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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Salman Rushdie’s attack and Nigeria knife edge

By Busuyi Mekusi

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Existential threats, some of which are of titanic propensity, seem to be a common complement of human civilisations, notwithstanding the various good initiatives taken to enhance quality social engineering and sustainability. It is, therefore, for the foregoing that we have narratives portending the vexations of the Supreme Being and Coordinator of human beings in Noah’s biblical anecdote; the psychopathic monstrosity of Adolf Hitler’s Nazism/the Jewish Holocaust, and very huge annihilations ongoing in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, America and almost irredeemably in Africa. As highlighted before, religiously-induced and racial ideologies are at the centre of the rages. It remains mere platitudes that religions preach peace, and that the ‘rainbow’ is suggestive of the inevitability of identity multiplicity.  

The oppositionality of blasphemy and free expression clearly defines how one could consider his religious sensibility affronted, and the limits of tolerance which could accommodate the priggishness of others, in the reckless exercise of what are called democratic rights.  No doubt, democracy has a way of negatively skewing procedures, to either deliberately or inadvertently denote a winner or loser. It is for this reason that a murderer would enjoy the plea of advocates that death penalty is a hard kill in regenerative application of sanctions. One greater licence to criminality is the likely-to-be-abused prerogative of mercy. George Orwell is right that not all animals are equal. Fela once opined that animals could ‘dash’ one human right, after all!

Karl Max’s proposition of religion being the opium of the people is principal definitive of the ascriptions that are made to details in human engagements and cohabitation. Democratic cloak is nonetheless used, oftentimes, to delimit the stench of religious bigotry and idiocy to the detriment of the greater number of people. Very unfortunately needless is the configuration of the West as an agency for new liberal civilisation that affronts the rigid prescriptive orders in most religions. The internal contradictions of a country like the United States in matters of race continue to dampen the liberality the nation sought by the blood of icons in the past, and treasured by deliberate extermination of flimsy barriers. On the other hand, the attacks of September 11, 2001 reincarnated the hatred some Islamic fundamentalists have against the United States. The United States’ actions as the ‘supervisor’ of the world, which led to her military actions in countries like Afghanistan, Libya, Iran, etc., do earn her repulsions from nations that consider such activities overarching and repugnant.

Literary writers are not always welcome by the establishment, as they traditionally interrogate, demystify and reprimand the ruling class through the use of biting or scathing satire. The poetic licence of writers allows them to manufacture characters that could parody their targets, and weave words metaphorically through which to pun an aspect or full personality of a principal human actor. Either done explicitly or discreetly, the artistic representations of writers have sometimes put them in trouble with political leaders, leading at times to their being exiled, incarcerated or killed. From Soyinka to Achebe and Ngugi to Fugard, artists have had their fingers burnt. It is against this backdrop that Salman Rushdie, the India-born British-American, got into the stormy water with his famous but provocative Satanic Verses, which was written in 1988.   

This Rushdie’s forth novel took him to a painful level of visibility. The novel’s satirical depictions of Prophet Muhammad ignited anger and recrimination from people, leading to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayattolah Ruhollah Khomeini issuing fatwa (edict) against Rushdie, urging Muslims to kill him. However, a relatively liberal Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, in 1998 said that Iran was no longer supporting the killing of Rushdie but, most dangerously, the edict was not lifted, allegedly with a bounty of $3.3 million attached by an Iranian religious foundation, as at 2012. Rushdie was said to have presented a half-hearted apology to Iran, which was rejected. Protests against the novel recorded about 12 victims, while the book was banned in some countries, including Sudan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India, where Rushdie was born. In all, Rushdie did not ‘rush to die’!

