Thursday, 28 January 2016

Movies, Race & Politics: Half of a Yellow Sun vs Beasts of No Nation

I just watched Beasts of No Nation, mostly because of the furore surrounding the fact that its most recognisable star Idris Elba, who I greatly admire, was amongst the black actors absent from this year's Oscar nominations. Apparently BONN should have received nominations for Best Picture or for Elba or the child star Abraham Attah, who was quite brilliant in the role of normal kid turned child soldier.

Idris Elba: A fine actor and a fine man


But I feel that the whole #OscarsSoWhite controversy is uncalled for. I think that African Americans are been entirely too demanding, I mean, what if out of 12 movies up for contention, the best five had white actors in the lead? Should a black actor be included in the running simply because of his skin colour despite not being good enough? Jada Pinkett Smith, the most vocal of the complainers never got any sympathy from me. Her husband Will Smith, although lovely, perhaps wasn't good enough in Concussion, a film for which Pinkett Smith feel he should have been nominated for Best Actor. I haven't seen it so I can't say.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith: Black Hollywood's power couple

But I just saw the whole hoopla as another way the liberal media forces people and establishments to tow the liberal line by instantly demonising anything or anyone - whether it be a social media posting or a comment/action captured on video or recorded - deemed sexist (against women though, rarely against men), racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-transgender or homophobic and forcing everybody to never air an opinion outside the 'accepted norm.'

In American political terms, where once I was a Democrat who proudly attended President Obama's inauguration in Washington, as I've grown older I've become more Republican (minus the love of guns). Today I would call myself a Conservative Libertarian, so I feel free speech should apply to everyone without fear of sanction unless they threaten violence, and everyone has the right to be offended. But these days the 'Hallowed Six' of Women, Blacks, Jews, Muslims, Transgenders and Gays have achieved a status in the mainstream and social media where their causes are championed without prejudice and any perceived 'hate speech' against them is instantly jumped on and stamped out, with perpetrators insulted and banished. Where's the freedom in that?

Duck Dynasty Star: Fired because of his Biblical views on homosexuality

Celebrity Big Brother 2016: Winston McKenzie was the first to be voted out of the house to a chorus of boos when he spoke out against homosexuality. His angry, tearful house mates said they couldn't live with someone like him and there were numerous complaints from the public about his words. Now who's being intolerant?

The bad guys in this new order of things are Christians, traditionalists, non-Westerners, the older generation and the independent-thinking brave who are in disagreement with some actions of the Hallowed Six. Now I'm not advocating hate, but the freedom to disagree and air differing views about these groups. I don't agree with homosexuality, and being a Black woman, another may dislike me because of my race or sex, but we should both be allowed to hash it out without it being a crime, because that is life. I once had a long and heated debate about God on Twitter with a white, atheist American man, where I spoke about my faith and he said that if he ever met God he'd spit in his face. But in the end we politely signed off and I felt that I had benefited from the exchange.

No need pretending we all love each and are all okay with outlandish events like a man turning into a woman (see my post: Bruce Jenner and the Moral Decay of Society). And those who believe that the Bible is against such and such shouldn't be booed out of a public space. They should be entitled to their say and their opinions respected. You may ignore them or argue against them, but don't fire them, sue or imprison them or force them to apologise and recant their genuine opinions. It should be as easy to say 'I don't agree with homosexuality' as saying 'I don't like onions.' It's simply an opinion.

That's why I like Donald Trump. He's been so delightfully un-PC and counter-cultural in his Presidential campaign that I enjoy many of his utterances. Sure he lacks the diplomacy, tolerance or temperament to be a good President, but boy has he shaken things up and given those of us who believe what we believe a boost. Plus, watching him on many seasons of The Apprentice, he never once came across as a bigot in any way, and many others have stated that they've never seen this intolerant side of him, so I believe the promise of power has turned him into the worst version of himself. But I digress.

Donald Trump: He may be extreme but I like his fearless chutzpah

So the oppressed have now become the oppressor, a militant enforcement watchdog who clamp down on true diversity of opinion. They might still face hardships in the real world, but online and in the media they rule. This means blacks are always right and deserving of every accolade on a 50:50 even split with whites, despite being only about 13% of the population in America, less than 5% in the UK and not being well represented equally in every field simply because of lack of numbers or talent.

Not every movie with a Black lead will be Oscar-worthy, and even white people are snubbed by the Academy Awards, like Leonardo DiCaprio, who has never won despite being in many brilliant films in recent times. It happens. And remember when Lupita Nyong'o won a Best Supporting Actress award in 2014 for like, 10 minutes of screen time in 12 Years a Slave? Or when Jennifer Hudson won the same award in 2007 for singing in Dream Girls? Wouldn't you say the Academy was working hard to recognise Black talent that some say were undeserving? And also, a black woman has won Best Supporting Actress in 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.

Or how about when, in 2002 Denzel Washington won Best Actor for Training Day, the same year Halle Berry won Best Actress for Monster's Ball, yet some Black people were grumbling that despite the fact that in the majority of his roles he depicted fine, upstanding men of honour, Denzel was only recognised by the Academy after playing crooked detective in Training Day, and as for Halle, she got the gong after debasing herself by rumping with the white man who executed her Black husband in Monster's Ball. (I must admit, that sex scene she was in was really raw and she was fully naked when most actresses of her calibre are usually partially covered.)

Aren't they so beautiful? Oscars 2002, the best year for African Americans

Sure I also agree that Angela Bassett was robbed of a Best Actress gong playing Tina Turner in What's Love Gotta Do With It?, but Jamie Foxx was outstanding as Ray Charles in Ray, I mean so outstanding I forgot I was watching Foxx at all. He absolutely deserved the Best Actor trophy for that in 2005. So guys, it's not like the Academy never acknowledges black talent, it does, but it can't please everyone all of the time, especially not a belligerent minority who demand accolades every year.

I feel African Americans want to have their cake and eat it too: they continue the Blacks only BET, Soul Train and NAACP awards, stating that they need to celebrate themselves because the mainstream doesn't, yet no award can be all-white these days without backlash. They expect representation in mainstream award shows, but you can't segregate yourselves then come out to play when you want. Will Smith's former co-star on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Janet Hubert stated it so hilariously on this video.

This Oscars Equality Fight would be commendable if it were occurring at a different time, but in today's Zeitgeist where everyone on the internet and on TV seems to be drinking from the same Kool-Aid of being anti-establishment, anti-tradition and anti-religion, and where political correctness polices everyone's words at pains of losing your job and reputation, I think it's all just more bullying by the Liberatti to get us all to accept freedom and inclusion without boundaries, rules or absolutes.

Beasts of No Nation

Apart from wanting to see Elba in a role many have praised, I also wanted to support the rarity of a Black Brit with West African parents doing so well in Hollywood. But at first BONN held no interest for me: I dislike war films set in Africa where all the ugliness of the continent is on gory display. Films like Hotel Rwanda, although brilliant, left me with a desolate feeling towards Africa and its many issues. I want to enjoy a film without feeling sad about what it says about my people.

Beasts of No Nation: Featuring breakout child star Abraham Attah

I've also met Elba at a movie event once, and he's as charming in person as he appears on screen. So I watched BONN, having previously heard of but not read the book which was written by Harvard-educated doctor Uzodinma Iweala, son of Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Nigeria's former Minister of Finance. Despite her controversies as a politician, I did some research on Okonjo Iweala's family; turns out both herself and her husband, all four of her children and even her parents were Harvard graduates with PhDs aplenty. Talk about generational pedigree!

