Sunday, May 3, 2009

Terrorists, death and the king's By Damola Awoyokun

I WENT to a friend's apartment and I found the media dominated by news of the arrest of 12 Pakistani terror suspects, 11 of them posing as students who had come to learn not destroy. In ten days, they would have caused a mass bombing in Liverpool. My friend asked me is West's injustices against Muslims worldwide not responsible for fuelling these unrelenting terror plots? I told him no.

He brought out a secret bag containing Islamic literatures and DVD detailing horrendous deaths: of Palestinians, of mangled bodies of Afghans made so by American fighter jets. I was not persuaded. He launched into a discourse from which I kept on hearing Arabic...Islamic...Muslim...Arabic...Quran...Arabic. I had to intervene to bring him back to his roots. I told him the greatest injustice of the West is against Africa and blacks. I started from the age of enlightenment which set the stage for western civilization but which also set the stage for monumental barbarity of transatlantic slave trade. The same enlightened philosophers who provided the basis for civilization provided the intellectual grounds for defining blacks as subhuman. I went on to describing the horrific conditions on the slave ships, and the treatment of slaves in the plantations and the New World. Next: colonisation, then: apartheid.
All of the whites I travelled with to South Africa for an AIDS conference preferred to stay behind in the bus when we went into the apartheid museum that documents the horrors of apartheid period. Next: the current trade injustice and exploitation of Africa's mineral resources, the secret dumping of industrial and nuclear wastes, and the radiation poisoning they engender in man, animals and vegetation. Then: the recent Congo war in which the British foreign secretary played a vital role in bringing both sides to dialogue, until it was discovered that the main arms supplier to both sides was from the same place with the peace diplomat. Concern Africans took to the streets of Westminster in protests. With all these, I told him, Africans do not plot terror against the West to air their views, or make their feelings known, or to get justice.

I got extra tickets for Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman and asked him along. I have watched several productions of the play, the best so far is Makinde Adeniran's 1995 production in Oduduwa Hall in Ife where Ropo Ewenla superbly starred as praise singer. This was the first time I would watch it in the capital of the empire, in their National Theatre with majority of the audience white, and more importantly, when the issues raised in the play are still pertinent. This Rufus Norris's production is wonderful except that Iyaloja is not accorded the total grandeur the character deserved. Yes, she concedes to Eleshin's indulgences but stooping to him even during his detention is way off. Eleshin himself has physicality that weirdly approaches that of a brute during the dramatisation of the Not-I sequence.

When he is going through the motions of killing himself, and the sound effect assumes the echoes of the noumenal passage, the fourth stage, the cast spread out at his back, raising their hands towards him in gestures that unmistakably bring to mind what pastors do when they just found a wealthy convert or a quarry kneeling before them. Compared to Ewenla, this praise singer is a nonstarter, when he is not fluffing his lines, he is not giving essentials the dramatic intensity they required to empower the progress of the plot. The actors that give the production its edge are ironically the minorities: sergeant Amusa, the resident's wife, Iyaloja's girls, the ensemble who stood throughout to represent reading lamp, table, chair, flowers and shutters at the residency. Not only do they illustrate the colonial's objectification of natives, they are ingeniously used to tell the weather and their rattling used to stage the storm in Amusa's inner weather.

And the audience? The mood was one of reverent silence throughout punctuated by moments of laughter: during the vaudeville of Iyaloja's girls about sergeant Amusa being a white man's eunuch, and the British cliched use of please in every phrase. And moments of realization and compunction: when characters say lines laced with accusatory lasers. You feel them as furious reports from the young Soyinka's psyche when he was wrestling with the bust of Churchill, that he confronted everyday on the way to his office in Cambridge when he wrote the play. Be it Olunde's assertion that whites do not have respect for what they don't understand; or the newsreels calling mass slaughters 'strategic victories' which the tabloids are still doing up till today with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan; or that supreme moment when Pilkings said he has ordered his force to shoot down anyone who foments trouble after he has arrested Elesin. Iyaloja responds calmly: to prevent a death you want to cause many others? Such is the wisdom of the white race! The whole audience went hmmmgh!

After the play, my friend filled with much ado bought some Soyinka in the theatre's bookshop. He said he has seen what he would tell others. I told him the reason I wanted him to see the play was to prove there are other ways of channelling anger or addressing race injustice other than violence or terror. This channel was too brilliant that the white man had to make its author the first African to win the Nobel Prize. There is something noble about every human being. The West in perpetrating injustice is acting from ignorance and it is your duty to enlighten them, appeal to that noble core of the human soul. That was where Mandela's and Martin Luther King's moral integrity came from and that is what Obama tapped into. Had Obama stuck to the polarities of black vs. whites, minorities vs. majority, violence against the violent, he will not be the most powerful man on earth today.

I informed my friend to disregard those propaganda literatures they distribute stealthily in London mosques about a permanent western conspiracy against Muslims. Not only the West, Arabs too enslaved and colonised Africa. They have not apologised and the physics of their maltreatment persist till date not only in Mauritania and between Nubians and Arab Africans but also in the Sudan genocide. Let Nigerian Muslims beware: there is something still unevolved about the Arab-ed psyche that tend to valorise violence against keferis; that career terrorists and their sympathisers in Nigeria are just using the so-called western injustices as a cover to enlist the sentiments of uninformed Muslims all over the world to their barbaric cause; they are no freedom fighters. Even if injustices disappear tomorrow, they will not relent. Their agenda is to bring about regimes that would popularise chopping off limbs, lynching adulterers and gays and, fill the streets of Lagos or Ibadan with beggars from their Sharia factories.

While civilisation with its marvels of science and medical technology is trying to improve the lots of disabled, Sharia forces want to keep on producing them. Why is it that the governor who cut the hand of a cow thief as deterrence to theft stole millions in public money and his own limbs are still intact? Why is it that those who claimed to be fighting western injustices have not condemned the genocide that their own brothers are perpetrating against the unmaghrebed blacks in Darfur? Instead, in a recent show of shame, the Arab League of Nations was expressing support for that ICC-wanted genocide butcher in Sudan.

Authentic Muslims have no business buying into their lies and propaganda. For those who feel there is a genuine injustice to address, or an anger to take out, the works of Palestinian poet Marmoud Darwish and acclaimed play, The Al-Hamlet Summit by Suleyman Al-Bassam's are examples.

Awoyokun lives in London.

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