By Damola Awoyokun
IT was distressing that the Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab botched Christmas day bombing incident has put Nigeria too on the global terror map. But the chilling news is that to Al-Qaeda, it has spotlighted the country as a place to invest. I explain. Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in May 1996 did not just headquarter their sinister organisation in Afghanistan; geographically, religiously and ideologically, the land was theirs before they were the land's. Insistently wild mountains, virulent man-dug caves of Tora Bora with five-star accommodations; these were geographic correlations of the Taliban's brand of Islam.
In September 1996, they captured Dr Najibullah, a medical doctor and president of democratic republic of Afghanistan, tortured, castrated and hanged him from the goalpost of main stadium in Kabul. They claimed he was an enemy of Islam and a communist. From being a popular, CIA-backed, Soviet-resisting fighters, the Taliban emboldened themselves to become an Islamic government headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar. They changed the education curriculum, drove all girls from schools and universities. They banned women from working outside the home, they imposed the burqah, banned women treatment by male doctors or transcations with male shopkeepers, they banned male tailors taking women's measurements or sewing women's clothes, they whipped women in public for having non-covered ankles, they banned women riding taxi alone, banned women playing sports, banned them appearing on the balconies of their houses or their pictures printed in newspapers and books, etc.
And for men, the Taliban banned watching foreign movies and owning satellite dishes. If footballers scored, they must not shout 'gooooal' but Allah-o-Akbar; they banned kite-flying and internet as unislamic, they ordered everyone with non-Islamic names to change them to Islamic ones, ordered them to wear Islamic clothes, and leave their beards long and unshaved. Anyone who carried objectionable literature was executed so was anyone who converted from Islam. They claimed they were being faithful to the stipulations of sharia. They razed down the millennium-old standing Buddhas of Bamyan, a UNESCO world heritage site. They claimed they were standing insults to their faith. The Taliban were first terror to their own citizens before they colluded with Qaeda to export it as their GDP. They supplied logistics, training camps and diplomatic covers for Al-Qaeda death operatives worldwide.
However, victims of Al-Qaeda-related violence are little compared to those that have died from the unceasing Islamic violence in northern Nigeria. What was surprising was the quick vibrations of Islamic leaders and organisations that had either being supportive of or indifferent to or had rationalised or incited Nigerian's unceasing theatre of blood now uniting to 'condemn and 'distant themselves from violence and extreme views' Adulmutallab. They also reaffirmed Islam as a religion of peace.
Less than 48 hours after the Abdumutallab incident, Bauchi for the third time in 2009 erupted. 38 died, and as usual, we didn't see that swift and united condemnation. We now know that Boko Haram, the extreme sect whose riots lead to over 900 dead received logistic and financial support from top government officials and political elites in Borno amongst them Buji Fai a former commissioner for Water Resources and later Religious Affairs. In February 2000, Mohammed Ahmed Makarfi governor of Kaduna, the most multicultural state in the north, imposed sharia. Not only was the imposition contrary to the constitution, it was an act of religious extremism. The apex Islamic bodies, Jama' tul Nasril Islam (JNI) and Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) did not condemn that extremism. The second bloodiest religious riot in Nigeria's history then ensued and body count ran well over 2000. But it was Zamfara's governor Ahmed Yerima Sani who a month earlier launched the sharia spree that has now engulfed 12 northern states. To confirm his seriousness, in March 2000, he cold-bloodedly sliced off the hand of Baba Bello Jangedi an alleged cow thief. This, the governor claimed, was done to the specifications of sharia. He too allegedly stole billions in public money- one of the worst said the anti-corruption czar, yet his own limbs are still with him. His deputy then, Mamudu Aliyu Shinkafi was the one in November 2002 who pronounced the fatwa that placed ThisDay fashion writer Isioma Daniel into exile in Norway during the Miss World pageantry hosted by Nigeria. The fanatics were virulently opposed to the hosting and threatened to disrupt it. They claimed it was holding during their holy month of fasting.