Harvard Alumni: Uzodinma Iweala (centre) Author of Beasts of No Nation with his mum Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and dad Ikemba Iweala 

BONN was set in an 'unspecified West African country', and I immediately thought that it must be Nigeria. I assumed Iweala didn't want to specify because he didn't want the book to be unfairly pre-judged because of the country's negative image. So I was surprised the film was set in Ghana with mostly Ghanaian actors. I wondered if Ghana was an easier country to film in or Ghanaian actors better to work with.

The young boy who played Agu (a Nigerian name) was really good. He wasn't wooden or obviously 'acting' like the Nigerian kid actors I've seen, he was very real in his emotions and the part where he meets Elba's Commandant for the first time and tells him about his family's massacre was very touching. His fellow child soldier companion Striker was also a gem, that kid never spoke but he moved me immensely with his pained eyes.

Beasts of No Nation: Director Cary Joji Fukunaga, Abraham Atta and Idris Elba

Elba was good too, but not fantastic, and probably not Oscar-worthy. I like him best so far in Daddy's Little Girls, and I've just started watching Luther and he's great in that too. BONN's director, Attah and the story were commendable, but all were snubbed. I'll support the case for racism being behind its omission  in the Oscar contenders, if not for the fact that Netflix, the makers of the film, decided to stream it on their platform at the same time it came out in the theatres, which violated an industry rule. Maybe that was why the movie was snubbed. Either way it's a massive shame.

Half of a Yellow Sun

So after watching BONN, which is based on a book about war written by a Nigerian and starring a UK/US based African in a lead role, I compared it to Half of a Yellow Sun by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie set in the 60s during the Nigerian civil war. I'd read the book years ago and liked it. I mean, I love Adichie, as noted by my many posts praising her brilliance. But unlike BONN, HOAYS was a mess.

Half of a Yellow Sun

The controversy surrounding casting Thandie Newton as Olanna and Anika Noni Rose as Kainene, two Western women playing Nigerian characters was never a problem for me. Both are capable, recognisable actresses and when a major International movie studio is financing the film, you can't realistically cast Nigerian actors in lead roles. They don't have the bankability and they're not as good. Nigerian home-grown actors are, 99% of the time, terrible by international standards, and the handful who aren't were in HOAYS, namely Genevieve Nnaji and Onyeka Onwenu who did well in their supporting roles as Ms Adebayo and Odenigbo's mother respectively. Onwenu's particularly luminous performance was rightfully praised in all the reviews I read that mentioned her.

Chiwetel Ejiofor can do no wrong in my eyes. I've loved him and followed his work and wrote profiles about him for years, my favourite of his roles being the brooding, dignified immigrant doctor in Dirty Pretty Things. He was good but not great in HOAYS, as he mostly reacted to Newton, whose 'angry-Black-woman' shtick is becoming all too familiar in this and roles in The Pursuit of Happyness and Crash, although she was brilliant in the latter.

But alas, the problem with HOAYS wasn't really the actors, but the direction by UK-based Nigerian Biyi Bandele. He was the wrong guy to helm this movie and they really should have given it to a well-trained, tried and tested and capable director, preferably an American.

Biyi Bandele: Good at directing MTV Africa's soap Shuga, but not an international movie

Upon reading reviews of HOAYS, it struck me how often many stated that 'the book was better,' and agreed with me that those who have not read the book will have no way of understanding the film in its fullness. It lacked context and omitted many important qualities of the book. With BONN, I'd never read the book yet followed the film, there were no huge plot holes and no character felt underdeveloped. But in HOAYS, village boy turned author Ugwu, one of the three main characters in the book was rendered unimportant in the film despite the fact that his coming of age story, his turn as a soldier, his love for Odenigbo and his family and his carnal desires were highlights of the novel. Also Richard, the shy white Brit had far too few lines and was a bit of a pathetic observer in the film, when he was much more endearing in the book.

The physical differences and animosity between twin sisters Olanna and Kainene was not depicted. Kainene's dry wit, aloofness and envy/hate of her sister was fascinating to me, yet none of it was addressed, and the fall out from Olanna sleeping with Richard was mishandled. Many reviewers thought the film was like a soap/melodrama at points, and that the savagery of the Biafran war, which was most memorably represented by images of malnourished kids with kwashiokor was absent. I agree.

Anika Noni Rose as Kainene and Thandie Newton as Olanna in Half of a Yellow Sun

I watched the film and after 20 minutes, I was just waiting for it to be over. The love scenes between Newton and Ejiofor was too much, and Newton was a bit too shrill for me; Olanna in the book was more centred and well-rounded. Whereas BONN carried me along and although it was brutal in places, it felt like a 'real film by a real film maker' and not some honorary project. I wonder what Adichie thought of the film. In her latest book Americanah, she thanked Thandie Newton in the acknowledgements which I thought curious. But after watching HOAYS, I understand now that they must have hit it off during the film.

Now that Lupita Nyong'o has bought the film rights to Americanah and plans to play the lead role of Ifemelu herself, I'm a bit worried that this book too will be a disaster on the big screen. But the key to the success of Americanah the movie is simply a good director and a great screenplay that will capture the fire and fierceness of Ifemelu's thoughts on race, racism and America. Adichie's books have to be rendered well to do justice to her brilliant writing.

Nnamdi Asomugha, Concussion and Fela

I saw in the credits that one of the executive producers of BONN was Nnamdi Asomugha, the NFL player and husband of Scandal actress Kerry Washington. That was a nice surprise, as it turns out he's more than just Washington's husband because the second-generation Nigerian has also won awards for his philanthropy and charity work around America and Nigeria. Good for him.

Kerry Washington and Nnamdi Asomugha

His involvement in BONN reminds me of how one Nigerian, Ayo Shonaiya spoke up against the shade many Nigerians threw on Will Smith's Oscar Contender film Concussion, which is about a Nigerian-American doctor Bennet Omalu who uncovered the truth about brain damage in American football players. A positive Nigerian character in a sea of negativity, yet what irked many Nigerians was the fact that Smith's Nigerian accent was poor. Unlike Elba's Commandant in BONN, who did not only do the accent well but also the mannerisms and the 'ahs' and 'ehs' exclamations that punctuate the sentences of West Africans. He was a believable African (well, his parents are from Sierra Leone and Ghana) but Smith wasn't.

Will Smith with the real Dr Bennet Omalu

Shonaiya stated that Nigerians should ignore his accent and be pleased that a powerhouse like Smith put his resources behind this film, just as Smith along with his wife and Jay Z put their mettle behind the staging of Fela! on Broadway when the rich Nigerians that were asked to finance it refused.

I saw Fela! at the Sadler Wells theatre in London and it was a great show, although I was irked that the actor playing Fela wasn't Nigerian, but a Sierra Leonan-American Sahr Ngaujah whose pidgin English was poor. I too fell into the trap of focusing on the unimportant and ignoring the blessed magnitude of the respectful homage paid to one of Africa's biggest, best and most important musician by other Blacks. It's sad how during the major anniversaries of Fela's death, there are tributes in London museums, music venues and in newspapers and radio, yet nothing of note is done in Nigeria to celebrate the icon.

Broadway poster for Fela!

That powerful African Americans and British Blacks are in a position to finance and bring the stories of Africa and Africans to a larger audience is something to be proud of, who cares that they don't speak pidgin with the inflections of a Lagosian?

