"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 03/21/09

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mails from My Readers and My Responses

This first appeared in the print edition of Weekly Trust on January 21, 2006.

Farooq A. Kperogi
I have decided to devote this week’s column to the several emails I have received from my readers. Unfortunately, I have not been able to reproduce all of them here because of constraints of space. I have also edited some of them for clarity and space. Where I inserted my comments to make the emails clearer, I have indicated that with square brackets. My responses follow in italics. Enjoy:

Tell me about religion in America

I am a keen follower of your column NOTES FROM LOUISIANA. To say the least, your column is opening our eyes beyond what we read in popular texts available to us about the American society.

I will like you to please make an expose on the place of religion in the life of ordinary Americans. Specifically, as an African Muslim, I want to know more about The Nation of Islam, but my Christian reader-friends I know, will welcome notes on American Christianity, especially its Pentecostal version. How do they practice and view religion generally? I wish you happy stay in the U.S and more grease to your elbow.

Your reader,
Abdullahi Bashir Yola, Adamawa State,Nigeria (abdubappa@yahoo.com).

My Response
Thanks, Abdullahi. Your request, in fact, inspired my series on morality and religion in America. I will write about the Nation of Islam some time in the future.

Re: Relations between Africans and Black Americans
I read with interest your above titled article in the Weekly Trust of December 3-9 2005. In fact, the article was as interesting as it was baffling.

To me, the attitude of Black Americans towards Africans is sheer stupidity. They ought to consider Africans as their true brothers and sisters, because they are all feathers of the same bird, isn’t it? They should regard the [fact of] Africans [selling] their forefathers into slavery as a blessing.

Many Africans now would have wished to be in their shoes, rather than languishing in disease, illiteracy, hunger, uncertain future and injustices of their leaders. They must consider Africans their true relations, instead of nursing grudges and animosity against them. Don’t you think so?

Habibu Isa Kano, Nigeria (habis68@yahoo.com).

My Response
Habibu, it’s a complex issue. Blacks in America, in spite of the phenomenal improvement in their lot since the 1960s, are still at the receiving end of a lot of injustice. Most of them still live in poverty in the midst of the stupendous prosperity of America.

I can’t remember the number of times I have given ‘sadaka’ to Black beggars here. There are also white beggars, of course, who have entreated me for alms, but Blacks are the dregs of the American society. Some of them live in worse poverty than Africans. I will write on this later

Re: Morality and Religion in America
Yes, Sharia is to protect humanity. Do you agree with that? If not, please try and get the Weekly Trust of Dec. 31, 2005 to Jan.6, 2006 on page 32 [and read] Farooq Kperogi’s column titled “Morality and Religion in America (1)” to see [the] wonderful sanity, moderation, pacification, patriotism, [and] sensible, viable way of life [of Americans], though there is some selfishness to some laws.

Precisely, American government is practicing laws which are almost like divine Islamic teachings (Shari' a). A driver, student, civil servant, etc under the age of 21 cannot drink or take alcohol and also prostitution is prohibited, and there is no any single brothel in America? Kai!

Even cigarette is not allowed to an infant before the age of 21 while in our country, Nigeria, “GARIN SU OBASANJO,” law makers want to implement a rights bill that allows our leaders of tomorrow to go on their lives as they wish? What kind of nonsense is this?

If our lawmakers dare and disdain to implement such rubbish, prodigal and unwanted right, they should stay at Aso Rock for ever, even after their tenure. And subsequently, that law should be at Rock Villa, not northern Nigeria and all Shari’a states because it is against our religion and culture, that is, Islam and subsequently, the teaching of the noble Prophet (SAW).

Furthermore you ought to know that the bill was set and imposed on us by the American government. By the way, I realized that America is exporting immoralities to other countries while on the other hand they secretly preserve the moral fibre of their own society.

My uncle once told me that one of the most popular Hausa singers, Shata, narrated in one of his [songs] titled “SHATA BAKON AMERICA” with his melodious voice that, “BASU DA ADDINI IRIN NAMU SAI DAI TSARE DOKOKIN UBANGIJI.” (Americas have no religion of Islam but they abide by its rules and regulations.)

As I was reading the column of Farooq, I had to wake up and set a special prayer for [him] because of his tremendous work done on this issue. May Allah reward you and your family with the greatest paradise, that is, FIRDAUSI, close to the noble Prophet (SAW). You like it, don’t you? (You smile and laugh).

Abdullahi Yusuf" (abuurumaisau@yahoo.com).

Thanks for your prayers, Abdullahi.

