the imposition of the emergency rule and the restriction of the combat to NE Nigeria, is how for the second time, victims of the bloodbaths have taken their assailants for their protectors since Boko Haram now don military uniforms that cannot be distinguished from those of the regular army by their hapless victims! And how do we account for this?
Again, it is not true that Muslims especially some of those Okey mentioned have not spoken out on the matter before now; some amongst them like the Emir of Kano was even saved by the whiskers from the murderous charge of this group. And contrary to what Okey’s and similar other comments assumed, that once these Muslim leaders called a ‘ joint press conference’ –rather than individually and separately denouncing this group, the group would lay down its arms- almost suggesting thereby that Boko Haram was running the errands of these leaders. A balanced and more objective view would have tried to examine how we got to this intractable stage. From the point where dialogue and amnesty were surreptitiously manipulated out of the equation frustrating and silencing genuine interventions like those of the Sultan to a whole embrace of full scale military option one can only pray that the theory that ‘war is an avenue for progress’ has not entered into the lexicon of our governance, otherwise, we would for a long time be tied to increasing security votes with corresponding increase in the number of lives wasted!, as the strategy of ‘Global War on terror’ showed. Moreover our account did not take into consideration a new term that has emerged since the restriction of the combat to NE Nigeria, and that is the ‘civilian’ JTF. These are ordinary Nigerians, most probably Muslims who are daily risking their lives to thwart the efforts of the insurgents by volunteering information to the security forces some of which have brought them and their villages (at times) deaths and destructions from Boko Haram retaliations!
Just as a reminder, it is pertinent to know that most of the conflicts that plagued our humanity today are caused by a global-power-center which thinks it is its prerogative to dictate who rules what country. Much of the human calamities we have seen so far have been caused by ‘Regime Change’ (one of the cornerstone foreign policies of the neo conservatives in Euro-America) to remove a sitting government; imposition of ‘new elites’ who could do its biddings; deliberate exclusion of a people from mainstream of national existence owing to their identity even if they command grass root support (as is now being tried out in Egypt, and before now in Algeria and Palestine) or the deliberate scuttling of democracy wherever such people eventually reached power as it happened recently in Egypt. But in our collective as human beings we failed by keeping silent on these injustices that fuel extremist reactions and sadistic killings- injustices which are not less extremist or sadistic when they are meted!
The truth of the matter is that the core of the Nigerian Muslim Ummah that you appeal to is too weak, if not too divided to influence almost anything that affects it –the least of this is demonstrated in its inability to get even a sympathy, talk less of justice from the Lagos state government when one of its own (a 14-year old girl) was flogged 43 times by a fanatical Christian teacher in a public school because she was wearing the hijab outside of school hours! I did not see any Christians standing up on the side of humanity to be counted on this occasion either! Thus, the seeming silence from the Muslim Ummah that you talked about is not owed to any inhuman feelings of any sort, rather it is a combination of the anger at the standardized practice of double standards and selective renditions applied on Muslims and the exasperation of a people who could hardly control what affects them.
Lastly let me remind you that not everyone is born with the same temperament to tolerate injustice, and examples of this are both historical and contemporaneous. In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) chose not to return the violence of the military upon it even though the latter had done everything possible to move it to armed struggle, and the West is comfortable with this. This is a totally different ‘current’ from Al Shabbab and Boko Haram that is not even appreciated. History will not forget that the MB single handedly prevented Egypt from degenerating into another Algeria, Syria or Libya. On the other hand as we were told in a certain scripture, a disciple of a prominent Jewish prophet, unable to tolerate the injustice being done to his master severe an ear of one of the adversaries of his master, although the ear was later mended by the master. I do not know for certain how long that disciple had been under the tutelage of his master, yet he jettisoned or forgot the ‘peaceful’ teachings of his master at that moment even in the master’s presence. If that disciple were to be living in our modern time and in possession of a more sophisticated tool of violence, one could almost be certain that he would have unleashed it and invoke his master’s name in defense. Therefore let us avoid being selective in our treatment of general human problems and let our ‘humanist emotions’ be all embracing. More generally let us be more circumspect in our treatment of issues especially those ones bearing religious colorations
Comrade Yekinni Shakiru wrote this from Lagos.
The writer can be reached on 08026134942 or mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org