*I think an apology is in order to readers of this blog for my long delay between posts (seven months!) It had to do with many things, not least of which was my personal disillusionment with my Fulani heritage due to private experiences and the systematic, criminal and murderous actions of some Fulani herdsmen/young men in Nigeria. More on that soon, once I figure out how to address it all... 

Friday, 5 June 2015

Now That Nigeria's President Is a Fulani Man...

Muhammadu Buhari - a Fulani man from Daura in Katsina State - was inaugurated as the 5th democratically elected President of Nigeria on Friday May 29th 2015 in a landmark event that Nigerians had waited for since March, when he was declared the winner of the 2015 elections.

President Muhammadu Buhari during his inauguration

His was a victory much heralded after 16 long years of the corruption-riddled rule of the People's Democratic Party, most recently headed by the now former President Goodluck Jonathan. A determined Buhari triumphed at his fourth try at the Presidency, and his All Progressives Congress (APC) Party gained power at a crucial time when Nigeria is been battered on every side by Boko Haram, fuel scarcity, electricity shortages, the colossal theft of the country's funds and reserves by the few at the expense of the many; spates of kidnappings and the continued dearth in the basic funding of hospitals, schools, roads and agriculture.

Buhari's Fulani Characteristics

Hopes are high that President Buhari, more than any other Presidential contender or leader in recent times, will impose order and stem the tide of iniquity and the haemorrhaging of the country's oil money, purely because of his impeachable character.

His intolerance of corruption and disciplined approach to leadership, along with his simplicity and integrity witnessed during his short-lived first stint leading Nigeria between 1983 and 1985 - then as a military head of state - is widely acknowledged by all and sorely needed at a time when Nigerian leaders have been widely derided for being incompetent. One of his main initiatives during his previous tenure was his War Against Indiscipline, which saw armed officials firmly maintaining order in such civic responsibilities as straight queues and punctuality at work.

General Buhari in the 80s when he was the military head of state

Buhari is a classic example of a stern, self-effacing Fulani man; simple in his ways, firm in his convictions and committed to a sense of duty. Like many Fulani men, he stands tall and erect, is slim yet sturdy and has an unlined face that looks younger than his 72 years, with dignified mannerisms and a regal walk. Like many Fulani men, ostentatious displays of wealth and garish trappings of riches is far from his mind. Despite being a former President and former head of the NNPC and PTF where he had access to billions, he has no overseas mansions or fleet of luxury cars to his name.

Instead Buhari has his much beloved home in Daura, as well as a farm and the customary Fulani sign of success: cattle. His simplicity was such that he once remarked that he only has only one million Naira in his bank account, in an age where Nigerian men of his political experience have billions of dollars in several accounts.

President Buhari (centre) at his farm in Daura with some of his cows

Buhari's upright, no-nonsense character can be attributed to both his nature as a Fulani man and his nurturing as a retired army general old enough to imbibe many of the disciplined traits the former colonial masters instituted in the country, that was evidenced until the 1980s. He belongs to the generation that wore starched shirts, read newspapers in the mornings and books in the evenings, spoke with British inflections (not the faux-American accents affected today) and behaved with decorum in public.

Buhari and Boko Haram

Too young to remember his first outing, two things stood out to me from his inaugural speech at his second coming; his now famous line: "I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody" was a journalist's dream in terms of concisely capturing Buhari's proposed leadership style in nine words. He was saying he is a man of the people but is beholden to no one; he is ready to listen to all but owes nobody anything.

The other thing was his assertion that: "Boko Haram is a mindless, godless group who are as far away from Islam as one can think of." This clinched it for me. Before his win, there were concerns by the opposing PDP party that Buhari was a sympathiser of Boko Haram, and being a staunch Muslim, would bring Sharia Law to all parts of Nigeria. I was wary of him, but by the beginning of the year I along with most Nigerians were so desperate for relief from PDP that we were willing to give even Buhari a try. His win was welcomed because finally a change had come, and there was no anarchy to mark the end of the elections and the predicted disintegration of Nigeria was avoided, with credit for that going to Jonathan's early phone call to Buhari to concede defeat.

But I still wondered about Buhari's religious intentions, until he made that statement. It allayed my fears, and his efforts in the first week after resuming power of moving the military to the heart of the insurgency in Borno State and meeting with other West African Presidents to discuss how to end Boko Haram speaks of man that has made getting rid of these terrorists a priority.

Buhari's Wife

Aisha Buhari was thrust into the limelight during the latter stages of Buhari's presidential campaign, where her clear-headed speeches in support of her husband and her grace and decorum was in direct contrast to Jonathan's wife Patience, whose forceful rants and 'Bulldog in a China Shop' approach to things rankled. Mrs Buhari's reserved beauty is another welcome change, as is her eloquence.

President Buhari's wife Aisha, a Fulani woman from Adamawa State

A Fulani woman from Adamawa State, the new First Lady married Buhari in 1989 when she was 18 years old. She is his second wife (Buhari divorced his first wife Safinatu, with whom he had four girls and a boy) and they have five children, four girls: Amina, Halima, Zarah and Aisha and a boy named Yusuf.

President Buhari with his late first wife Safinatu and their five children

Educated up to Masters level with training and certificates in professional beauty treatments and management from various universities both in Nigeria and abroad, Mrs Buhari, until her husband's presidency ran a Beauty Spa in Kaduna and Abuja.

President Buhari and his wife Aisha during his inauguration

Although always covered up with only her face and hands showing, and wearing a wrap around her body in public, the bespectacled Aisha Buhari gets her makeup professionally done, wears expensive jewellery and even wore fashionably-darkened glasses during the inauguration, where her all white attire matched her husband's. This First Lady, I believe, will be characterised by carefully selected media utterances in national matters relating to women, children and her family, and displays of pricey fashionable pieces complimenting modest clothing designs befitting of a prominent Hajiya when she accompanies her husband to state functions.

I doubt she will seek the limelight, seek political power for herself, engage in politics with male politicians or show any signs of friction or disagreements with her husband in public, unlike her predecessor. I've heard that Mrs Buhari is no wallflower and is quite formidable within her close circles, but hers will be a reserved tenure where she will be largely invisible.

But only time will tell.

Buhari's Beautiful Brood

Buhari is a father of 10 and is blessed with seven beautiful daughters (his first-born daughter with his first wife died during childbirth) and an equally handsome young son, whose striking good looks captivated Nigerians on social media in the run-up to his inauguration.

Zahra Buhari: The face that launched a thousand votes

First to be thrust into public adulation was one of Buhari's younger daughters Zarah, who attends a university in England. Her pictures and tweets were hugely popular and many praised her beauty; she received marriage proposals and some vowed to vote for her father simply because they admired her.

Zarah was then photographed along with her brother walking behind their father at Nnamdi Azikiwe airport in Abuja as they arrived from the UK days before the inauguration. Girls drooled over Zarah's brother, Yusuf, whose easy good looks and calm demeanour marked him out as his father's son.

Zarah walking behind her father with her brother Yusuf

On the day of their father's inauguration, the Buhari girls took a photograph with their mother/step-mother, and Nigeria rejoiced at the nation having such a photogenic First Family, whose ladies were pretty, proper and poised. Most of the girls are now married with children, except the youngest two (below in blue), and no doubt their weddings and future milestones will be grand events.

