Je Suis Nigeria – By Richard Dowden

dowden9The great surge of marchers in Paris on Sunday was impressive and very moving but what was it for? We know what it was against: murdering cartoonists – or anyone else – is a bad thing and should not happen. But what was the message to the world?

The politicians will welcome this response because they can use it to introduce lots of new security measures which no one will question. France’s security services will be given lots of money. I suspect we will soon see waves of arrests of Muslim activists in France. Politically I expect France will swing to the right and become a less tolerant society (especially of Muslims).

I will not be joining “˜Je Suis Charlie’. Why? Because although I would defend their right to draw and say what they like, these cartoonists did not respect or care about ordinary sincere believers who would have been deeply hurt by the violent dehumanised images of the founders of the great religions of the world. These were not just Muslims, but Christians and Sikhs and Buddhists as well. Some of those images came close to the sort of cartoons that the Nazis drew to depict Jews in the 1930s.

I am not a believer. I was brought up a Catholic and worked for the Catholic Church in different ways for 10 years but now I would describe myself as a sceptic, an agnostic. As a good liberal I defend the right of everyone to write, draw or compose whatever they want. Let the adult public decide whether they want to see it or not. They can mock the politicians and the Pope as much as they wish.

But if writers and cartoonists use the power of their pens to attack and mock the sincerely held beliefs of the poor and voiceless in society who cannot reply, that is not just mean, it is unjust. It is also provocative and will lead to violence. That is not a moral judgement. It is a fact.

France has a bad history with the Arab world. The vicious war for Algeria in the 1950s and 60s and the murder of many Arabs – some reports say more than 200 – in Paris in 1961 have not been forgotten. Muslims still feel discriminated against in jobs and at schools. Arabs I met – and still meet – in France complain that racism is directed at them far more than other Africans. Arabs remain at the bottom of society.

But there is a terrible irony here. The Wahhabi Islam that has created Islamic militancy has its origins in a close ally of the West; Saudi Arabia. Wealthy Saudis, such as Osama bin Laden, from a country that grew rich on our need for their cheap oil, fund terrorism against us. Just as in the 1970s and 80s much of the IRA’s money came from Britain’s ally, the United States.

Friday’s siege and shoot out and the outpouring of solidarity with those who suffered and the people of France in general was deeply moving. The world will have sympathy for France. But was it also a nationalist march making a statement about the strength of France? Will France now swing to the right and use the march to create a less open society?

Or will the “˜Je Suis Charlie’ movement open out and include all those suffering at the hands of extremists? I can think of other countries – Mali, Kenya and Nigeria to name just three – which have suffered far more recently. In north east Nigeria an estimated 2,000 people were killed last week alone by Boko Haram, which is inspired by the same philosophy and uses the same terror tactics. How much coverage has it had?

The editors could argue that Paris is a few hours away and France and Britain are close allies with shared economic and security interests. But today distance is less of an issue. The fanatics who killed in Paris are inspired by and inspire the fanatics of Boko Haram. These are not about local grievances. The death of distance means we are close; “every man is a piece of the continent” as John Donne put it 400 years ago, we are all “involved in mankind”. So where is the Je Suis Nigeria movement?

In the UK we have recently seen a lot of ceremonies, books and TV programmes all about Britain’s role in the First World War. But I see no attempt by the government or the media to mark the outbreak of the World War I as a global catastrophe and how the settlement that followed it created World War II. We still mark our historical events as tribes, not as members of the human race.

This weekend has witnessed a huge emotional expression of solidarity with the French. But I notice that an immense celebration of the battle of Waterloo is being planned for next year – another great British victory over an evil enemy. Who were we victorious over? Oh, Er –the French.

Richard Dowden is Director of the Royal African Society and author of Africa; altered states, ordinary miracles. Follow Richard on twitter @DowdenAfrica 

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15 thoughts on “Je Suis Nigeria – By Richard Dowden

  1. It is rather unfortunate that some people lost their lives in the hands of the gun men, my sympathy with the families. The society should not engage in unity in hypocrisy. All I know is that Almighty God knows the open and the secret of human inner thought and he will compensate everyone for his/her role on this planet.

  2. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo were reprehensible. Any god (s)or prophet(s) that have to be defended in such atrocious fashion are not worth worship or awe.

    Having said that, it would be nice if the values the French espouse and so proudly marched for, were also the values informing their elected governments’ geopolitical adventures. Trying to escape the consequences of your actions (and your history) is like trying to flee your shadow- it simply can’t be done . You cannot pretend it’s not there. You cannot discount it. It’s consequences will always follow you. I will be more impressed with the leaders of powerful nations if they follow their Paris marches with concrete foreign policy ideologies that recognise and respect the humanity of EVERYONE, not just white people from rich countries. Fraternity should be in humanity, not the defence of ill-gotten historical privileges. It’s time to call time on racism and the intellectual hypocrisy that masks it.