A misrepresented America?
Since your debut in the Weekly Trust, I have always found your articles informative, rewarding and interesting. Your series under reference in which you portrayed your host country as a paragon of morality and rectitude is quite curious when juxtaposed with what is said on America by Americans or by those who knew America better (with due respect).

Alistair Cooke, the BBC reporter who covered America for 50 years, has this to say: “In America the race is on between its vitality and decadence, and it has lots of both”.

More specifically, the televangelist, Jimmy Swaggers, in his book titled Alcohol, as quoted by Ahmed Deedat, says there are 11 million drunkards in the US [and] 44 million SOCIAL DRINKERS. Like a good Muslim [Deedat] says he doesn’t see the difference between the two.

There is no room for a nip or a tot in the house of Islam. One-third of white children are illegitimate; two-thirds of black children are illegitimate. Blacks, only 11% of [the] population, constitute 51% of prison inmates. Perhaps it's because moral standards differ that you found American society morally sound.

You are judging not by your Islamic standards but by the white man’s yardstick, e.g., fornication is not a crime; as long as it's consensual one can have sex with whomsoever he likes, wherever he likes, as frequently as he likes, etc provided one has attained the age of consent.

A morally sound society any where is a thing of joy to me, but not a misrepresented one. I’m willing to learn more. Hope I have not bored you. Thank you. Apologies for my disregard for conventions of writing e.g. mechanics since you said you are a linguistic activist of sorts. Allah ya kiyaye ka.

Abdulrahman Muhammad ,ABU Zaria (abbakaka@yahoo.com).

My Response
Thanks for your mail, and for the observations you have raised about my appraisal of the moral landscape in the United States. But, you see, after all is said and done, all autobiographical narratives, by which I mean travelogues, memoirs, etc, are essentially subjective and selective impressions and recollections of people’s experiences. Mine is not different.

Having said that, I want to point out that I have not set out to “deodorize” the American society. I have no reason to do so. I only wanted to show that in spite of appearances to the contrary, America is not nearly the moral cesspool it has been cracked up to be by popular accounts.

But I pointed out that the society is not morally pristine either. I didn’t say that people don’t drink alcohol here; I only said that they have to be 21 years old before they can legally drink. People have to present government-issued ID cards every single time they want to buy beer anywhere!

To your statistics. The United States has a population of almost 300 million. If only about 50 million drink alcohol, what does that tell you? You may be shocked to hear the statistics of other nations, including ours, which make public pretences to righteousness.

But you’re right that I’m not judging the society from strictly Islamic moral standards.

Thanks for your column
Assalamu alaikum,
How is the USA? Hope all is fine. I just write to thank you for your weekly column. In fact, it always keeps my weekend alive. Whenever I'm reading your articles, I always feel like hearing the voice of the late Alaister Cook of the BBC World in his famous programme "Letter from America".

Muhammad Sani Liman, Yola- Nigeria (limanms@myway.com)

Morality and Religion in America (1)

This was first published in the print edition of Weekly Trust on December 30, 2005.

By Farooq A. Kperogi
One of the biggest surprises that greet any first-time settler in the United States is the radical disjuncture between the image of America, filtered through pop culture, as a self-indulgent, decadent, anything-goes moral climate and the strict, austere religious puritanism of the laws that regulate personal conduct in this society.

Beneath America’s exterior as a country of chartered libertines, as a country where immoderate indulgence of bodily appetites is tolerated and encouraged, is a deeply morally conservative and religious society, the kind that has no parallel in the advanced societies of the West, and one that will certainly inspire the envy of many a Sharia advocate.

In spite of appearances to the contrary, America is a highly regulated society. A lot of my European and Canadian friends here snicker at what they regard as the excessive intrusiveness of the state in the personal conduct of people who live here.

In the United States, nobody who is below 21, for instance, can consume alcohol by law. And this is not just some elegant piece of legislation; it is permanently monitored by law enforcement agents and infractions are punished severely.

All liquor bars are required by law to demand to see government-issued photo ID cards (like driver’s licenses and state ID cards; student and work ID cards are not accepted) before they can sell alcoholic beverages to anybody. People caught drunk who are below 21 have committed the offense of underage drinking and can be sent to prison for that. Both the consumer and seller of the liquor are guilty under the law. And drinking and driving, even for those who are of age, attract severe penalties.

Again, even in huge cities like New York, alcohol is sold only in designated places such as the downtown—and with police presence. It cannot be sold or consumed, for example, on university campuses or residential areas. This is equally true of gambling.