Buhari's Beautiful Brood: His daughters and wife pose for the cameras 

A New Fulani Era

President Buhari's victory has brought a Fulani man with a Fulani-influenced style of leadership to Aso Rock, and his Fulani family with Fulani values, traditions and style will be of huge interest to me personally and for this blog. 

I look forward to a firm and competent leader, whose anti-corruption stance will influence the rest of Nigeria and whose tenure will be marked by huge strides in combating many of the ills plaguing the country. A leader whose simplicity is powered by his Fulaniness and who will reconfigure and continue on with the various successes of previous Fulani presidents. I look forward to a First Lady who will be more like former first lady, the late Maryam Babangida in carriage and influence, and who will enhance and not obstruct her husband's leadership. 

Nigerians can look forward to lessons in modest femininity from Buhari's daughters, in stark contrast to the slack, salacious and over-exposed lifestyles of many young women today. I look forward to seeing more of the seemingly shy Yusuf Buhari, who will no doubt inherit the better characteristics of his father.

I'm sure there will be some drama, disappointments, controversies and rumours surrounding them at some point in their first four years and beyond, but I believe that on the whole the Buharis will always be respectable in public (if not in private) as they take center stage as the most famous Fulani family in the world.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Bruce Jenner and the Moral Decay of Society

There is officially no right and wrong anymore. Behaviour, beliefs, desires and preferences that were taboo, illegal, wrong, shameful and condemned a mere 50 years ago are today accepted and even celebrated, with Western society falling over itself to accommodate behaviour that not too long ago would have had its proponents sectioned. 

Witness the case of a man, Bruce Jenner, a 65 year old three-time divorcee, father of six, step-father of four and soon to be grandfather; a champion athlete, Olympic gold-medallist and world record holder who triumphed in the 1976 games in what is hands-down the toughest contest of them all: The Decathlon. To be the best in the world in 10 different competitions in a monumental show of athletic prowess; to sire six children (three boys and three girls); to woo, win and wed three beautiful women; raise four children that are not yours; be respected amongst both your peers and the public who pay to hear you inspire them with the power of your words and glean knowledge from your success; to remain humble, loving and pleasant to both family and fans; to be law-abiding and free from the common vices that often ruin your sex: womanising, drugs, gambling and drinking – all these achievements to me speak of a man that has excelled as a human being.

Bruce Jenner: The Olympic Hero

Bruce Jenner, to all intents and purposes, had mastered the art of being a man.

So the fact that he has now begun the process of becoming a woman because he feels himself to be in the wrong body is not only baffling to the innocent bystander, but downright unbelievable. For how can someone who feels he is not actually a man, succeed so well in both public and private displays of masculinity? How on earth did his gender serve him so well if it was the wrong fit from birth? If God and nature got it so wrong, why did he accomplish so much as a man and succeed in feats ‘lesser’ men struggle daily to achieve?

Bruce Jenner: The man

If a gifted concert pianist who, for decades, thrilled audiences worldwide with his accomplished compositions confessed later on that he was blessed with the wrong gift, and in fact always had the desire to be an excellent violinist, and actually felt awkward and ill-fitted to playing the piano, would you not think that odd? How can you be so good at what you consider wrong for you? And if you were truly meant to be a violinist not a pianist, why didn’t fate lead you to a violin first and not a piano?

Can a girl be formed in the womb as a boy by accident? Or is this condition purely psychological or spiritual and nothing to do with the physicalities of gender at all?

The truth is that Bruce Jenner’s predicament, and that of many transgender people around the world is still unfathomable not just to the average person but to science, to religion and to common sense. It is a strange affliction that cannot be explained adequately, yet the sincerity of their desire can be ascertained by their determination to go through pain, ridicule, debt and broken relationships in their quest to right what they feel is wrong.

So I am not suggesting that Jenner’s desire to change his sex is not ‘real’, i.e. that it is superficial. For a man like him to go through this public transformation, it must be real. There were already sniggers about the desecration of his masculinity by viewers of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, the reality TV show centred around his ubiquitous step-daughter Kim Kardashian, his now ex-wife (her mother) Kris, Kim’s sisters and brother and his two daughters. The show that brought him fame with today’s generation too young to remember him as an Olympic hero often depicted him as a man of little importance in the background, ignored and often the butt of jokes from the uber-beautiful, hyper-feminine, financially powerful and assertive glamazons in his family, led by the matriarch Kris who seemed to wear the trousers in their marriage.

Bruce with his six biological children

Bruce with 'The Kardashians' 

I proposed at first that all the strong female stimuli around him weakened his masculinity so that his wanting to be a woman was like him throwing in the towel; an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ admission of failure whereby his manhood was so thoroughly bashed that he in the end became effeminate to the extreme. His balls were handed to him so to speak, and he capitulated and decided to be ‘one of the girls’ so he can gain some respite.

I thought (with tongue firmly in cheek) that Bruce had been turned into a woman due to his environment, but no, he later revealed that this was a desire from childhood springing from deep within his psyche.

But, and this is a big but, is the power of his desire enough? What of a Black man who states that he has always felt that he was born in the wrong body and actually feels like a white man, would doctors and society run to his aide and grant him his wish? (I’m thinking of you Michael Jackson, RIP). What of the woman who always felt an affinity with dolphins and feels she should have been born a dolphin, should she be free to become who or what she wants to be?

Becoming a woman: Bruce with longer hair, feminine facial features and breasts

The medical, educational and political advancement of societies today mean citizens across the world enjoy many freedoms, and being free to ‘be who you want to be’ is a popular maxim. But the truth is that there are also many chemically- imbalanced people, those with mental illnesses and unstable people marred by previous trauma or whatever else, who come up with all kinds of desires. I read recently of the girl who fell in love with a tree as a result of previous heartbreaks, and the man who felt so inspired by a demonic character in a comic that he paid good money to distort his face to look like the demon, horns and all. In days gone by, society didn’t give room for such deviances of personality to flourish.

The flame of your outlandish desires was either extinguished prematurely by the thought of the shame or ostracisation your wants would cause, the fact that there was no way, medically or otherwise to fulfil your longings and the knowledge that such things were deviant at best, and wrong at worst.

But today, all things are equal. No one is wrong. There is a website, community, advocacy group and even a cable TV documentary for every human pervasion you can think of, from those who defecate on each other for sexual pleasure and grandmothers who perform sex acts online, to men married to plastic dolls and lesbians who buy sperm from anonymous donors. Even what is illegal is glamorised in the media, e.g. Oceans Eleven and the glamorisation of theft.

All things are acceptable, no one is wrong – God, morality and common sense be damned.

So following his long-awaited televised interview with Diane Sawyer, in which he spoke of his transition to becoming a woman (I didn’t watch it), Bruce Jenner is a being hailed a hero, being called ‘brave’ for ‘living his truth,’ and many across the (Western) world support him. Of course the majority of people in Nigeria are appalled and shocked that such a thing is happening, but the enlightened West could care less about the views of Africans who, to them, remain under the yolk of religion and are tied down by archaic traditions.

But as someone with one leg in both the Western and African world, I’m firmly on the side of Nigerians here. Some things are just wrong. Some things should remain unacceptable and should not be encouraged. Some things remain unnatural, no matter the calibre of those going through it or how prosperous the societies that promote it.

