"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: January 2010

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hey, Obama, You Wanna Kill Nigerians Quietly?

By Farooq A. Kperogi

It seems fairly obvious that Nigeria is the target of the Obama administration’s mapping of what one might call the new axis of terrorism. People from this unwilling axis must perpetually pass through the crucible of “enhanced” airport screening to prove that they’re not terrorists. The addition of 13 other countries seems like a convenient afterthought.

After all, not even the September 11 attacks, the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil, caused nationals of any country to be OFFICIALLY racially profiled.

In the aftermath of the attacks, the U.S. government actually actively moved to assure Arab Muslims that they won’t suffer the vicarious consequences of the misdeeds of their kindred. Bush has been shown in many pictures holding the hands of the Saudi monarch, and Obama has even recently literally bowed before him. He later gave a mushy, conciliatory speech to the Arab Muslim world. Yet, 15 of the 19 people who perpetrated the September 11 atrocities were Saudis.
Bush mollycoddles the Saudi monarch...in spite of Sept. 11
Obama goes even further and literally bows to him...again, in spite of Sept 11

And, although the mastermind of the September 11 attacks was an Egyptian, Obama chose Egypt as the place to deliver his placatory speech to the Arab world. In fact, the country is excluded from the current list of countries in Obama’s axis of terrorism.

Now, because a crazed Nigerian zealot has attempted to commit a terrorist act, 150 million Nigerians have been condemned to stigmatization at international airports—officially. If the murderous little twit had succeeded, it is conceivable that all Nigerians in the United States would have been deported, and no Nigerian would have been allowed entry into the United States as a matter of state policy.

If September 11, as horrendous as it is, didn’t cause Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Yemen to be officially branded as nations of terrorists by a traditionally intolerant conservative Republican government, why did an ATTEMPTED attack by a Nigerian cause a liberal Democratic government to blacklist an entire country—and then add 13 other countries as an afterthought? It’s hard to resist perceiving racial undercurrents in this. (Forget about Obama being half African; he has a history of icy contempt for black people. Read my earlier article titled "The Anti-African Racist Insults Obama Got Away With in Ghana").

This is particularly so because probably up to 90 percent of Nigerians who travel to or live in the United States are Christians from the southern part of the country.

That said, I must concede that when a people’s sense of security has been violated serially, it is human for them to become paranoid and to choose to err on the side of caution. I can relate to that on a personal level. Since I was robbed once and my house burglarized twice, I have never been the same again. I have become paranoid about people’s motives, and my trust in people has waned considerably.

I personally have no problems with the transitory inconvenience of being subjected to additional security checks at the airports. However, there are many dangers with singling out only nationals of specific countries for this. I will discuss only two.

The first is psycho-social. As psychologists have known for ages, the potential for self-fulfilling stereotyping is often great. The influential American eugenicist Arthur Jensen characterizes this as the "stereotype threat" by which he means that people who feel stereotyped, or who have been stereotyped all their lives, tend to act according to that stereotype, or inadvertently authorize it, often in spite of themselves.

This doesn’t mean that Nigerians will become terrorists because they have been unjustly stereotyped as such; it only means that the officially sanctioned stereotypical generalization of Nigerians as potential terrorists will distort the comportment and feelings of self-worth of many of them in ways that unfairly reinforce the stereotype.

This has already started. An American friend of mine told me last week she boarded a plane with a Nigerian. The man, she said, looked inexplicably stressed and frazzled before and during the flight, perhaps because too many quizzical gazes were fixed on him by other passengers and by TSA officials even after the “enhanced screening” he underwent. Suddenly, she told me, the man started shaking and sweating profusely. She said she and other passengers were on their guard. “And I tell you, if he had gone to the toilet, guys would have tackled him,” she said.

The man, she later found out, was a Nigerian Christian who has lived in the United States for years. He just wasn’t used to this sort of critical, condemning stares from a bunch of hostile faces. Call it enhanced airport screening anxiety disorder (EASAD), if you like.

Another American friend told me he met a guy at a grocery store whose accent reminded him of me. So he casually asked him where he was from. He said the man first uttered “Nai...” and then immediately changed and said “Ghana.”

But the most important concern is health. According to the New York Times, there are several health risks in continual exposure to radiation from airport X-ray body scanners.

“The amount is so small that the risk to an individual is negligible, according to radiation experts,” the paper reported. “But collectively, the radiation doses from the scanners incrementally increase the risk of fatal cancers among the thousands or millions of travelers who will be exposed, some radiation experts believe.”

Since Nigerians and citizens of 13 other countries must be exposed to these toxic, carcinogenic machines each time they travel, it is safe to say that millions of people are being killed by installment—and quietly. What is worse, perhaps, is the revelation that the scan machines can’t even detect a bomb hidden in underpants.

It makes one wonder if the body scanners aren’t instruments for the retaliatory murders of Nigerian international travelers— with citizens of 13 other countries as “collateral damage.”

Sadly, the health effects of these new enhanced screening methods on citizens of 14 stigmatized countries are not being discussed widely enough. But they should. Millions of innocent people don’t deserve to die because of the attempted crime of one person.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

American English or British English?

By Farooq A. Kperogi

A language columnist for a prominent Nigerian newspaper whom I deeply respect—and who is a fan of this column—recently called my attention to what he thought was my sadly inexorable drift toward American English. “I… know that you love British English,” he wrote in an email to me some days back. “[But] your writings… are now a blend of British and American English. You’ve consciously or unconsciously fallen in love with American spelling.”

He is right. My linguistic conventions—spellings, expressions, etc— are now decidedly American. Since coming to America, it has been impossible for me to nurture the British and neo-British grammatical traditions we were brought up to cherish in Nigeria. American English, if you must know, is one incorrigibly petulant and jealous little lingual beast; it has zero tolerance for dual or multiple dialectal loyalties.

This fact became obvious to me the first semester I started graduate school in Louisiana. I got my first taste of the zealous jealousy of American English in a public affairs reporting class I took with a journalism professor who is notorious among students for his almost pathologically compulsive allergy for even the minutest grammatical infractions. Not being too different from the man myself, we took a liking to each other very quickly.

But not for too long. In our first test in his class, I spelled defense as “defence,” and this man not only took off lots of points from my grade; he also made a big deal of “getting” this uppity Nigerian grammar buff. What did I do to get back my grades—and my reputation?

Well, I respectfully protested and told him that the “original” spelling of that word was “defence” before it was purposively “reformed” [I wish I said “bastardized”!] to “defense” by Noah Webster, the famous American lexicographer who systematized American English and consciously moved it away from its, er, English origins. He was persuaded. That is, after researching and confirming my claims. I couldn’t believe someone that deeply enthusiastic about grammar didn’t know enough to know this.