Similarly, alcohol, tobacco and gambling are heavily taxed by governments here, especially in the more conservative south. The taxes are called “sin tax.” Strange, eh?

However while the law forbids and penalizes underage smoking, it is less strictly enforced by law enforcement agents. The point of purchase of cigarettes is often the unit of enforcement. Buyers of cigarettes must produce government-issued picture IDs to show that they’re above 21. But adults usually buy for teenagers who want to smoke. Nonetheless, like almost all countries in the West, there is a ban on cigarette smoking in public buildings, restaurants, etc.

The most curious for me are the laws banning prostitution and “indecent exposure”. For a country that has the unflattering reputation outside its shores as the haven of licentiousness and indecency, the prudishness of America’s sexual laws is intriguing.

Unlike in Europe, there are no brothels in America, and prostitution is not only forbidden; it is sternly punished.

The laws about indecent exposure in public places, that is, nudity or scanty, sexually suggestive dressing, keep one wondering why America is not called a theocratic nation. The way our girls dress on Nigerian university campuses these days will not pass the requirement of decency here.

It is supremely ironic that even though Nigerians mimic the dress codes of American pop stars and imagine that these people symbolize the demotic dressing pattern here, in most American university campuses I have visited, from North to South, very few people run foul of the laws of “indecent exposure.”

Similarly, making sexual advances to an unwilling person is called “solicitation” and can earn offenders a prison sentence. The laws about rape and sexual harassment are also so fluid and elastic that they have ensnared many a non-American resident here.

There was the case of a Senegalese Ph.D. student at the University of Florida who is presently serving a 21-year jail term for having a carnal relationship with an American girl who said she yielded to the guy’s advances only because she was drunk. The man was found guilty of rape.

A Nigerian at the University of Illinois was luckier. His girlfriend of two years reported that he raped her, but the boy said the encounter was consensual. In any case, they had been dating for two years.

But the boy’s admission that he indeed had sex with the girl was prima facie evidence of his culpability, and he was deported back to Nigeria, never to return forever, even though he was a green card holder, which ordinarily entitles him to work and live here for as long as he wants.

Contrast this to Europe, and America’s moral “tepidity” comes out in an even bolder relief. In most countries in Europe, prostitution is not only allowed by law; it is also encouraged. And, of course, people can walk naked on the streets without as much as an eyebrow raised by law enforcement agents.

In Germany, for example, prostitution is a legitimate job that enjoys the same legal protection from government as civil service work, law practice, manufacturing, etc. Positions for prostitutes are advertised in the mass media, and prostitutes, like all wage earners, pay taxes to government.

Sometime in the beginning of 2005 or thereabouts, Americans were outraged by the news that the German government berated women for complaining about unemployment when there are many “vacancies” in brothels across Germany! My friend from Portugal who calls America a “huge social prison” was bemused (not amused, mind you!) by the prudish indignation Americans expressed about the discovery that prostitution is not only legal in Europe but enjoys governmental endorsement in some countries like Germany and the Netherlands.

Does the foregoing imply that America is some perfect, pristine and inerrant moral Eldorado? Absolutely no. People daily flout the laws of the land here, like everywhere else on Earth. There is prostitution, drug dealing and other social vices in the underground in much the same way as you find in any “normal” society. In fact, in such cities as Las Vegas in the state of Nevada and New Orleans in the state of Louisiana, some of the strict moral laws of the country are not enforced for historical (maybe commercial) reasons. These cities have become tourist attractions for Americans because of their moral exceptionalism. When in these cities, it is usual to hear Americans say, “What happens here stays here.”

However, no one whose knowledge of America is gleaned through Hollywood and American pop music can cease to be taken aback by the continence and abnegation in the laws of this country.

America’s cultural conservatism has deep roots in the religious beliefs and practices of its founding fathers. Most of modern America’s founding fathers were Puritans—former English Protestants who wished to “purify” the Church of England.

To this day, America is a strangely religious society amidst post-religious Western societies. A recent poll showed that about 90 percent of Americans believe in God. About 85 percent of them, according to census figures, also identify themselves as church-going Christians. The other 15 percent identified themselves either as Jews, Muslims, other religions, agnostics or atheists.

By contrast, about 65 percent of people in Europe identify themselves as non-religious. A recent poll in Britain, in fact, showed that more people there believe in ghosts than they believe in God.

My Iranian friend who is studying petroleum engineering here once told me that after living here for over two years, he feels “duped” by the American culture industry. He said America exports depravity and decadence to other countries while it secretly preserves the moral fiber of its own society. But Americas would say they don’t force “nobody” to buy their “exports.”