I believe that those that believe that they are gay, transgender and all manner of unusual conditions are what they say they are and feel what they say they feel, but I put it down to something along the lines of a hormonal imbalance or genetic abnormality at birth – the kind of developmental malformation that results in physical deformities also resulting in psychological deformities, or spiritual forces not of this world that the non-religious know nothing about – forces of darkness that seek to destroy humanity and torment some people; and finally, straight up psychosis on the same level as a man who believes he is a poached egg. Some people, to put it crudely, are just crazy and should not be given medication to further their crazy.

And the fact that many transgender people who do have surgery to change their sex commit suicide afterwards to me indicates that getting what we want isn’t the answer, and messing with nature can never lead to true contentment. The intricacies involved in the formation of a foetus of either sex is so complex and far-reaching , and being male or a female encompasses the entire psychological, mental, social, spiritual, hormonal, biological, developmental, cultural and personal as well as physical being, that attempting to ‘correct’ it later at a superficial level can only lead to disaster.

Changing sex should be as wildly incomprehensible as changing brains or skin colour. Some things should be sacrosanct, some desires discouraged, and some wants suppressed. Not everything you feel is right, not every human desire is good or correct. That you’re in love with your brother or your mother (yes, I’ve read about these) doesn’t make it OK; the existence of a desire doesn’t legitimise it.

Some feelings should not be explored further. I believe there were many would-be transgender or homosexual people throughout history, but due to society's norms back then were able to successfully suppress or eradicate such desires for the greater good. Some thoughts only grow stronger with encouragement.

I will not attempt to diagnose Bruce Jenner. I actually like the man, and thought him far more worthy of global adulation than any of his famous family, because he had actually achieved something worth celebrating. But there is something wrong with his desire to be a woman. And the way (Western) liberal society rebukes anyone that even dares to call a spade a spade and say that what Bruce is feeling is not kosher, and forcing everyone – at least publicly anyway – into a faux acceptance of what is blatantly unnatural is wrong, and a gross imbalance of freedom of speech.

We have lost all sense of shame, propriety and decency, and nothing is allowed to be sacred anymore, to the detriment of our collective ethics and stability. What we want – no matter how senseless – must be allowed, and to hell with anyone who stands in our way. The enfant terribles, the lewd and the crude, the mentally-imbalanced, the freaks and the fetish, the dishonourable, the abominations, and the dangerously outlandish have been allowed to set the moral temperature; the former outcasts have been given the microphone and they’re spreading their gospel of anarchy.

That my father is now a woman is a thing wild jokes are made of, and it cannot be easy on his children no matter how much everyone says it’s OK. Deep down, we all sense that there’s something unpalatable about it; it just doesn’t seem right.

Because it isn’t.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Defending Free Speech: My Reaction to #JeSuisCharlie

As a journalist, I am appalled, horrified and disgusted by the murders of French journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo magazine on Wednesday January 7th 2015 by Islamic extremists because they dared to draw unsavoury cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. But I am also saddened at the fact that these continuing terrorist attacks in the West are turning people off ALL religions, not just Islam.

This image and the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie trended worldwide on Twitter in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo Magazine

I take pride in being free to write what I want when I want, especially on this blog, and although I have strong views, I am pleased and energised when readers comment with equally strong views in disagreement. I believe it is a sign of intelligence and tolerance to be able to disagree vehemently with someone on any given subject no matter how important, and still have the decency to be polite and calm and charitable to them when need be.

There is a distinction between disagreement and discrimination; it's a fine line and a slippery slope, but I believe it is possible to tow it. I may disagree with Islam or homosexuality but like Volitaire said, I will defend to the death the rights of those within it to live it and be it. Absolutely so. I cannot hit them over the head - so to speak - with my Bible. They don't believe in it like I do, so why judge them on its laws?

So I shake my head at them, produce eloquent arguments against their way of life and maintain my belief that what they are is not God's best intention for them, but as human beings they are just as worthy of life and love and happiness as I am, and I will never stand in the way of their success. That would be crossing the line. So it brought tears to my eyes when the news broke that people had died because they decided to parody the Prophet Muhammad.

Satirists have been ridiculing Jesus for years, but I personally don't see the harm in it. Some of it is offensive yes, but I have the right to be offended and they have the right to have their opinions. I don't expect people that haven't engaged with Christian truths to understand it, so when they grapple with the beliefs I hold dear, part of me is kinda glad.

It's good when 'secular people' engage with my faith, turning it around in their hands, poking it, breaking it apart and spilling out its absurdities for humour. If it brings its values to diverse audiences, this is a good thing, and I'd rather people laugh at Christianity than ignore it completely.

Remember when people ridiculed former American President George W. Bush? Well now nobody does, because he is no longer important or powerful or relevant. So if Jesus shows up on the popular animated series South Park as a wacky TV show host in slippers and a gown, I laugh when it's funny and squirm when it's not, but I'm glad I'm watching a depiction of my saviour along with millions of other people.

Because unlike in the past, kids today don't go to Sunday school as a norm and religion is not part of their every day lives. So I appreciate shows like South Park or The Simpsons which pay homage to Christianity, no matter how crude, because I'm afraid that in 50 years time, show producers won't even know who Jesus is to mock him.

So defending a man that died centuries ago by killing men that draw cartoons about him is absolute lunacy.

But not only have the terrorists brought shame on their religion once again, but increasingly all faiths are being denigrated by people who believe themselves to be free from the constraints of organised religion.

They think we're all crazy.

I respect those that can live in the real world and acknowledge the existence of something greater than themselves, but many don't, and religious attacks like the one on Charlie Hebdo adds to the growing mainstream belief that all religions should be assigned to the waste basket of history and all 'God-botherers' should be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world where an ancient book doesn't dictate their actions.

And no matter how much I try to draw a distinction between Christianity and Islam (like I did on my post titled Why I'm Glad I Am No Longer a Muslim), many still say to me "Nah, all religion is based on medieval mindsets not compatible with modern life. All religion is bad." That pisses me off, especially because I think that Christianity and Islam are as different as night and day.

However, such attacks make me think that the battle is sometimes between those with a faith and those without, rather than between Christians and Muslims. I was often cynical about shows of unity by Imams, Priests and Rabbis coming together to condemn or celebrate one religious news item or another, because I think that one of those three religions cannot join the others to speak of peace until they get their house in order.

But I believe it is more honourable to believe in something than to believe in nothing and be wafted here and there by any breeze that blows, without an anchor or an allegiance to something you're willing to die for.

So to that end, I have more in common with a Muslim than with a person of no faith.

And I feel increasingly sorry for the normal, everyday Muslims in the West; immigrants that moved to non-Muslim countries to work and live and become citizens; men and women who appreciate England and whose children have grown up here; and young Mohammeds and Safiyas who are as British as the Michaels and Kellys around them and who are just as appalled at the killings by those who share their religion.

I feel sorry for second and third generation Muslim immigrants who are somewhat confused about how to live in a world that is increasingly seeing them as the enemy, but they still continue to be devout in their faith, and even those who came from Muslim homes but wear the religion lightly and drink and smoke with the best of them.

I remember when I used to silently pray that the news about a murder or armed robbery didn't involve Black men, and breathing a sigh of relief when it didn't and wincing when it did. I'm sure many in the Black community are quietly relieved that the racism and condemnation we often faced from the mainstream has found a new target. I bet many Muslims, upon hearing about a shooting or other public violence, always pray it doesn't link back to their religion.

I'm also getting 'Outrage Fatigue;' I'm tired of criticising Islam and feeling religiously superior after yet another terrorist attack, because these attacks are gradually changing the world for the worse and in ways we won't begin to identify for years to come.

