I thought I would share with you an interesting article by Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian Nobel Prize-winning writer, who has been a good friend of Jamaica. He is currently the first African to be honored as the President’s Marymount Institute Professor in Residence at Loyola Marymount University in Maryland. Professor Soyinka has been politically active inside Nigeria and has continued to speak out on political and social issues in his own country, in Africa and globally. Professor Soyinka’s Nobel acceptance speech in 1986, “This Past Must Address Its Present,” was dedicated to Nelson Mandela. A link to the lecture is below.
Here is an article by Professor Soyinka from allAfrica.com, in which he expresses his long-held concern over religious fundamentalism – in this case expressing his views on the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram (its name means “Western education is a sin”). Today (June 18), Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the bombing of three churches in Nigeria’s northern state of Kaduna over the weekend. The attacks, and subsequent reprisal killings, left at least 75 dead and 120 wounded.
Boko Haram is completely political. But with the toxic element of religion infused into it, it gives them the leg to ally with international terrorist bodies based on religion, who are only too happy to be of assistance.
Let me begin by reminding everyone that Boko Haram has a very long history, whether you describe Boko Haram as an army of the discontent, or even as some people grotesquely try to suggest, “revolutionaries,” or you describe them as, legitimately, this time, as marginalized or feeling marginalized.
When I say that the phenomenon has a very long history, I am talking about a movement that relies on religion as a fuel for their operation, as a fuel for mobilisation, as the impetus, an augmentation of any other legitimate or illegitimate grievance that they might have against society. Because of that fuel, that irrational, very combustible fuel of religion of a particular strain, of a particular irredentist strain; because of the nature of that religious adherence, which involves the very lethal dimension of brain-washing from childhood, all a man needs to be told is that this is a religious cause. All they need to be told is that this is an enemy of religion and they are ready to kill. No matter the motivations, no matter the extra-motivations of those who send them out, they need only one motivation: that they are fighting the cause of that religion.
People wonder, sometimes, if they are fighting the cause of religion, why are they also killing fellow religionists? It is very important for us to understand that they have a very narrow view of even their faith. Anyone outside that narrow confine, narrow definition (in this case, we are talking about Islam), is already an infidel, an unbeliever, a hypocrite, an enemy of God (they use all these multifarious descriptions) and therefore is fit for elimination. If they believe that this environment contains any non-believer in their very narrow strain of Islam, that person or that very area is due for sanitation. And if there are those who also believe, who are confined within the very narrow limit of their arbitrary religion, any chance that there are such people, they consider them matyrs, who will be received in the bosom of Allah, with double credits as having been killed accidentally.
What I am saying is not any theorising; it is not any speculation. Examine this particular strain of Islam from Afghanistan, through Iran to Somalia to Mauritania. We are speaking in fact of a deviant arm of Islam, whose first line of enemies, in fact, are those who I call the orthodox Muslims with whom we move, interact, inter-marry, professional colleagues and so on. They don’t consider them true Muslims.
So the seeming paradox is explained in that. And this mind is bred right from infancy. We are talking about the madrasas, we are talking about the almajiris. They have only one line of command: their Mullah. If the Mullah says go, they go; come, they come; kill, they kill; beg, they beg. They don’t believe in leaving their narrow religion, which teaches them that they have to be catered for either by their immediate superior as an authority or by the community or sometimes an extension of that by the town. When they go out to beg, they believe that this mission of begging is divinely ordered and it is the responsibility of the person from whom they are begging to give them alms.
They sit before their Mullah or their Emir or their chief or whatever and memorize the Qu’ran. Their entire circumscription or mental formation is to be able to recite the Qu’ran from the beginning to the end. Outside of that, there is no educational horizon. So, I want us to distinguish very carefully. If you don’t distinguish, if you don’t narrow these things down to the specifics, we are likely to be misunderstood, as people like me have been misunderstood, because I have been against fundamentalism all my life, of any religion, whether it’s Christianity, Orisha worship, Buddhism, Hinduism or whatever. Any kind of extreme in faith that makes you feel that you are divinely authorised to be the executioner of your deity or that there is only one view of the world, or that only one view exists, for me, is pernicious and it is anti-human. That is why I am making this preliminary explanation.
The second elaboration I want to make is that I have never liked the expression, “the core North”. We are talking about North because the North is very much identified with Islam. And for one reason, there is no core South. I don’t know about the core East, I don’t know about the core West. So why that expression? For me it is too general, too loose and it confuses the dramatis personae of our political life.
I, however, identify hard-core northerners, as in hardcore pornography. There exist hardcore northerners. They may be in the minority, but they believe that they are divinely endowed to run any society.
They are hardcore Northerners, whether you are talking about Sheikh Gumi and others. For a character like Sheikh Gumi, politics fuses with religion. A man who said Christianity is nothing, who said a Christian would rule this nation over his dead body. So, we have hardcore northerners, hardcore northern Islamists like the late Sheik Gumi. Among those that I describe as the hardcore northerners, (note I didn’t say Islamists), are people like Sani Ahmed Yerima, the former Zamfara State governor, who is now a legislator. There are hardcore northern Islamists. Why do I use Yerima? Because in him, you also encounter the fusion of a credo in Northernism and at the same time in Islamism. So you can see somebody like him as an opportunist. And I say this, you know, because he himself admitted to some of our people in NALICON during the immediate post-Abacha era, when he was asked why he decided to turn Zamfara into a theocratic state in a secular dispensation. He said, and I dare him to deny it, that it was the only weapon he had to snatch power. He said the PDP machinery was so strong that he needed something which would appeal to raw emotions, to mobilise and get the governorship.
If, periodically, I refer to this individual, it is because he represents to me, the opportunistic face of Islamism. And, of course, he had to deliver after he became governor. He is not the only one. I distinguish between him and Gumi because Gumi never sought political power. He was just a raw believer in raw Northernism and Islam. The two tributaries fuse in a personality like that.
In the case of Mr. Yerima and a number of others, Islam is just an instrument. I don’t consider them genuine Muslims. For them, however, they are willing to go the full length of Islam because it pays them politically. Having said that, I do not say for a moment that he is responsible for Boko Haram or that he has any hand in it. But I say that his school of thought and his school of opportunism is responsible for the birth of a movement like Boko Haram.
Related articles and websites:
http://www.informationnigeria.org/2012/02/wole-soyinka-on-boko-harams-hit-list.html: Wole Soyinka on Boko Haram’s Hit List
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1986/soyinka-bio.html: Biography of Wole Soyinka on Nobelprize.org
http://tribune.com.ng/index.php/opinion/42731-now-that-boko-haram-has-shunned-dialogue: Now that Boko Haram has shunned dialogue (Nigerian Tribune)
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2012/0112/What-is-Nigeria-s-Boko-Haram-5-things-to-know/Who-are-they: What is Nigeria’s Boko Haram: Five Things to Know (CS Monitor)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100603/ent/ent3.html: Wole Soyinka: A Special Gift for Calabash (Jamaica Gleaner)
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1986/soyinka-lecture.html: Wole Soyinka’s Nobel Prize speech
Blasts hit northern Nigerian city (bbc.co.uk)
Boko Haram Wants All Christians To Convert To Islam (adeyemiolalemi.wordpress.com)