I won several such Pyrrhic linguistic victories on behalf of British English. I thought I would never ever bring myself to accept, much less internalize, American spellings, which grated on my nerves intensely. And I had deep-seated contempt for Nigerians I met here who had been converted to the conventions of American English spellings.

In time, however, I realized that the perpetual personal battles I fought to preserve the singularities of British English in my writings were not worth the trouble. First, my computers’ Microsoft Word programs would not allow me to change my settings to “UK English.” And I couldn’t stand the pesky red underlines that disfigured my documents.

Second, I once sent out a journal article and one of the reviewers viciously excoriated my paper for its British linguistic conventions, which his limited knowledge led him to think were “wrong.”

In one of his suggestions for the improvement of my article, he wrote: “Throughout – put closing quote marks outside periods [that is, full stops] and commas, not inside them. E.g., it should be ‘… answer to the competitors.’ Not ‘answer to the competitors’.” What the reviewer didn’t realize is that he was merely betraying his ignorance—or perhaps his intolerance—of British English stylistic norms.

So, in response, I wrote: “I’ve put the periods and commas inside the quote marks throughout. But I was under the impression that because the journal insists on authors using single quote marks (which is the British stylistic preference) it also requires authors to go all the way and put periods and commas outside quote marks (also the British stylistic preference).”

Third, one day, while teaching a news writing/reporting class, I got another taste of the churlish jealousy of American English. One of my students said in class that in spite of my fussiness and fastidiousness about grammatical correctness and completeness, she spotted three “errors” in the email I sent out to the class the previous day. And what were these errors? I spelled “learned” as “learnt,” spelled “spelled” as “spelt,” and spelled “practiced as “practised”!

I had a hard time convincing the students that “learnt” and “spelt” are perfectly acceptable British spellings and that “practise” is the only correct form in British English when the word is used as a verb.

So, I dramatized the difference between American and British spellings by calling their attention to this rather longish mnemonic: “An American will practice driving to gain a driving license. An American lawyer obtains a license to practice. An Englishman will practise driving to gain a driving licence. An English lawyer obtains a licence for legal practice.

The only British spelling tradition most Americans I have met are familiar with is the addition of “u” to some words (such as “colour,” “glamour,” etc). Every other deviation from American spelling is mistaken as a spelling error.

And so I said to myself: why should I keep fighting pointless personal battles on behalf of a language that is not even native to me? Why should I turn myself into a pitiful defender of the vestigial remnants of British linguistic imperialism? English isn’t the “world language” today because the Brits speak it; it’s the world language precisely because the Americans speak it.

So, over time, my resistance to idiosyncratic American spellings wore thin and finally vanished irretrievably into thin air. Now, British spellings have exactly the same effect on me that American spellings had on me when I first came here: they grate on my nerves!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Weird Words We're Wedded to in Nigerian English

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Nigerian English, in general, is characterized by a rather overinflated affection for excessively recondite vocabularies. Perhaps, this fact is true of all, or at least most, English-As-a-Second-Language (ESL) varieties. Stiffness and extravagant formality even in conversational contexts are some of the idiosyncratic linguistic trappings of many ESL speakers.

However, Nigerian speakers of the English language deserve a prize—or, if you’re so inclined, an official rebuke from the custodians of the language—for their uncannily extensive repertoire of weird and obsolescent words that no one else uses in standard varieties of the language.

I am not talking about big, highfalutin, and intellectually fashionable words (what Americans quaintly call “vocabulary words,” or what Nigerians curiously call “grammar”) that snooty intellectuals use to show off their esoteric erudition and to linguistically map a social distance between them and lesser educated people. I am talking about some really weird words that are so out of step with contemporary English usage that they can’t be found in everyday dictionaries.

1. “imprest.” Almost every Nigerian with at least a high school diploma knows this word to mean periodic petty cash, in form of a loan, for government officials to spend on incidentals, which is continually replenished in exactly the amount expended from it. This Nigerian usage shows fidelity to the etymology of the word. Its original Latin form, “impresto,” means a loan.

But there is no American I have met who knows what this word means. Not even a conservative semantic purist friend of mine who has edited many respectable U.S. newspapers and another fastidious linguistic activist friend who is CNN’s chief copy editor had the vaguest clue what the word means. Heck, even Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize it as an English word, and a majority of notable print dictionaries don’t have an entry for it.

It’s obvious that the word came to our linguistic repertory through our colonial encounter with Britain, where the word had been popular since at least 1321, according to linguistic historians. But even in Britain the word has fallen into disuse in conversational English. In the course of my research, I discovered that its use in the UK is now confined to professional accounting circles. So, apart from Nigerians, only professional British accountants are familiar with the word.

2. “Estacode.” Most Nigerians know this word to mean daily overseas travel allowance, somewhat equivalent to what Americans call “per diem allowance.” (Estacode is a rich source for rifling the national treasury by Nigeria’s rapacious and thieving government officials).

The word is entirely meaningless for Americans and for the younger generation of British speakers. Like “imprest,” it’s also not found in many modern print dictionaries, and is recognized as a foreign word by every edition of Microsoft Word.

The etymology of the word shows that it first emerged in 1944 when the British government established something called the “Civil Service Management Code.” This Code systematizes all matters relating to the conduct, discipline, conflicts of interest, and political activities of the British Civil Service. So “estacode” probably began as a portmanteau of “Establishment” and “Code.” (A portmanteau is a new word formed by joining two others and combining their meanings, such as “motel,” which is formed from motor and hotel, or “brunch,” which is formed from breakfast and lunch).

But it appears that the use of “estacode” to mean daily overseas traveling allowance for politicians, athletes, etc is peculiarly Nigerian. If that sense of the word was originally British, it no longer is. The latest example I found of the use of “estacode” in British English is in a Feb. 4 1993 news story by David McKie in the UK Guardian titled “The fall of the houses of Poulson.” The story goes thus: “What there wasn’t was any attention to the Estacode which governs the lives of senior civil servants and says you must never accept gifts from those with whom you have official connections.”

This is the sense in which the word is also used in Pakistan and India, which, like Nigeria, are former British colonies. Additionally, in all these countries, the first “e” in “estacode” is always capitalized, unlike in Nigeria where it is not.

3. “Parastatal.” This is another weird word that we use copiously in Nigeria. It means a wholly or partly owned government company or corporation. This is decidedly a British English word that seems to have fallen into disuse in contemporary Britain but that is still actively used in almost all former British colonies—Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, etc.