There are no winners when we are all suffering its effects.

I still believe people like the Charlie Hebdo gunmen Cherif and Said Kouachi are as Muslim as they say they are, and they actually believe that they were avenging Prophet Muhammad, but they also revealed themselves to be nothing but common criminals when they robbed a gas station at gunpoint and stole food and drinks hours after their 'holy crusade.' I mean, does Allah condone armed robbery, even if He seems to condone murder in his defence?

In a fight between Gods and mortals or Prophets and Cartoonists, I'd put my money on the Gods and Prophets winning, so they don't need defending. The supernatural can surely handle media mockery without losing its potency to those that care right?

So today I stand with every person who is standing in defence of free speech. It is imperative that those with a voice don't cower in fear. Charlie Hebdo magazine lampooned all institutions; from Christianity to Feminism and Politics, so why should Islam be omitted? All believers think their religion should be respected, so why should Islam be treated with kid gloves?

To all journalists and writers brave enough to say what they want because they truly believe it, people have died to safeguard the freedoms we enjoy today, and long may we continue to enjoy them. Be fearless with your words because the pen IS mightier than the sword.

And to moderate Muslims everywhere, although I continue to firmly disagree with your religion and believe that there is something inherently faulty with it because of the way it brings out the violence in men in ways no other religion does, I will fight to the death for your right to practice it in peace, for your right to live in safety with your neighbours, and for your right to pursue your happiness the same way I can.

That is what freedom is all about.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

I Know it Sounds Crazy, But I Miss Nigeria...

Regular readers of my blog will know by now that I'm not afraid to change my mind. I can stand 100% behind a position today, then change my mind later based on new facts, evidence or change of feelings. (Witness my 'I love her/I love her not/I love her again re: author Chimamanda Adichie) Heck, even my faith in God wavers sometimes. It might be a character flaw, or it might be a sign of intellectual honesty and an unbiased open-mindedness. I'll go with option two.

Whatever it is, the fact is that contrary to my kinda negative portrayal of Nigeria in a previous post and my rush to leave it a few months ago, I now miss it. I miss Nigeria. I wish I didn't though. It would be so much easier to turn my back on it, what with its Boko Haram and Ebola and a plethora of misfortunes and calamities and dangers and problems facing the country every day, plus the impending elections in 2015 that many predict will cause even more bloody unrest.

 Good ole' Nigeria: My embattled country

But I lay down at night and wish I was back in Abuja.

There are two major factors that draw me back to Nigeria, one of which is my profession. Yes folks, being back in England has humbled me career-wise. Where in Nigeria I was top of the food chain thanks to my impressive British education, training and experience; impressive portfolio of previous work, impeccable British accent and the confidence that comes with knowing your country values you and wants you, which shines through and makes you even more attractive to prospective employers and clients; in England I'm having to start from the bottom again, not that I was ever even at the top to begin with.

My almost three years abroad has knocked my professional trajectory back down a few pegs, but more than that is my own perception of self. I feel less wanted here. My colour, my experience, my time spent abroad in an unsavoury country, all of that has merged together to give me an inferiority complex, which I presume is written all over my face as I sit in waiting rooms waiting to be interviewed. The chip on my shoulder must be so big right now. Sometimes I even talk myself out of a job before applying: "Nah, The Guardian wouldn't want me, I didn't go to Oxbridge and I'm the wrong kind of Black."

 Bad News: They didn't want me

Actually, regarding The Guardian newspaper, despite its credentials as a liberal, left-wing publication and champion of minorities, I went to its offices in London for a job training/interview stint years ago and was blown away by how male-white-middle-class the whole office was. There were maybe two white women, no brown or Black faces and everyone there were of a certain 'type,' the type that go to Starbucks and order Fairtrade organic lattes, wear distressed jeans, spent a year in Africa working for a charity, are vegetarians, want to live in Brixton but send their children to private school and buy modern art. I felt so out of place there (I'm not a vegetarian and Africa to me is a reality, not a facilitator of my yearnings to be a good person) and it must have affected my performance because I didn't get the job.

I don't wish to play the race card, in fact I hate it when people play the race card, but I'm afraid that after returning from Nigeria - where I felt so good about being me; so wanted, celebrated even, for being me; where I rubbed shoulders with the movers and shakers of society and met and worked with important people, where all that I am was cradled and nurtured and upheld as wonderful (I could also spell better and type faster than most people out there too, I felt like a superhero) - the British job market has being a slight shock to the system. I started to question my abilities. Maybe I'm not as good as I thought. Or maybe I am and they just refuse to see it and give me a chance because I am Black.

Race relations in the UK is miles better than what it is in other non-African countries of course, and there are vast swathes of England where your colour doesn't affect you negatively, and I can honestly say that apart from two instances when I was in my late teens where I'd visited a majority-white part of Surrey and some silly young men shouted racial slurs at me, one from a high rise building and the other from a moving car (I still think maybe I heard them wrong), I have never faced any overt racism in England in my life.

Sure there are instances when I felt I should have positively gotten that job because I was so right for it, and when I didn't I was convinced it's cos I was Black and didn't pass the 'Can I hang out comfortably with her down the pub after work' test by my would-be employers. But on the whole, I never thought being Black held me back until I finished a Masters degree and still couldn't get a nice journalism job (the kind that came with a business card). Then I went to Nigeria and finally tasted success, then returned to England again and saw that such success is hardly enjoyed by people that look like me, and the Blacks that are successful here are of a certain type too. Damn, I wish I'd gone to Oxford. I had the grades for it, but I didn't pursue it because I thought I'd feel out of place there. It's my biggest regret in life.

My children MUST go to Oxford or Cambridge. It's like the only thing that can guarantee your success if you're Black in the UK.

So I long for Nigeria because I feel ignored and not up to par in England, and having to go from Editor to Office Administrator has been oh so depressing. I feel like shouting out: "Don't you know who I am? I used to chair weekly Editorial meetings you know! I have a Masters' Degree for Christ's sake!"

I work in central London surrounded by huge beautiful office buildings made of glass, and I envy the immaculately dressed ladies in their heels and skirt suits that call such buildings 'My Office,' whilst I wear flats and my colleagues will look at me in wonder if I dressed in a suit. I also noticed that the Black people I see in this part of town are almost always shabbily dressed in jeans and trainers; the Black/minority ethnic service class that serve the white business class.

My Future London office: Amen

Sure I can work my way to the top, but how long will that take? And can I ever achieve the career highs in London that I enjoyed in Abuja? Will a qualified Black woman under 30 ever be the sub-editor of a British national newspaper? I doubt it. Not only are the requirements more stringent in England (the standards are admittedly lower in Nigeria, although this should not detract from my suitability), but there is always a white person that the employer feels will be 'more suited' to the role, or who has the right look or better education or upbringing or experience or looks like the employer's nephew or uncle.

I guess I shouldn't blame them though, like employs like. The subtle and overt tribalism in Nigeria is similar to the subtle and overt racism is in England. But rather than work hard to break the Black ceiling, I just want to return to a country that likes me as I am. A country that will gladly take me back.

I also miss the freedom of being in Nigeria. I don't feel as constrained there. Here if you step out of line even a little bit, even innocently, like for instance parking in the wrong place by accident, you get into trouble straight away, no second chances. In Nigeria things are more laid back, more casual. You can smile your way out of trouble, and rules that hurt no one can be bent (I know Nigeria takes this philosophy way too far though.)