  3. I do not ascribe Hypocrisy to the show of solidarity by the French and other world leaders in Paris.I see it as one of the finesses of the Western culture. I see it as one of the positive legacies of the Westphalia State system: A long sustained belief that political,religious and psychological equilibrium is the bulwark of peace.Such attack on Charles Hebdo might be a way of questioning the posterity of Westphalia but such a march as made possible in Paris inspires on the agelessness of the Westphalia system.Let us put aside the strategic interests of the individual world leaders that gathered in Paris..instead let us peruse on the ideas that made such a march possible. Africa is stripped of such ideology.

    Boko Haram has lasted in the business of killing Nigerians for more than three years now and no such March as witnessed in France has taken place. As big as Nigeria is and blessed with great men and women,such power of ideological assembly is still absent.Nigerians talk and advertise a lot but are pathologically incapable of doing enough for the sake of Nigeria. Nobody cares.The world gathered to console France because somebody took care of the entity called France. Somebody painted the picture of France and sold it to a candid world.When such a beautiful picture as France is been destroyed,lovers of what is good will gather in its defense.Until Africa paints a sweet picture of Africa. Until Nigerians begin to love Nigeria and stop everything that will harm it,it would be very hard for the world to gather for her because the way we treat Nigeria is incapable of awakening the world to fly down to Abuja like they did in Paris. The State is an entity that cannot protect itself.Somebody must do this job.Let us gather for Nigeria and the world will console with us.

  4. One can (and should) “be Charlie” and not stop there. “Je suis Charlie” does not mean that I am not Nigeria, or Mali. Sen in his book on “Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny” wants us to recognise our and others’ multiple identities and therefore multiple “connection points”. In the same way, one can (and should) empathise (and try to “do something about” but that is harder) with “Charlie”, Nigeria, Mali, the increasing number of vulnerable people in our European countries, the migrants left with nowhere to go…

  5. Nice article. I have been searching the internet for a reasonable opinion about what we’re seeing right now and finally found it. It’s really good to see that there’s people actually thinking about the sadly Charlie Hebdo incident and its consequences and not just sharing an empty thought full of anger and misunderstanding.

  6. The difference between France and NIGERIA is that the French government showed that it cared that 17 of its citizens had been killed by terrorists and in turn the French people showed to that they cared,that is why they were able to mobilise millions to march in Paris.In contrast over 2000 citizens have died in2014 at the hands of book haram, but the government does nothing even the African Unions silence is deafening on the subject.Since the abduction of over 200 school girls from Chinook and the international outcry the government has displayed a lamentable lack of leadership and complete indifference.The more worrying aspect of the Nigerian saga is that Good luck Johnathan will be returned to power, thus proving the adage the people get the government they deserve.

  7. The elephant in the room remains the absolute dismal response by the Nigerian authorites to the barbaric and senseless genocidal acts of Bokoo Haram. Nigeria is the most populous nation on the African Continent with a sizeable Army and resources. Why are they not making a direct response to wipe out these murderer?. Or if they have failed not call in the international community. Yes there should be outrage from the international community. But the first steps start at home. Nigerian authorities have utterly failed to deal with the murders of Boko Haram. Before we blame others lets start from within.

  8. Smart, succinct, and really well-thought through. (Sorry to sound like I am marking it!) A really important perspective, I wish it were the dominant one. Every paragraph stimulates further discussion, in a productive way. Thank you.

  9. I participated in the overwhelming Je suis Charlie marches in France … but that does not mean that I’m not Je suis Nigeria … give us a chance to get organised … i’ve written to Ban Ki Moon, urged others to do so … and must point out that if almost 4 million French people can march against violence and senseless killing in France, many of them marching for the first time in their lives, then it’s not such a big leap to march against violence and senseless killing in others countries as well … #Je suis Charlie AND # Je suis Nigeria !!!

  10. I utterly echo comments No 6 and 8.This brilliant article made me doubt the infallibility of my own gut-reactions to political events like the Paris one! I hope that politicians will read it, and think twice before trotting out their own gut-reactions to shocking events. Any chance?