It is almost non-existent in American English perhaps because the private sector has historically been the engine room of America’s economy. But with the recent government bail-out of private companies and the formation of government-mandated committees to oversee these hitherto wholly privately owned companies—such as the AIG insurance firm and the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loan companies—Americans may need this word.

4. “Demurrage.” This weird word has been popularized in everyday Nigerian English through Nigerian 419 email scams. It means a charge required as compensation for the delay of a ship or freight car or other cargo beyond its scheduled time of departure. The problem with this word isn’t that it’s not in modern dictionaries. It is. It’s just that it’s too technical and too formal for conversational English. Most highly educated Americans and Britons who have no business with shipping don’t know what the heck the word means. But an average educated Nigerian does.

5.Groundnut.” This word, though found in dictionaries, is Greek to most modern native English speakers. It’s obviously an archaic word; American and British speakers now call it “peanut.”

6. Vulcanizer. This is an obsolete British English word that is still enjoys currecny in Nigerian English. It means a person who repairs tyres [spelled “tires” in American English]. Almost no British person under the age of 30 has any clue what this word means. Americans never had its lexical equivalent because, as one of my American friends observed, “we don't do a lot of repairing [of tires]; we just replace [them]). But there is no reason to stop using this word because it actually serves a semantic need in Nigeria. Britons have abandoned the word not because they have an alternative for it but because they no longer have individuals who earn a living by repairing punctured tyres. Machines do that now, so “vulcaniser” now refers to a machine that treats rubbers with sulphur.

7.  “Trafficator.” This word lost currency in British English since the 1960s. The British now call it an “indicator.” Americans call it either a “turn signal” or a “turn indicator.”

Friday, January 15, 2010

Re: On the parity of esteem between polytechnics and universities

By Dr. M.S. Abubakar

I would like to congratulate Farooq Kperogi for his brilliant two-part essay on the Degree/HND dichotomy which appeared in the 19th and 26th December issues of the Weekly Trust.

By a fortunate coincidence, the illuminating expose is coming at a time the federal government is set to implement the Roadmap for the Education Sector which contains many excellent provisions to address the daunting challenges of the polytechnics and technical/vocational education generally.

The account of Mr. Kperogi’s American experience is most refreshing, especially for those of us associated with polytechnic education, even if it only confirms what many polytechnic lecturers have known all along, or were actually privileged to partake in the course of their careers.

The purpose of this write-up is mainly to thank the author for his incisive views which I share almost completely, and which I believe will be most enlightening to the general public, especially in view of the general low esteem accorded to technological education and the poor awareness of the international dimensions of technical/vocational institutions.

There are, however, a few areas where I entertain some reservations. The first is whether the writer’s suggestion for wholesale conversion of polytechnics to universities, as UK and a few other Commonwealth countries did, is indeed necessary or even desirable.

The second pertains to the feasibility of ‘consolidating’ the polytechnics with the contiguous universities. Now, the author did not use the word ‘consolidating’, which had come to assume some notoriety since the former Minister Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili, used the term for merging the Federal Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, with neighbouring universities, in her proposed ‘reform’.

But let me at the onset fully express my support for the columnist’s recommendation for the retention of the National Diploma (ND), to serve as foundational qualification into the bachelor’s degree, which is very much consistent with the views expressed at various times by the NBTE and the Council of Heads of Polytechnics and Technological Colleges in Nigeria (COHEADS).

The broad definition of polytechnic is an institution that teaches both academic and vocational subjects, with focus on applied education for work, and root concentrated on engineering and applied science. In the Nigerian context, polytechnics are post secondary institutions designed to produce career-ready graduates who combine practical competence with theoretical understanding.

They work closely with industry to enhance professional effectiveness and productivity. Nigerian polytechnics achieve this within the limits of enabling material resources and human capital.

Advocates of conversion or merger to universities tend to underestimate the difficulty of retaining the essence and character of polytechnics under the tutelage of universities. There will always be focal drift towards popular bookish studies in line with our penchant for easy paper qualification. Consequently, when polytechnics, or similar institutions like the South African technikons, are converted or merged with universities there is a backlash in the form of skill gaps. UK had of recent been experiencing skills gap, to the tune of 84% in some professional areas, necessitating a variety of intervention measures to increase workforce competence through intensification of National Vocational Qualifications and Apprenticeship training.

In Nigeria, there is quite often a tendency to speak of conversion or merger of polytechnics to universities without adequate attention to the differences between our educational system and that of other Commonwealth countries that have done so. In the first place, the UK polytechnics began to run degree programmes up to doctoral level, albeit under the supervision of CNAA, as far back as 1965. Thus by 1992 when they were converted to universities, as Mr. Kperogi observed, they had been running degree programmes for 27 years.

In South Africa, the technikons began offering degree programmes up to the doctoral level, following the 1993 Technikon Act. Their merger with universities came in January, 2005. But it should be noted that South African Higher Education Merger initiative was informed by the need to address gross social and educational imbalances, some dating back to the Apartheid era.

The South African Higher Education Mergers had been on for five years now and hardly anyone judges them as a great success. In fact, according to a comprehensive study by South African Technology Network, authored by Roy Du Pre, the merger initiative scored a very low grade. A major finding of the study is “that the transition of technikons to Universities of Technology presents many challenges… The development trajectory of the University of Technology sector was severely hampered by the advent of mergers in higher education.”

This reminds me of a visit to South Africa, late in 2004, when the mergers were about to come into effect. Speaking with one of the professors at Port Elizabeth Technikon, which was about to be merged with University of Port Elizabeth, to become Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, our Study Tour team asked him what he was expecting from the mergers, and his Socratic answer was, “ had there been any successful (school) mergers in history?” I am afraid none of us could venture any satisfactory response!

The Nigerian Polytechnic sector had over the last three decades developed a quality assurance system that is unequalled in the country. While the sector had languished for so long from the ‘parity of esteem’ that Mr. Kperogi described, it is necessary to note that considerable progress has been made lately towards resolving the inequities. The recent approval of CONTISS 15 for Chief Lecturers and Principal Officers of the Federal Polytechnics and Federal Colleges of Education is a landmark achievement of the Yar’adua administration, for which the Hon. Minister of Education should feel justifiably proud.