In Nigeria, in a land where anything goes, I felt emboldened to LIVE. Life was for the taking, and if you can get it, it's yours. You could go from zero to millionaire in a matter of days, and the rewards for good work knows no bounds. Generosity of wealth and spirit abound, and you could start a business tomorrow that will make you money immediately, no lengthy paperwork and licenses needed.

In England things are more prescribed and limited. No sudden moves. It's a stay in your lane, paycheck to paycheck lifestyle, and as winter approaches, a grey cloud seems to descend on everyone and we all stay deep in our daily routines; everyone in big black coats under grey skies, all living for the weekend or the next holiday abroad to somewhere sunny.

I also felt thoroughly invested in Nigeria. I felt that I was part of the narrative. I complained with everyone about everything, but deep down it felt good to have ownership over the woes of the nation. Nigeria still being problematic after 54 years of Independence was my problem too, and I wanted to make it better. I had a voice that sounded like everyone else's. Nigeria was mine for the loving, hating, liking. But in England, sometimes I feel detached from the primary concerns of most of its citizens, and other times I am actively opposed to the popular opinion.

The British love cats and dogs and there are several TV programmes and charities dedicated to their welfare, but I care not a jot for pets. Homosexuality is also now normal here, when I left England in 2011 I don't recall homosexual couples being on home improvement, antique hunts and other mundane aspects of British TV, but now every other couple on TV seems to be gay! Then there is the national preoccupation with cancer. Every where you go one organisation or another is trying to fight and beat cancer, but I don't want this disease shoved down my throat every day. Yes it affects many people, but do let's stop going on about it.

Then there's the average British person's love of a good moan. They moan about everything here, and their hate for politicians is so uncalled for, especially when British politicians are actively working hard in their jobs and are genuine public servants, and the minute they do something wrong they're out (did you hear about the journalist who faked a Twitter account to seduce an MP, and when he fell for it and sent back pictures of himself in pyjamas, the MP had to resign?). They should all try living in Nigeria for a week, they'll run back and hug all their MPs. Those on benefits moan that the council won't give them a bigger house, can you imagine? In Nigeria if your local House of Rep member gives you a bag of rice in his bid to get re-elected, you rejoice, here they are bitterly complaining that the free house and free money the government gives them is not enough.

In Nigeria, despite the harsh, unfair circumstances, Nigerians have the best sense of humour about it all. They insult and rain down curses on their leaders, but their patriotism is alive and well. They get up and get on with it, they hustle and they make life work for them. They have terrible habits some of them, but no one sits and complains and expects the government to help them lose weight or stop smoking or give them contentment, cos they know that's not happening.

I also like that Nigerians are on average religious-minded and traditionally inclined; they value marriage, respect, morals and propriety. Even though many sins occur behind closed doors, they are eager to portray a respectable facade. But in England, tradition is receding and nothing is sacred anymore. Anything goes in the name of post-modernity, and my traditionally-minded self cannot hack it.

So there are many aspects of British life that I feel is alien to my experience. Whearas in Nigeria, I felt plugged into every social issue and felt as strongly about certain things that ordinary Nigerians did. I could (and very nearly did) join protests in Nigeria about various issues, but I can't see myself protesting about anything in England.

I visit Nigerian blogs every day and follow many Nigerians on Twitter- I'm avidly keeping abreast of Nigerian news and views because it's more alive to me.

Does that mean I'm not British enough? I guess I fit into my 'Nigerian coat' better than I fit into my 'British coat,' but the irony is that in Nigeria I am more British than Nigerian to everyone else, and in England I'm Black British and that's OK, but it also means I find more people like me on the lower echelons of society than at the top, which is where I want to be.

Could this be a case of the grass being always greener on the other side? Human nature is a funny thing: a few months ago I couldn't wait to leave Abuja, now I'm yearning after the very thing I ran from. Don't get me wrong, England is a fabulous country and I'm lucky to be able to enjoy its many privileges, the NHS being number one. If I could take the NHS with me I would relocate to Nigeria tomorrow.

I guess I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want to to succeed, but in a safe country.

So I'm torn you guys. One minute I want to stay in England and make it work because it will be so worth it in the end, then the next I want to run back to Nigeria so I can feel alive and be called 'Madam' again. Then I think of falling sick in Abuja or of Boko Haram and I thank God I'm back in England. Sigh.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Why I'm Glad I Am No Longer a Muslim

At first I was saddened by the hundreds of Palestinians daily been killed by their Israeli neighbours, most of them women and children. News reports were filled with images of desperate fathers running into hospitals holding their dead and injured children in their arms, blood stains everywhere and distraught women weeping for their lost relatives amidst the ruins of what was once their houses.

(I apologise in advance for the gruesome pictures you're about to see, but I deemed it necessary to illustrate my point.)

 Horrid pictures of the deaths and devastation of Palestinians at the hands of Israelis

I had arguments with family members who were in support of Israel. They said that as Christians we must support Israel no matter what, because they are God's chosen people and those who bless them are blessed, and those who curse them are cursed.

But I said that with all the military might Israel have, bought with the millions in funding from the US and Europe, their assault against the weakened Palestinians was akin to killing an ant with a sledgehammer. It was overkill and inhumane to use such brutal force against an enemy already on its knees and cause their weakest members to bear the brunt of the battle.

I said that the Palestinians had been forcefully evicted from their lands and forced to exist in the Gaza Strip of land where all their food and supplies were administered to them by Israel in a sort of imposed rationing, that their fighters were a fraction of Israel's army in number and in might, and that the rockets they repeatedly sent into Israel did little harm due to Israel's superior defenses: only one Israeli civilian had been killed since the recent fighting started, whereas Israel's rockets has killed almost 2, 000 Palestinian civilians.

I was quite proud of my compassion, and was very much on the side of most of the mainstream media in denouncing Israel's campaign, and particularly loved this brilliant 'breakdown of ignorance' by Russell Brand against America's Fox news and their myopic view of the Israel/Palestine situation.

Iraqi Christians Under Attack by Islamic State (IS)

But then the news about the plight of Iraqi Christians (and Iraqi minority group the Yazidis) broke. Both groups had long been persecuted in the majority-Muslim Iraq and around 100, 000 had now been forced to flee their homes after IS (Islamic State, formerly ISIS) took over their main town Qaraqosh. The IS soldiers gave them ultimatums: convert to Islam, leave or give up their money and gold, so most left, were killed or were kidnapped. Many were now stranded on the mountains, causing the US to resume attacks on Iraq and drop aid parcels to the fleeing families.

Then pictures of slaughtered Christians came forth; from beheaded children to Christian men rounded up, tied up and led to a space where they were told to kneel and were shot. Some of them were crucified in mock allusions to their faith, and hundreds of their young women were kidnapped to be used as slaves or married off to Muslim fighters.

Horrid pictures of Iraqi Christians executed, children beheaded and forced crucifixions by Islamic State (IS)

Boko Haram Did Not #BringBackOurGirls
This of course echoes the plight of the hundreds of girls (majority Christian) abducted by Muslim extremists Boko Haram from their schools in Borno State, Northern Nigeria. Many have reportedly become pregnant and some are rumoured to have been radicalised to the point of becoming suicide bombers.

The remains of a female suicide bomber in Northern Nigeria, compared with a picture of one of the girls kidnapped in Chibok by Boko Haram. Looks like the same girl doesn't it?