  11. Why Boko Haram and all Non Intellectual Zealots Fear The Magic of Education and Rule of Law

    Promoting within both young and old critical prescriptive reflective instruments in which to ground decision making is education at the normative ideal which in countries comprised of extremes in religious beliefs is most essential crucial. Alas, due to corruption and other related malfeasance relating to governance in these countries fail to dedicate resources to promote open critical reflective considered thinking which encourages the pernicious side effects of non intellectual, non rational fundamentalism which is now roiling many of these nations Nigeria included as this lack of rigorous intellectual bulwark without education will only encourage these radical misguided adherents to advancing all that is corrosive to the fostering of a stable pluralist society.
    I consider the University embedded within civil state sanctioned assisted Education along with the Civil Institutions which promote and enhance Education as an absolute essential requirement if a nation state is to flourish in a manner prescriptive, prosperous and robust within an ethos of respectful political public pluralism. In a report developed by the World Bank “Where Is the Wealth of Nations”, the World Bank attempts to demarcate how different kinds of capital contribute to a nation’s economic social development. The World Bank micro economic development analysts started with the common familiar sources of a nation’s capital:—–natural resources such as gas, oil, minerals, forests, cropland products and ‘built capital’ such as machinery, infrastructure, cities. However, these economic analysts discovered that these two fundamental sources of tangible capital accounted for only 20 – 40 percent of a nations gross wealth. The vast majority of a nations wealth is derived from the ‘intangible’ capital of civic civil social institutions such as found in education, governance, justice systems which when robust and open in process and procedure add immeasurably to the continued ongoing wealth of a nation ensuring a high degree of human capital productivity entailing civic civil stability.
    For me this makes intuitive logic sense in terms of promoting and enhancing education. A nation privileged with rich natural resources and substantial equipment and social civic infrastructure with citizens who cannot read and write; or a nation bereft of engineers or advanced expertise for technical innovation is simply not going to flourish and prosper at the same pace as the country with institutions that educate and train a highly sophisticated labour force. This explains my reasoned emphasis on education for those who care about economic social development, poverty alleviation, or empowerment of the girl-child. Education is critical. Educational Institutions are a major factor in accounting for a nations intangible social civic capital. An increase in the value of a nation’s educational institutions will dramatically increase the value of the nation’s intangible social civic capital. This is the magic of education in creating wealth and lifting a nation out of poverty.
    Education without normative rule of law process and procedure will founder as strong normative rule of law process and procedure is the most important requirement needed if a nation is to continue as being an open strong tolerant state. David Brooks of the New York Times drilled with clear asperity this salient consideration.
    “You can cram all the nongovernmental organizations you want into a country, but if there is no rule of law and if the ruling class is predatory then your achievements won’t add up to much…….there’s only so much good you can do unless you are willing to confront corruption, venality, and disorder head on”.
    Lord Paddy Ashdown, former UN High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina distills my conclusion in this pity statement—–“In hindsight, we should have put the establishment of the rule of law first, for everything else depends on it: a functioning economy, a free and fair political system, the development of civil society, public confidence in police and the courts”.

  12. The notion that millions of Muslims were offended by a magazine with normal circulation of 45,000 is absolutely absurd. Only those nutcases who crane their heads to seek offense will have any familiarity with it at all. Furthermore, Dowden’s collation of murder with offense is grotesque.

    He is correct to state that there is failure in Europe to grasp on a human level the scale of violence in places like Nigeria/Kenya, or South Africa. However to condemn it thus smacks of “The White Man’s Burden”.

    Finally, the attack on Charlie was an attack primarily on the identity of being French. In that sense it is an attack on every Frenchman’s way of life. The Boko Haram attacks are generally in remote provinces and poor villages. While each loss of life is per se equal, I have never heard a single Nigerian say Boko Haram is an assault on the Nigerian identity or way of life. Nigeria has no such sensibilities.

    The Nigerians posting here have it right and Dowden is dead wrong. If this was an assault on the Nigeria way of life, we would see Nigerian’s on the streets. It is not for the white man to fly in the great and good uninvited. I am generally an admirer of Dowden, but he seems patronising, disingenuous and simplistic in his argument here.

  13. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hypercacher supermarket last week struck at the heart of what it means to be French today. The marches that followed across France were a largely cheerful reassertion of what is now called “le vivre-ensemble” or living together. Since there is a French bias against “le communautarisme” (read: multi-culturalism), their de facto religious, racial and cultural mixing has to be redefined in this way. The “Je Suis Charlie” stickers and slogans are more in this spirit — now termed “Republican values” by politicians — than any endorsement of the offensive nature of the cartoons. I’d refer you to Jeremy Harding’s perceptive blogs in the LRB for more on this…. and to Adewale Maja-Pearce’s point in that same blog, that Boko Haram’s origins may just be discernible among Nigeria’s northern political élite. As to “our” failure to react to Boko Haram atrocities in Baga and elsewhere, the lack of timely information in a news-saturated world can be laid at the door of media houses whose nearest correspondent is in Jo’burg or London.

  14. Am sorry the Arabs are infant little voiceless children whom can choose not to buy a newspaper or not. They really are voiceless. Why are they allowed to work, vote, and participate in France. Your statements are ignorant sir. Hope this comment is not inflammatory in any manner. I just exercized some free speech. Am not a voiceless impoverished Arab that lives in France and therefore am able to think as an adult.

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