Similarly, the effort to eliminate the HND/Degree dichotomy has reached an advanced stage, just awaiting formalization by the National Council on Establishment. And to cap it all, there had been, as far back as 2007, a Presidential directive for the Award of Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) by polytechnics in their core competence fields. This directive has been fully integrated in the Roadmap for Education Sector approved by the National Council on Education and Federal Executive Council, since May, 2009. It may be deduced from the fore-going that the question of conversion or merger for polytechnics is now largely outdated.

Indeed, even from the perspective of quality assurance, there is a major difference between the ways university and polytechnic academic programmes are accredited. Furthermore, in some localities the polytechnics are far larger and better equipped than the neighbouring universities, and a merger would be a case of the tail wagging the dog.

The move to degree awarding status by Nigeria Polytechnics has taken a very long time. Things started to take shape with the Yabani Committee of 1998. The Committee was to look into the modalities for mounting degree programmes in selected Polytechnics and Colleges of Education.

After very exhaustive consultations within the sector and references to numerous documents, the Committee recommended, among others, that: Nigerian Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, with requisite human and instructional resources, be mandated to run degree programmes in their special areas of expertise, but the degree should be distinct in content to reflect their practical and professional nature. Moreover, the institutions should have autonomous status for awarding the degree and should continue to run their traditional programmes.

It is curious that no more was heard about this matter, after the submission of the Committee report in March 1999. It therefore came as a delightful surprise when President Umar Musa Yar’adua directed in 2007 that necessary arrangement be made for polytechnics to start awarding their degrees in their fields of core competence. This directive, which has since been integrated in the Roadmap for Education Sector, is to expand access to tertiary education by increasing the institutional base, and finally bring to an end to the perpetual HND/Degree dichotomy.

This unique presidential directive to enhance access and equity in education is an eloquent testimony to Mr. President’s keen interest in the development of skilled and competent workforce, which had been quite evident from the university he established, and from the unprecedented moral and material support he extended to his State Polytechnic as Governor of Katsina State.

I hope that these brief notes have provided a little elaboration to the excellent article of Mr. Farooq Kperogi, and would convince many a sceptic that Nigerian polytechnics need not be converted to universities or merged with contiguous universities to be able to award degrees in their fields of core competence.

I would also appeal to the National Assembly to amend the relevant educational laws so that Polytechnics and Colleges of Education with requisite human and material resources can start awarding their degrees as autonomous institutions.

Dr. M. S. Abubakar wrote from Liman Chiroma Close, Kaduna, Nigeria, and can be reached at msbakar@hotmail.com

Readers' Reactions to My Language Articles

Re: 10 Most Annoying Nigerian Media English Expressions

Thanks so much. There are other annoying things that are obviously grammatically wrong and yet, people kept of repeating them, for instance the phrase 'media practitioners.' For goodness sake, how can one practice media?
Jamilu Bukar, Nigeria

My Comment
"Media practitioner" is a perfectly legitimate and correct expression. The phrase is also widely used in British and American English. I am aware, of course, that some language columnists in Nigeria think it’s wrong. But they are incorrect. They are guilty of the grammatical offense of “hypercorrection,” that is, a grammatical mistake caused by a false analogy. There is, in fact, a book published last year by Allyn & Bacon, a well-regarded American publishing company, titled Applied Mass Communication Theory: A Guide for Media Practitioners.

These are even advanced errors. You should pay a visit to Sokoto media house someday.
Murtala Abdulrahman (mooryboy@yahoo.com)

Thanks for this beautiful essay. I see it as an exposé on the lack of creativity within the Nigerian journalism culture. I also view it as a veritable sign of intellectual laziness and a hallmark of everything that is wrong with our country.

The sardonic [sic] urge to run before we can walk and the insatiable appetite for cutting corners such as the much touted Vision 2020 - a mere jargon created to present an image of purpose in government when the basic infrastructure or plan to achieve this is not even in place.

Our journalists aptly reflect all that is good and bad in the nation's psyche. Frankly, I take more pleasure in reading articles by 'non-journalists' on websites such as the Nigerian Village Square as opposed to those from news media such as Punch, ThisDay, Sun, Tribune or whatever!

Seriously, I have often found myself wondering if the writers ever passed English Language at GCE O' Level. And the Editors; what Editors?
Kay Soyemi (Esq.)

I have reason to believe that Nigerian journalist and their writing style are a reflection of our national psychology.

I will even go as far as calling it inferiority complex which has been beaten into us Nigerians, Africans and peoples of African descent.

We have had to apologize for our mere existence, our languages and our expressions.
Only yesterday I watched and heard again, the indomitable Fela Anikulapo Kuti on tape… discussing our national fixation in colonial ways, colonial mentality.

Fela told of how it was “illegal” or against the rule to speak any Nigerian language in Nigerian schools, as Nigerian languages were referred to as vernaculars

Which meant that the mark of sophistication is to speak English, perhaps in the most pretentious way?

Having said of all the above, the most frustrating term employed by Nigerian journalists, almost on a daily basis, is the pejorative “the colonial masters” instead of colonialists, colonial power, colonial powers, or political usurpers, or illegal foreign regime, or occupation forces, etc.

Why are Nigerian journalists in 2009 in love with “master” or the idea of referring to a former invader and occupier-usurper of economic/political/cultural/and linguistic independence, etc a “master?” Master of whom?

In my ear, it is as if Nigeria is a lady who was a rape victim, who forever refers to the rapist in endearing terms … something like the powerful rapist or the handsome rapist… or worse, the muscular or the energetic man who demanded sex from a stranger.

Nigerians should wonder why any rape victim would feel the need to refer to a rapist in affectionate term of endearment or blissful bond? Stockholm Syndrome?

America was once colonized by the British and I am yet to meet an American who refers to Britain as colonial "master" I am yet to meet an Indian or practically any other colonized peoples who refer to the colonizers as "master"

Talk about mindsets! The master race, as in superior race.
Paul Adujie, New York, USA

Re: “In Defense of “Flashing” and Other Nigerianisms”

The most exciting thing about language is how it changes and evolves. I laugh at people who want to preserve a "pure" English language or "pure" French, Spanish or any other language because it simply won't happen. People will invent words, misuse words until they have another meaning, or make words that once had positive meanings turn negative and vice versa. And that's how language evolves! Language is a tool for people to use to express themselves and communicate, not some rarefied concept that should be "preserved" in one concrete form.

For example, a friend of mine thought there should be a word for transferring the laundry between the washing machine and the dryer, so she calls it "flip flopping" the laundry. That hasn't caught on outside her house, but hey, for them, it works perfectly.