The truth: Nigeria operates a secular multicultural democracy and in such a setting, other people's activities do not have to stop because there is Ramadan. But fanaticism is an agency that dismantles commonsense and seeks to install in its place a hunger for glory through violence as the core of the social contract. Despite the fact that the pageantry organisers conceded that there will be no bikinis on stage, the fanatics still went to work. They seized on the 18 words of Isioma Daniel that speculated on what the holy prophet would think of the contestants which fortunately included the pretty Miss Algeria, Lamia Saoudi from a Muslim nation and the eventual winner, the gorgeous Miss Azra Akin from Turkey - the prophet being on record as the husband of Khadija and eleven other women including a fourteen-year-old girl Aisha. 217 people were killed in Kaduna alone. The ugly extremists would not permit the pageantry in the holy month but they can activate killing sprees in the same holy month.
Islamic leaders and organisations instead of condemning the mass murder blamed the organisers. Dr Lateef Adegbite, secretary general of NSCIA said: now they will learn to respect our demand. If we don't want something, we don't want it. To which Wole Soyinka called him "a fool" i.e. how can you stake your need for respect on the lives of others. Then Zamfara's deputy governor pronounced: "It is binding on all Muslims wherever they are, to consider the killing of the writer Isioma Daniel as a religious duty.... Just like the blasphemous Indian writer Salman Rushdie, the blood of Isioma Daniel can be shed." This extremist is now the current governor of Zamfara. He travels freely on our diplomatic passport. So also is ex-Governor Yerima Sani, now a Senator formulating laws for the Federal Republic. Zamfara Information Commissioner, Tukur Umar Dangaladima added: "If she (Ms. Daniel) is Muslim, she has no option except to die. But if she is a non-Muslim, the only way out for her is to convert to Islam." Anyone who kills her, he clarified his dubious logic is "a martyr who will go to Heaven."
So when the Islamic leaders and organisations distant themselves from the extreme views of and violence of UFA, what exactly are they distancing themselves from? When the media reported that the father went to report his son's "extreme religious views" to the CIA, we need to know what exactly he went to report as extreme because Nigeria has always been boiling under them.
September 2009, Grace Ushang Adie, youth corper was raped and murdered in Borno for wearing NYSC trousers. February 2009, houses, churches were burned down and 11 killed in Bauchi, the first Islamic violence of the New Year. November 2008, around 400 lives were lost in Jos. October 2007, Comrade Shehu Sani's book The Phantom Crescent satirising sharia leaders, lawyers, judges, and Hisbah (their police officers) was banned in Kaduna. February 2006, extremists took to the streets of Maiduguri over the Danish cartoons; 19 people were killed including Rev Fr Mathew Gajere who was helping his altar boys escape.
This is from The Punch (March 22, 2007): "Muslim pupils at a secondary school in Gandu, Gombe state, beat a teacher to death after accusing her of desecrating the Koran... The teacher, Oluwatoyin Olusesan, a Christian, was invigilating an Islamic Religious Knowledge exam at the Government Day Secondary School, Gandu when the incident occurred....the teacher suspected that a foul play was about to take place when one of the students wanted to come in with his books to the exam hall. The teacher collected the books and threw them outside, unknown to her, there was a copy of the Holy Koran among the books. The principal said before they knew what was happening, the students had started chanting Allahu Akbar (God is Great). All efforts to control the rampaging students proved abortive even when the school principal, Mohammed Sadiq, tried to protect the teacher in his office. The principal was also terribly beaten and injured while they set the teacher's car, three classes, the school's clinic, administrative block and library on fire." Note: this happened after their Islamic Religious Knowledge examination. Maybe they did not know at their young age, Islam is a religion of peace. There were neither arrests nor convictions.
January 2001 during the lunar eclipse in Maiduguri, Muslims youth razed down hotels, bars, brothels and churches blaming them for causing the eclipse. September 2001, Governor Sani forbade women coming out to cheer President Obasanjo on his official visit to Zamfara because according to sharia, women and men must not mix freely in public. The women refused. October 2001 in Sokoto, Safiya Hussaini was sentenced to stoning to death for adultery by Judge Mohammed Bello Sanyinlawal while acquitting the 60-year-old Yahaya Abubakar who impregnated her. After sustained international pressure, Safiya was acquitted a year later and made honorary citizen of Rome. Sokoto Governor Attahiru Bafarawa and Zamfara's Ahmad Sani condemned the honour with the latter adding, it was act of proselytisation. It was Amina Lawal's turn in March 2002. She was sentenced to public stoning for getting pregnant outside wedlock in Katsina.
