By Farooq A. Kperogi
A monstrous mass murder of innocent souls has occurred in Jos again and we are, as always, being insulted with unimaginative, flyblown, and soporific platitudes by our political, media, and clerical elites. Almost every prominent Nigerian who has commented on this heartless, high-tech mass slaughter has mouthed one of three predictably ready-made bromides: oh, this is all about politics, not religion; it’s a failure of security and leadership; and it’s the consequence of poverty.
This is the safe, standard, prepackaged rhetorical frippery that our elites effortlessly regurgitate whenever violent communal convulsions erupt in any part of the country. But this is getting insufferably trite. If the hypocrisy or intellectual laziness that actuates these thoughtless, simplistic sound bites didn’t have far-reaching consequences for our continued existence as a nation and, in fact, our very survival as a people, one would simply yawn in silence and ignore them.
But it so often happens that after these hypocritical, clichéd phrases are uttered, the nation will be anesthetized into a false sense of security and normalcy, the culprits will never be ferreted out much less punished, and everybody will go to sleep—until the next upheaval recrudesces and jolts us all out of our pigheaded complacence.
|A scene from the bombings in Jos|
And then the predictably mind-numbing, mealy-mouthed banalities will be invoked again by the elites to explain away what happened, and so on and so forth. This rhetorical formula is safe because it absolves people in political and cultural authority from the triple burdens of thinking, confronting uncomfortable truths, and taking action. That’s why politicians are often ironically the first to blame “politicians” for the episodic fits violence that now habitually punctuate our national life. Well, “politician” is a floating signifier that encapsulates everybody in politics, and what refers to everybody, as they say, refers to nobody. Case closed.
To be sure, political manipulation, inept security and leadership, and poverty are all deeply implicated in the perpetual cycle of violence and recriminations that have become fixtures in our socio-political landscape. But a murderous perversion of religious doctrines and violent, unthinking ethnic particularism are even greater culprits. People who are brainwashed into believing that those who don’t share their faith deserve to be murdered, or people who are so wedded to their ethnicity that they lack the capacity to tolerate others, are just as dangerous and as culpable—if not more so— as the politicians who “manipulate” them.
Poverty, in and of itself, does not predispose people to violence. There are much poorer countries in Africa than Nigeria that are remarkably peaceful. Take, for an example, Benin Republic, our western neighbor. Or Senegal, an over-90-percent Muslim country that elected a Roman Catholic as its first president. And, of course, security lapses become an issue only in societies that have a predisposition to senseless, unprovoked violence, such as ours.
Now, a group which calls itself Jama’atu Ahlus Sunnah Lid Da’awati Wal Jihad has claimed responsibility for the deadly bombs in Jos. It also claims to have perpetrated its savage murder of innocents, some of whom may in fact be Muslims, on behalf of Muslims and Islam. But the preponderance of reactions to this unsettling revelation among our Muslim leaders and commentators, including security agencies, has been to impulsively dismiss the group’s claim even when they have no contrary evidence—much like Goodluck Jonathan and his minions unthinkingly exculpated the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) of responsibility for the October 1 terrorist attacks even when the group actually claimed responsibility for the attacks. Same attitude, different personalities. That is the Nigerian story.
One uncomfortable fact that our elites in northern Nigerian have been shy to confront meaningfully and fearlessly is that we do have a worryingly enervating crisis of noxious religious literalism. By religious literalism I mean lazy, literal, and de-contextualized reading of religious texts, which current Central Bank governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi almost singlehandedly fought for several years in newspaper articles when he was an ordinary banker. I’ve heard so much thoroughgoing hate and blatant call to murder by local, often ignored, religious clerics in the name of sermonizing. These are unmentionable sermons that will curdle the blood of any sane person and cause them to wonder if they share the same humanity as these ignorant, homicidal clerics. Boko Haram’s leader’s video justifying and claiming responsibility for the Jos bombings is an eerie echo of these hateful sermons.
But I know these sermons to be atrociously grotesque perversions of Islam’s core teachings because I am the son of a Muslim scholar who knows as much about Islam as any educated Muslim should. My 80-something-year-old dad taught me to read and write in Arabic before I even learned to read in the Roman alphabet. And my dad’s dad was a Christian. So were many of his brothers and sisters--in a predominantly Muslim community. Yet we lived in peace. My dad always took care to remind us, like all broadminded Muslim scholars do or should, that the references to “unbelievers” in the Qur’an are not to Christians or Jews; they are to seventh-century Arabian idolaters who launched unprovoked attacks against the emergent Islamic religion.
Christians and Jews are properly called “ahlul kitaab” (translated as “people of the book”) in the Qur’an. Although the relationship between early Muslims in the 7th century and Christians was not without problems, it was, for the most part, marked by tolerance as evidenced in several Qur’anic verses.
Examples: “Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians -- whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor shall they grieve" (2:62, 5:69, and many other similar verses); “[A]nd nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant” (5:82).
In the second verse, you can almost mentally picture the Nigerian Reverend Hassan Matthew Kukah and many (Catholic) priests.
But ignorant, hate-filled, and hidebound religious literalists have stripped adherents of other Abrahamic faiths of their status as “people of the book” and have dressed them in the borrowed robes of “unbelievers.” And they are straining hard to make gullible people believe that all the scriptural verses about retaliatory aggression against “unbelievers” in the Qur’an refer to Christians and Jews.
Unfortunately, these hitherto fringe perverts of the message of the Qur’an are beginning to enjoy a position of dominance in northern Nigeria’s religious discourse, and many sane, thinking people are afraid to contradict them, lest they be tagged as “hypocrites” or “sympathizers of unbelievers” and then murdered.
I know I speak for millions of silent Nigerian Muslims when I say that these blood-thirsty, homicidal beasts who murdered innocent men, women, and children in the name of Islam don’t represent us. But until enough Muslim leaders and commentators come out to openly denounce these people and the ideology of hate that animates them, they will continue to hijack and appropriate the mainstream, and we will all pay dearly for this--literally and symbolically.
But, first, the perpetrators must be made to face the consequences of their murders. Unfortunately, Goodluck Jonathan has robbed himself of the moral capital to bring these murderers to justice because he also publicly shielded his own MEND kinsmen from the consequences of their own savage terrorism against Nigeria.
The question is: can we afford to go on like this, especially now that we are entering a really dangerous phase of mutual annihilation through bombs? Certainly, our elites’ habitual, knee-jerk, platitudinous reactions to communal violence will hasten our collective ruination. But we need to always remember that the consequences of a violent break-up of Nigeria won’t be pretty for everybody.
Tolerance, understanding, and the acceptance of our diversity are the only values that can sustain us a nation.