Thanks, Farooq. Your posts always make me think.
Cracker, Atlanta, USA

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this intelligent expose on the Nigerianisms we hear everyday. The phenomenon of telephonic "flashing" is threatening to become as indecent as the random exposure of one's private parts, as it is now so rampant and intrusive. People who should know better and can afford not to are joining the poor and downtrodden in shamelessly and discourteously passing the cost of their calls to others. Those on the receiving end are fighting back - perhaps we can even coin a new term, to “flashignore”!
Ronke Makinde

Responses from My Readers

Below are a few of the several reactions I received from my readers on many of articles. I will publish the rest in due course.

Re: “What did you Miss about America while in Nigeria?

Hello Sir,

How is Atlanta today? Hope it’s as hot as I usually like it and expect it to be this time of the year! I really enjoyed your article. Studying abroad in the UK, I find myself faced with such questions and, even though I do no tell them, the answer is: I miss everything!

I was in Atlanta for the first time last year August. I loved it so much. I was there again in June this year. Next year, I plan to move there for grad school at GA Tech. I miss everywhere from Atlantic station, to Phipps and Lenox in Buckhead as well as the pedestrian-friendly streets of the downtown, the outlet malls in Dawsonville and the one at Sugarloaf Parkway, Snellville, the lovely highways :75, 85 and my fave the 285.

Next time I’m there, which insha Allah is December, I will rent a car so I can explore the city more, especially the southern parts like Henry and Clayton counties. Do you know Fogo de Chao? It’s ma fave restaurant: they serve steak right at the top of Piedmont, is within walking distance (for me that is, being a student in England) from where I lodge. I have missed it soo much and I do hope my application to GA Tech is accepted.

Well my regards to your family and a sha ruwa lafiya, I know how difficult Ramadan is there as the sun does not set till 8.30pm. I did 5 last year over there and, boy, was it hard?

Mohammad Hafiz Bayero (mhbizzle@yahoo.co.uk)

RE: Nigerians Who Come to America to Have Babies (I)

The great debate on the reform of the American health care system has exposed the inherent weakness of the capitalist system even more than the economic crunch triggered by godless capitalist greed did.

What this means for those of us in the third world is to avoid wholesale copy of the democratic capitalist system-the crunch and now this debate, are an indictment of democracy, even as most may argue otherwise.

The ever expanding waist line of America is not welcome here. We, Africans and a good majority of third world countries, care too much for the extended family thereby dissuading us from gorging on junk food or any food for that matter while our relations sleep on empty stomachs.

One wishes the chase for the illusionary "good" American life will cease. We shall never be like them.

Goldoun, Kano, Nigeria

I just read your insightful article about Nigerians who go to America to deliver their babies. I believe in a world of inhumanity, war and terrorism, American citizenship is a very precious possession, it affords the rights that residents of other countries can only dream of particularly our long-dead Nigeria!

But, I also want to add to the fact that although most Nigerian parents wouldn’t know, the birth of their children in America may or may not make these children citizens. Section 1401 (a) of title 8 of the US Code defines a US citizen as “a person born in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” Birth on US soil therefore does not mean an absolute claim to citizenship, hence one Esam Fouad Hamdi (see Hamdi Vs. Rumsfeld case), who was captured as an enemy combatant during the American military operation in Afghanistan, though born in Baton Rouge, (Louisiana) by Saudi Arabian parents was considered a non-citizen by American authorities because his parents never consented to be subject to the sovereignty of the United States, or sought to settle in the United States when he was born, they all retained allegiance to Saudi Arabia.

I would like to add also that American Indians would automatically have been American citizens since they were born on what is U.S. territory. But Indians who belong to tribes were not citizens until given that status by Congress. The logic of this decision applies with equal force to visitors or aliens who remain loyal to foreign powers. The Fourteenth Amendment of the US constitution did not change this.

The extensive litigation concerning American Indians illustrates that “consent” rather than “place of birth” is what controls citizenship. Indians did not receive citizenship until conferred by congressional acts in 1887, 1901 and 1924, long after ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment.

It's not the physical location of birth that defines citizenship, but whether your parents are citizens, and the express or implied consent to jurisdiction of the sovereign. The facts and the law argue against American citizenship for Hamdi.

Mohammed Dahiru Aminu" (dahiru06@gmail.com)

Re: American Ponzi schemes vs. Nigerian 419 scams
Your piece with the above title was a good piece. The problem here is: don't we have an individual, media organizations or institutions that will come out and tell the Western world that "they are not holier than thou" and curtail some of their excesses in term of condemning other nations? You just presented a jaw-dropping statistics that is ordinarily unbelievable.

I never knew you were that patriotic because this is the first time I’ve read you mention the word. Maybe it’s time you write something about patriotic Nigerians just as you did with the scammers. May your pen never run dry, sir.

Mohammed Sani, Kaduna, Nigeria

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Funny Cartoon of Nigerian Woman Being Strip-Searched by U.S. Airport Security

It appears that the recent wrong-headed classification of Nigeria as a "country of interest" (read: a terrorist country) by the Obama administration and the insistence that Nigerians and nationals of 13 other countries be subjected to enhanced scrutiny search because of an isolated incident has unleashed the creative energies of Nigerians.

This cartoon appeared in a Nigerian newspaper recently. I will give credit when I find out the name of the newspaper. Meanwhile, sit, laugh and savor this incredible genius for satire.

New Rules for Nigerian Air Travelers to the US!

This absolutely hilarious but nonetheless instructive list came to my inbox today and I thought I would share it with my readers. It had me laughing out so hysterically my eyeballs almost literally popped out.

This creatively satirical list of dos and don'ts for Nigerian air travelers to the United States is particularly perceptive in light of the Obama administration's rather knee-jerk and ill-advised inclusion of Nigeria on a list of terrorist countries whose citizens must undergo extra screening at the airports on account of a lone alleged attempted terrorist act by a Nigerian.

I tweaked the original list a little. Well, here we go:

New Rules of Air travel for People of Nigerian Origin in the United States

1. Do not go to the toilet for the whole duration of your flight.

2. Do not carry any kind of container into the airport, or onto the plane.

3. Do not request for a window seat. Do not ask to sit in the aisle. Any request for specific seating may be indications of a premeditated plot.

4. If you are given food during the flight, ask the flight attendant not to give you cutlery. A Nigerian with a sharp implement on a plane is asking to be arrested.

5. Do keep your hands in plain sight during the flight. Do not look too happy or too sad.

6. Do not be too polite to flight attendants.

7. Do not be aggressive or have aggressive thoughts toward flight attendants

8. Try not to have any form of carry-on luggage. If you do, make sure it contains nothing suspicious or dangerous like pens, pencils, paper, or a calculator, as these are common bomb-making materials.