In 1998, Muslim youth in Offa like the Taliban that cannot understand the compromises of tolerance and diversity, invaded Olofa's palace and razed down Moremi's shrine. December 1994 in Kano, Gideon Akaluka, a trader, was beheaded and paraded danse macabre for desecrating the Koran. February 1989, death to Wole Soyinka posters were advertised during Zaria riots because he defended Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, urged artists to launch their own creative jihad against the Iranian Ayatollahs, and called on civilised nations to expel Iranian diplomats from their territories. And then the Maitatsine massacre in December 1980 in Kano - the bloodiest in the nation's history. 4,177 lives were lost. That alone covers September 11, London, Madrid and Bali bombings not forgetting the Kenya and Tanzania US embassy bombing.
So why would Abdulmutallab abandon the home front and anchor his own extremism on Al-Qaeda? Between May and December 2009 when he was in Yemen for ‘further studies’, the home front continued to deliver as usual. June 2009 in the town of Sara in Jigawa State, a mob descended on a police station and burnt it down for failure of the Police to hand over a fleeing man that sought refuge there. They claimed he had blasphemed against the holy prophet. July 2009, Boko Haram (Western Education is a sin) struck across six northern states and for the first time in nation’s history, they started an epic theatre of blood not because of blasphemy or desecration of Koran or international affairs but just because it has been a while. And for the first time too, like the Taliban, they wanted sharia to be applied with geometric severity in all parts of the country, first, by capturing the government. They’d upped the ante. It’s being ten years now since Sharia was illegally launched by some states which the extremists packaged as an antidote to corruption and social vices. It has failed but has enhanced terrible calamities. And that is what happens when close-mindedness and bigotry through sinister contraptions seek to substitute their own answers to complex questions of modern life in all its contradictions.
Why would Abdulmutallab not prefer Boko Haram, El Zaky Zaky or Kala Kato - the latest offshoot of Maitatsine? If these were not satisfactory enough why didn't he collect a brigade of Almajiris readily available on the streets and form his own radical movement as others did with impunity? He is currently standing trial in America, yet there has never been any conviction in Nigeria. So why abandon the laissez faire of home front for the aberrations of Detroit? Granted, bigotry never disdains any alliance that will aid its widespread and dominance, but why al-Qaeda in particular? The reason? There is still an essential missing on the home front: the flattering sense of spectacle firmly constitutive of 21st century martyrdom.
Later in the year, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed architect of 9eleven terrorist attacks would be going on civil trial in New York. And when he is presented to the public, there are going to be striking similarities between him and his Amir, Osama bin Laden. Contrary to the toothbrush moustache he had when he was arrested in Pakistan in March 2003, KSM has grown his beard long with the exact grey shades in the right places just like bin Laden’s. He is going to wear a white flowing dress and weave a turban in the same pattern as his boss. In June 2008, during the closed military tribunal proceedings at Guantanamo Bay, his main complaint was that the courtroom artist sketching his image for the press got his nose wrong. He knows death is for sure but he understands semiotics so he needs spectacle to communicate to and energise his fan base all over the world. All the times bin Laden and his deputy were giving interviews to different journalists in their crazy caves, they never allowed themselves to be photographed without sitting Buddha-like on the ground in a white flowing garment and an AK-47 propped against the wall in the background or with an army camouflage coat draped on their shoulders. They knew the photographs were going to be transmitted round the world and so they were secretly using the spectacle to weave an iconography around themselves, energising their fan base and setting themselves apart as role-models and courageous fighters.
In The Cult of the Suicide Bomber, Robert Frisk documents the heartrending ironies surrounding a kid whose sole reason for living was to explode himself; the joy and admiration he'd inspired in the eyes of his fans; how he himself can't wait to hear his perfumed name still chanted from the minarets long after he had gone; how his training sessions, his final steps and steadied soul had been videotaped and was been shown to others as an example of holiness, righteousness and fortitude. Abdulmutallab too needed that spectacle: the baby-faced devout man, who got in touch with the impossible, beat all European and American security to take revenge mid-air on the enemies of Islam. Peace be unto his name.
But are those 300 people on the plane with him the enemies of Islam? No. Does Umar or his backers care whether there are fellow Muslims on the plane too? No (even if he coincidentally met a girlfriend on the flight.) What he wanted was that flattering spectacle of death, published by cameras, magnified by million TV screens round the world. It is the Big Picture, Al-Qaeda's PR. And anything beneficial to terror or its narrative cannot be injurious to Allah. So they claim.
Damola Awoyokun is a writer and essayist