Rushdie was not alone in the visitation with rage, as other people with connection to the novel also faced various degrees of buffeting and fatality. For instance, the Japanese translator of the dreaded novel, Hitoshi Igarashi, was stabbed to death; the Italian translator, Ettore Capriolo, was badly wounded, while the Norwegian publisher, William Nygaard, was seriously wounded after being shot three times outside his home in Oslo. Even though works in translation could not be wholly taken as having the figurative vitality of the original, as certain elements would have been lost inadvertently, they substantially carry the material properties of the original works, and convey the meanings so intended to the readers. For the aggressors in the matter of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, the translator, who is an amplifier of a sort, is as guilty as the author who is the originator.

Rushdie’s period of heavily-security-protected hibernation to ward off the death sentence on him in London saw him modifying his identity to continue his literary creativity, as he adapted a new name, Joseph Anton, in writing his memoir in which he reflected his experiences after the fatwa. The pseudonym used by Rushdie was an amalgamation of the names of two renowned writers; Joseph Conrad, popular for his Eurocentric Heart of Darkness, and Anton Chekhov. Getting back to the society for Rushdie was possible in a place like New York where he moved around with relaxed security, not aware of the fact that threats against his life was as ubiquitous as human wickedness. The knife attack on Rushdie neck and lower abdomen, as he mounted the stage to present a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution which offers arts and literary programming West New York, United States, stoked the embers of racial and religious hatred that run in the veins of humans globally, including the free space of the United States considered to be a haven for exiled writers.

The repressed religio-racial challenges the United States is facing today are a reminder to Nigeria that her pretentious handling of touchy religious matters is akin to putting a burning open fire under a thatched roof, undoubtedly promising a conflagration soon. As Rushdie had knife on his neck, and some Nigerians are daggers drawn against others, it is time Nigeria understood her knife edge. Among other things, the knife edge is a critical point in the development of a situation, or the process of making a decision. If anytime Nigeria needs to face her contradictions is now, when the falcons find it difficult to hear the falconers, and things are fast falling apart. The mob killing of an innocent girl in Sokoto, Deborah Samuel, for alleged blasphemy without an edict imposed, did not just expose the depravity of the mass of ill-socialised young mindless individuals, but the responses by the majority of people that condemned the act revealed the hypocrisy that is our trademark.

Nigeria’s religious prevarications have once again be brought to the fore by the Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket debates of the ruling APC, with a pursuer of peace and co-chair of the National Peace Committee, Bishop Hassan Kukah, describing it as reprehensible. Kidnapping has been elevated to a lucrative business, with remittances in the shameful unofficial sector dwarfing returns from other legitimate government endeavours. The payment of 100 million by abducted Prelate of Methodist Church, Samuel Uche, sometime ago, I then argued, was a strong legitimisation and encouragement of criminalities. Little wonder that bandits that kidnapped a catholic priest, Rev. Father Chinedu Nwadike, along Okigwe-Enugu expressway recently was said to have demanded N50 billion ransoms. Catholic priests are frequently targeted by bandits, as if the kidnappers know that Rome was not built in a day!

It is, no doubt, expedient for Nigeria and Nigerians to take a decision. Prof. Akintoye’s letter to President Mohammadu Buhari about the need to allow Yoruba people incise from the country once again indicated that the lice on the head would leave more blood stains on the thumbnails. Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State was quoted to have informed the president in a leaked secret memo that bandits were committed to forming a parallel government in the state. The Mallam deserves an award for his truthfulness about his inability to perform his constitutional responsibility of protecting his citizens, and he may have to throw in the towel, rather than writing another book of Lamentations. To show that bandits are catching cruise, the audacious abduction of Nasarawa State Commissioner for Information and Culture, Yakubu Lawal and his son in his GRA residence, is a little step away from seizing somebody with constitutional powers.

With the knife edge on our hands, there is no point continuing to have knives on our necks, like the sorry case of Rushdie’s fusibility. While nations are competing for the newest breakthroughs in technology, Nigeria is still held down by corruption and lack of accountability that get explained away on the altar of termites eating up vouchers for the disbursements of billions of naira. Public universities have again closed their doors to teaching, learning and research for six months, as tomorrow continues to leave us yesterday, and other nations arrive in tomorrow today!

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