9. Do not carry any electronic items that may be used to communicate with the Taliban, or al-Qaeda, or used for surveillance--like cell phones, iPods, walkmans, electric toothbrushes or cameras.

10. NEVER travel with your laptop computer.

11. Never travel if you have any kind of facial marks. That includes the small marks you have managed to cover with facial hair.

12. Do not travel to the U.S if you are an engineer, if you have ever lived in London, if you have ever traveled to the Middle East, or if your father is a banker.

13. Do not talk to other Nigerians on the same flight as you. It makes other people nervous.

14. Do not ask to be upgraded to first class or business class. Sitting too close to the front of the plane makes the pilot nervous.

15. Never admit to your fellow passengers that you are Nigerian. If asked, say you are from the (non-existent) Republic of Zamunda in East Africa.

16. When you are getting onto the plane, do not even glance at the cockpit.

17. Women, do not wear wigs, weaves or hair pieces. Any form of disguise is suspicious.

18. Take a cold shower before coming to the airport. Sweating and scratching yourself is a sign of nervousness. Why are you nervous?

19. Do not fart on the plane. Noxious smells might indicate that you have bomb-making chemicals hidden in your underpants.

20. Do not go home with the free magazines on the plane. Yes, it says "free," but that is just a test. Leave the plane with those magazines and you'll be arrested.

21. Wear clean underwear and be ready for a full body/cavity search.

22. Do not carry any potentially dangerous or toxic substances onto the plane like toothpaste, cough mixture, bottled water, mouthwash, lipstick, chewing gum, or baby formula. Make sure your baby diapers are empty.

23. Do not get angry with fellow passengers, for any reason, even if it's their fault. You will still be arrested and sent to Guantanamo Bay.

24. Do not travel by air into, out of, or across the U.S. if you are a Muslim.
Muslim is defined as :
a. Any person with a suspicious name like Mohammed, Fatal, Fatima, Umar Farouk, Barrack, or Ibrahim--or any Nigerian whose last name starts with El-, Al-, or Abdul-. All Nigerian Alhajis, Alhajas, Alfas and Imams are forbidden from entering the U.S. airspace

b. Anyone that has ever entered a mosque.

c. Anyone that knows what a mosque is.

d. Anyone that dresses in long flowing garments.

e. Anyone that has a beard.

NOTE: If you converted from Islam to Christianity, you are still classified as a Muslim.

25. Always travel with some kind of proof that you are a Christian. Preferably always travel with your pastor.

26. Do not attract attention to yourself. Do not drive to the airport in your Mercedes or Honda like a typical Nigerian. Instead, drive an American car like Pontiac or Chevy. You may be lucky to be mistaken for an American. Or a Haitian.

27. Do not ask to drink soda, tea, or coffee in the airport or on the plane. Always ask for alcohol to prove you are not a Muslim.

28. Do not travel by air in the U.S. if you have ever had a parking ticket, suspected of extra-marital affairs, stolen stationery from your office, or if you have ever exceeded the speed limit. This is a sign of severe subversive terrorist tendency.

27. Do not travel on or around Christmas day or on September 11. Avoid traveling on or around Easter, Thanksgiving , Independence Day, or New Year's Day. Avoid traveling on Muslim holidays, too. Avoid air travel in the summer or winter.. (NOTE: no specific reason; it's just to piss you off!)

28. YORUBA people, please, do not prostrate to greet your elders at the airport!!! People may think you are dodging bullets or protecting yourself from a bomb blast.

29. NEVER, EVER carry any kind of Nigerian food onto a U.S. aircraft. Those are terroristic stuff.

30. Wearing agbadas, head ties, wrappers, danshikis, etc to the airport is not recommended. They make you look very un-American and therefore potentially dangerous.

31. Do not act like a typical Nigerian for the duration of the flight. This includes speaking any language other than American English. Speaking any funny language is to be avoided. If you have elderly parents that do not speak American English, they should NOT speak for the duration of the flight. If spoken to, their only response to anything should be "Yeah, man."

32. DO not talk to your fellow passengers. Statements like "hello there!" might be misconstrued to mean "Hello, you are my next victim!" Statements like "Hello, my name is Mohammed," may be interpreted as "my name is Mohammed and I'm gonna blow up this goddamn plane!"

33. Do not wear large afros that may conceal weapons or bombs.

34.Do not carry any kind of document, newspaper, or book that contains any form of Arabic inscription or writing. You will be detained until a translator is found.

35. Do not argue when you are told your luggage is overweight. Apologize profusely and pay double what they ask you to pay for excess luggage.

This guide was created by the Nigerian Counter-Terrorism Unit. Research was sponsored by The Save Your Behind (SYB) Trust Fund.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Hello, I’m Nigerian AND I’m Not a Terrorist! (II)

By Farooq A. Kperogi

While on a visit to a friend’s house a few days after Abdul-Mutallab’s treacherous misadventure, I saw a man here who looked manifestly Nigerian. In these moments of national trauma, especially for diasporan Nigerians, I thought it would be nice to say hello to a compatriot and share common worries about the discomfortingly piercing scrutiny of Nigeria and Nigerians in the American news media.

So I said hello to him. But he didn’t respond. He just waved his right hand nervously. I nonetheless proceeded to ask if he was Nigerian. He shook his head hesitantly from side to side to indicate that he wasn’t. He was afraid to even utter the word “no” lest his accent should betray his Nigerian identity! And in a twinkling, he was gone. I couldn’t help laughing out boisterously. It was a much-needed comic relief in these times of anguish.

Many Nigerians living abroad are now practically running away from their own literal and symbolic shadows. And this was before the officially sanctioned national, racial and religious profiling of Nigerians and nationals of 13 other countries by the U.S. government.

That is the tragedy that a psychoneurotic zealot has visited on a whole nation and its diaspora. But what is happening to Nigerians is often the fate of all minorities in periods like this: they always have to bear the vicarious moral and psychological burdens of the transgressions of people with whom they accidentally share national, religious or other kind of identity.

Umar Farouk Abdul-Mutallab

This is what Arabs have endured in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and in the wake of the Nov. 5, 2009 Fort Hood mass murders.

And it is what South Koreans and their American diaspora suffered on April 16, 2007 when one of them killed 32 people at Virginia Tech and later committed suicide in what has been called “the deadliest peacetime shooting incident by a single gunman in United States history, on or off a school campus.”

People from privileged, “invisible,” and “normative” racial/national identities don’t always have to worry about the burden of courtesy stigmas when one of them transgresses the bounds of the law. The infamous British “shoe bomber” Richard Reid hasn’t caused the British or, for that matter, native-born British Muslim converts, to be exposed to any form of racial, religious or national profiling. In fact, in a recent online discussion on body scanners, a British citizen instructively commented thusly: “no way on Earth do I ever have to prove my Innocence as I am English and as such ‘Presumed’ to be Innocent until proven otherwise in a Court of Law. END OF STORY! NO SCANNER FOR ME EVER!” Interesting, not so?

Similarly, when Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people in the deadliest act of terrorism within the United States prior to September 11, right-wing white American males of Irish Catholic descent (McVeigh’s heritage) were not stereotyped as potential terrorists. And rightly so.

Other mass murder-suicides in the United States since 2007 by Americans that were treated as the transgressions of lone psychopaths include: the April 3, 2009 brutal murder of 14 newly arrived immigrants in Binghamton, New York by a shooter who later committed suicide; the Dec. 5 2007 slaying of eight people in Omaha, Nebraska by a deranged guy named Robert Hawkins who committed suicide; the Dec. 10, 2007 murder of 5 Americans at a church in Colorado by 24-year-old Mathew Murray, son of a prominent surgeon, who said he “hated Christians”; the Feb. 7, 2008 murder of 6 innocent souls during a council meeting in Kirkwood, Missouri, by a Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton ; and the Feb. 14, 2009 murder of 6 people (including the gunman, identified as Stephen P. Kazmierczak ) at Northern Illinois University.

In the reportage of and commentaries on these deadly shootings, there was never a mention of, much less an obsession with, the nationality, racial heritage, or religious persuasions of the perpetrators. Which is actually in the spirit of America’s time-honored laws.

In the America I thought I knew, people who committed crimes were held responsible for their actions; their crimes were not prejudicially externalized to the innocent members of the communities they happen to come from. That is why, although the 911 Commission Report said 15 of the 19 terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center were from Saudi Arabia, the country was not on the list of “terrorist” nations—well, until 9 years later after a homicidal sociopath who happens to be Nigerian attempted to blow up a plane on Dec. 25.

This is, however, no time for self-pitying lamentation. Calling attention to the all-too-obvious fact that minorities would always have to bear the onus of the transgressions of members of their communities won’t change anything. What we need to do, as many Nigerians are doing now, is to let the world know that politically- or religiously-motivated murder-suicide is alien to all Nigerian cultures.

Abdul-Mutallab’s condemnable act is an outlier. That was why when news of the attempted terror plot first filtered through, many Nigerians (Christians and Muslims alike) initially swore that Abdul-Mutallab wasn’t Nigerian. We couldn’t come to terms with the fact that one of us would even contemplate committing this heinous transnational murder-suicide of innocents.

But when it emerged that Abdul-Mutallab’s radicalization actually took place between London, Dubai and Yemen—and that he hardly grew up in Nigeria—our initial incredulity turned out to have some basis in truth. In fact, a recent Reuters report quoted Abdul-Mutallab’s Yemeni Arabic language teacher as saying that when the would-be bomber first arrived in Yemen, he was “closer to being secular” and that he only became religious “during his visit last year.”

So we don’t belong in that execrable list of 14 terrorist nations!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In Defense of “Flashing” and Other Nigerianisms

By Farooq A. Kperogi

My former American student who is now my Facebook friend wrote a status update on Dec. 31, 2009 that got me thinking about Nigerian linguistic inventiveness. He wrote: “Ok, I'm REALLY sick of how the Colombians will call you, hang up immediately, and wait for you to call them back so that they don't waste their own cellular pay minutes.”

This lily white, perfectly gracious American who has friends in the South American nation of Colombia could have saved himself the torment of writing his status update with these needless overabundance of words if he knew the Nigerian meaning of “flashing.” Nigerians call what he described in so many words “flashing.” He could have simply written something like: “OK, I’m REALLY sick of Colombians flashing me.” All fairly affluent—and diasporan— Nigerians contend with this reality on a daily basis.

As linguists know only too well, language reflects people’s material reality. Americans have not lexicalized the act of necessitous people briefly calling financially well-situated friends and relations and hanging up in hopes of being called back because it is not in their mobile telephonic culture. In most cellphone plans in the United States, phone users get charged both for making and receiving calls. So there is no incentive to “flash” anybody.

The comments that followed my ex-student’s status update showed that “flashing” is a decidedly “Third World” peculiarity, and most countries that practice it have different creative neologisms to capture it. For instance, a commenter said Pakistanis and Indians call it “one-ring.” “One-ring,” he said, is both a noun and a verb. So it is typical for Pakistanis or Indians to say something like, “That wasn’t a real call; it was a one-ring.” Or “he one-ringed me.”

Another commenter wrote that people in some poor European countries, where call recipients don’t get charged for incoming calls, also “flash” their more prosperous friends and relatives. He said the word “squeal” (which ordinarily means to utter a high-pitched cry like a pig or to confess) has been appropriated in the service of expressing the sense we convey in Nigeria when we say someone has “flashed” us.

What became obvious from the discussion that my ex-student’s status update generated is that the existing corpora of contemporary English in the UK and in America have no lexical items to capture a prevailing telephonic idiosyncrasy in poor countries where endemic poverty compels people to "flash" or "one-ring" or “squeal” people who are thought to be comfortable enough to afford to call back. Since nature abhors a vacuum, English-speakers across the world who live with this emergent techno-cultural peculiarity are expanding the semantic boundaries of proximate vocabularies to express their reality.

Sooner or later, lexicographers will have to come to terms with these semantic extensions since English is now for all practical purposes the global language.

If these linguistic inventions had emerged in native-speaker environments they would certainly have been codified in notable dictionaries by now. For evidence, see how several American idiosyncratic words that were never captured in any dictionary made it to the Oxford Dictionary last year. The word “unfriend,” which means “to remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook,” was Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2009.

Other America-centric words that made it to the dictionary are, sexting (“the sending of sexually explicit texts and pictures by cellphone”), intexticated (“distracted because texting on a cell phone while driving a vehicle”), freemium (“a business model in which some basic services are provided for free, with the aim of enticing users to pay for additional, premium features or content”), funemployed (“taking advantage of one’s newly unemployed status to have fun or pursue other interests”), birther (“a conspiracy theorist who challenges President Obama’s birth certificate”), teabagger (“a person, who protests President Obama’s tax policies and stimulus package, often through local demonstrations known as “Tea Party” protests”), deleb (“a dead celebrity”), tramp stamp (“a tattoo on the lower back, usually on a woman”), etc.

Well, now we know that there are at least two other words apart from “flashing” that may compete for the attention of lexicographers: “one-ring” and “squeal.” There may be more. But I think “flash”— along with all its inflections— is more deserving of being recognized and codified in respectable dictionaries than either “one-ring” or “squeal.” “Flashing” is semantically closer to the action it describes than the Indian/Pakistan “one-ring” (which actually doesn’t exist in the English language) or the European “squeal” (which is markedly semantically distant from the action it describes.

“Flash,” of course, has many meanings, the most vulgar being to expose one’s genitals in public. But there are other technologically derived meanings of the word that make it proximate to how it is used in Nigerian English. Flash, for instance, means to gleam or glow intermittently, as in “the lights were flashing,” which is what literally happens when someone “flashes” your phone. It also means to appear briefly, as in “the headlines flashed on the screen.” When people “flash” us, their caller IDs appear briefly on the screens of our phones.

Another word in the Nigerian linguistic repertoire that bears testament to our linguistic creativity is the word “co-wife” or “co-wives,” which we use to denote female partners in a polygamous marriage. I smiled proudly the other day when a recent BBC report used “co-wives” in a story about South African President Jacob Zuma’s marriage to his third wife.

Other Nigerianisms that serve our communicative needs but that are absent from the word banks of Standard English varieties are, “naming ceremony,” “chewing stick,” “pounded yam,” etc. As we internationalize the cultural and culinary practices that these words denote, through our ever-expanding diasporas, we also need to self-consciously export the creative linguistic products that accompany them.

Of all the regions of the world, Africa has made the least contribution to the English language. It’s time to reverse that.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Hello, I’m Nigerian AND I’m Not a Terrorist! (I)

By Farooq A. Kperogi

The intense anxiety and unease that Nigerians in the diaspora now feel in the wake of Umar Farouk Abdul-Mutallab’s attempted terrorist attack on a Delta/Northwest Airline reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a new Iranian doctoral student in my school. Out of the blues, he asked me if I had ever experienced any overt or covert discrimination here on account of my faith.

This wiry, petite, self-contained, almost timid, and apparently good-natured Iranian is less than four months old in America. But in his very first week here, he was racially profiled by—wait for it— an African American janitor who was sufficiently terrified by the sight of a Middle Eastern-looking man in the communication building that she called the police. She thought the man had come to blow off the building!

(A somewhat similar incident happened two years ago. One of my students told me she came late to class because she was compelled to hurriedly get off the train before she reached her destination. Reason: she saw two Middle-Eastern-looking men arguing and speaking “what sounded like Arabic.” So she thought they were planning to bomb the train!)

Anyway, back to the original story. The police arrived within minutes and accosted the Iranian. It turned out that he was a harmless new PhD student who just happened to be Middle Eastern—a part of the world that is now invariably associated with terrorism. The police apologized and left the poor guy alone. This disconcerting baptismal encounter with racial profiling, borne out of the stereotype that all Middle Easterners are America-hating terrorists, shook him deeply.

Although he routinely seeks my counsel to navigate the often difficult contours that the American education system can be for international students, he never discussed his experience with me. I heard it from the Black American janitor who reported him to the police. (She told me triumphantly that she’d just aborted a terrorist plot!)

But exactly a week before Abdul-Mutallab’s unfortunate attempted terrorist act, the Iranian student asked me if I had ever suffered any form of religious bigotry in America. And my response was “no.”

Umar Farouk Abdul-Mutallab

I then proceeded to explain to him why this might be so. When people see me in America, I said, they just see a generic “black male.” But when I speak with my non-American accent, they further redefine me as an “African” male. And when they get to know my first name, they might conclude that I am an “African Muslim.” If they get even closer and find that I am from Nigeria, they might narrow down their definition of me to a “Nigerian Muslim,” and probably a “northern Nigerian Muslim.”

Historically, I continued, the American public has never associated “African Islam,” however this is defined, with terrorism in spite of the episodic eruptions of senseless religious violence in northern Nigeria. In fact, many American scholars of African Islam have cautioned against making connections between the periodic slaughterous religious upheavals in northern Nigeria and al-Qaeda’s ideology of visceral and murderous hate for America and the West. I cited a few scholars to support my position. (Somalia is the exception).

Umar Farouk Abdul-Mutallab

Although the stereotyping of Middle Easterners as terrorists is inspired largely by the fact of their being predominantly Muslims, it is still more racial than religious, I argued. A Coptic Christian from Egypt or a Maronite Christian from Lebanon has as much chance to be profiled as a potential terrorist as any Middle-Eastern Muslim, I said.

That’s why Edward Said, the late legendary Columbia University professor who was of Palestinian Christian heritage, invested more intellectual energy defending Islam than any Arab Muslim scholar I know. He knew that, however hard he tried, he couldn’t escape the courtesy stigma that comes from the association of the entire Middle East with so-called Islamic terrorism.

Conversely, a citizen of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, doesn’t have to worry about being stereotyped as a terrorist. Except he dresses in prototypic Muslim attires and keeps a long beard, he is likely to be perceived by the Western mind as simply an “Asian” or, if you like, a “Southeast Asian.” The Iranian was persuaded.

But exactly a week after this conversation, the young Abdul-Mutallab struck—or attempted to strike. And the narrative has changed. My logic has been rudely subverted. Now, because of the isolated, misguided action of one crazed, fanatical, spoiled brat who has spent more time outside Nigeria than he spent in it, all Nigerians are labeled potential terrorists—at least for now. So no longer will the perception of me as an “African” or “Nigerian” Muslim conjure notions of tolerant, non-violent Islam. In my own case, I share the same first name with the would-be terrorist. My luck can’t get any tougher than this.

I started feeling the pangs of this ill-luck rather early. My American friend who invited me to his home for a Christmas dinner joked that I would now henceforth always have to introduce myself to Americans by saying, “I’m Farooq from Nigeria and I’m not a terrorist.”

But this isn’t even a joke any more. On December 27 a Nigerian passenger on a Delta/Northwest flight was harassed and detained at the Detroit Metro Airport because he allegedly spent too much time in the toilet and was therefore assumed to be brewing some terroristic machinations. The poor man was most probably even a Christian. But he nonetheless committed a new crime in America: flying while Nigerian.

Now, if you're Nigerian, and you head into the toilet on an airline, better not release gas too loudly! That may be mistaken for a terrorist bomb. You know, stereotyping is a great time-saver; it enables lazy people to rush to quick judgment without the pesky encumbrance of nuance and factual information.