In Nigeria of course, Boko Haram have been terrorising Northern states including the capital Abuja, thousands (I'd say up to a million) have been killed in the years since their rise and I even saw a shocking video of BH militants beheading a man, actually cutting his neck with a not-too-sharp knife whilst they all shout 'Allahu Akbar,' snapping the neck back to break it off then holding the severed head aloft and declaring it a victory for Allah. I saw it with my own eyes and almost threw up.

British Muslims Becoming Fighters
Meanwhile the war in Syria continues in the background, but the worrying thing is that many British Muslims have traveled to not only Syria but also Iraq to join in the fighting. 

One story involves 16 year old twin girls from a Somalian background who were born and bred in the UK and had intentions of studying medicine. They snuck out of their homes one night a couple of months ago to travel to Syria to become 'Jihadi Brides.' Their brother went first and was filmed threatening the West in the familiar 'Terrorist Video' scene. And when the girls found out about their infamy back in England, one of them mocked the situation on Twitter by saying that they'd rather be doctors for ISIS than for the British.

 One of the twin girls who ran away from England to support the Muslims in Syria

Also in England recently was the furore caused by certain schools in Birmingham that has 99% Muslim students been taken over by their parents, who became school governors and eventually used strong arm tactics to remove head teachers or staff who didn't comply with the strict Islamic culture they'd instituted in the schools (separate classes for boys and girls, highly Islamicized lessons, no clapping, no music, trips to Saudi Arabia, quoting blacklisted Imams in school literature, no mention of Christmas in December and blatant slurs against Christians in assemblies).

The British authorities finally found out about this and hurriedly put measures in place to make sure no state schools in Britain could be surreptitiously turned into faith schools that could become havens for radicalisation.

Recently in the news, it was also revealed that some Muslims were openly handing out leaflets in London's Oxford Street encouraging Muslims to relocate to Iraq to fight for ISIS.

No More Sympathy for Palestine
So at first I was sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, but now I'm not. After reviewing the multiple situations around the world where Muslims are making the news, my sense of solidarity with Palestinian Muslims has almost disappeared.

From Nigeria to Iraq to Syria to England, then also in Egypt where Coptic Christians cry out against the mass kidnappings of their daughters by Muslim men, and countries like Saudi Arabia where to be openly Christian is to invite persecution and where churches are not welcome, and Iran whose former President spewed hate against Israel and the West, and the 1915 genocide of over a million Armenian Christians by the ruling Ottoman Muslims of Turkey, Islam has proven to be an inhospitable religion which cannot live at peace with neighbours of another faith.

Imagine if the most powerful country in the world, the US were an Islamic country. Just imagine who the funding and weapons would empower, and what that would mean for the safety and stability of non-Muslims the world over.

I believe that if not for international support, Israel as a country surrounded by muslims as it is would have been obliterated. Israel attack because they know that if the shoe was on the other foot, Palestine would have shown them absolutely no mercy. I agree. Even now, though their people are dying in the hundreds daily and a ceasefire is entirely in their best interests, Hamas refuses to give up shooting their missiles even though their attacks are but pin-pricks against Israel's defenses. Their refusal to give up shows that the hatred is not one-sided.

Religion of Peace?
Muslims often state that those that kill in the name of Allah are not real Muslims, and Islam is a religion of peace. But how many extremists out of the whole does it take for them to not be just a 'tiny minority' or 'sect' anymore? 10 percent? 30 percent? Members, sympathisers and supporters of Boko Haram, IS, Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and those that kill in Allah's name in Syria and around the world must number into the millions. In Iraq and Nigeria, previously friendly Muslims turned against the non-Muslims and helped IS and BH kill them; I've heard reports that countries like Saudi Arabia and Oman are directly funding IS, and it's an open secret that major political entities are funding BH in Nigeria for their own purposes.

Add to that number those that believe in and practice other gruesome extremities of Islam like honour killings (of converts out of Islam, 'Westernised' girls, adulterers etc), Sharia law-sanctioned stonings (where the guilty are buried in the ground up to their chests and stoned by the crowd until they die), and forced female circumcisions and we're getting close to half of all Muslims I'm sure.

And if the majority are peaceful, where is the evidence of the peace they are spreading? I see no groups representing peaceful Islam going into these places to stop their Muslim brothers and sisters from committing crimes against humanity. And as far as I know, the only protests by Muslims in Nigeria despite the Boko Haram menace was one in support of Palestine.

And if you ask IS or Al Qaeda or Boko Haram, they will tell you that they are practicing the truest form of Islam. It's either the scriptures they quote that sanction their actions is in the Quran; they twisted certain verses to fuel their hate; or it's not in the Quran and they made it up. I think it's a mixture of the first two.

Islam vs Christianity
Let's put Islam and Christianity side by side. The worst of Christianity happened centuries ago with The Crusades, when Christians evangelised vast swathes of the world by force using the sword. Muslims love to point to The Crusades as an example of militant Christianity. But, and this is a big BUT, since that relatively short-lived blip in the 2, 000 year history of Christianity, you have never heard of a large group of Christians killing people they don't know and committing other atrocious acts in the name of Jesus. No, not ever. Christians have been docile and law abiding for generations wherever they live.

You might have lone wackos that murder a few people randomly, but never a large and consistent group saying Jehovah God told them to kill non-believers and behead children, and shouting 'Jesus is Lord' when they do it. Even the US Christian preacher that threatened to burn the Quran was condemned by other Christians, including President Obama. Jesus never advocated violence against non-believers, yet Muhammad has been depicted in some unfavourable light in the Qur'an; as a man of war launching jihads and encouraging the killing of infidels.

Many Boko Haram members were said to have formerly being Christians, so why did they not commit such atrocities as Christians? Why was their conversion to Islam the catalyst to their murderous impulses?

What is it about Islam that causes its believers to want to kill?

Now, the best of Christianity includes countless world-wide charities founded on gospel principles that help millions in the world today, from World Vision to Christian Aid, Save the Children and many more. The West, a historically Christian entity, gives aid to poorer countries and founded the United Nations to ensure peace around the world. The US and the UK were historically (and largely remains) Christian, so its inventions, art and advances that continue to illuminate the world could be said to be thanks to Christianity.

American Dr Kent Brantly, who contracted Ebola whilst treating infected patients in Liberia, in a statement of faith more inspiring than any I have ever read, said:
“My wife Amber and I, along with our two children, did not move to Liberia for the specific purpose of fighting Ebola. We went to Liberia because we believe God called us to serve Him at ELWA Hospital. 
One thing I have learned is that following God often leads us to unexpected places. When Ebola spread into Liberia, my usual hospital work turned more and more toward treating the increasing number of Ebola patients. I held the hands of countless individuals as this terrible disease took their lives away from them. I witnessed the horror first-hand, and I can still remember every face and name.
“When I started feeling ill on that Wednesday morning, I immediately isolated myself until the test confirmed my diagnosis three days later. When the result was positive, I remember a deep sense of peace that was beyond all understanding. God was reminding me of what He had taught me years ago, that He will give me everything I need to be faithful to Him.
“Now it is two weeks later, and I am in a totally different setting. My focus, however, remains the same - to follow God. ”
 Dr Kent Brantly and his wife. He contracted Ebola in Liberia but is now back in the US and doing well after taking experimental drug ZMapp

That is Christianity in action: selfless believers traveling all over the world and facing huge dangers to help others through aid, schools or evangelism, never by force. Mostly they just travel to these places to help, like Dr Brantly- no preaching involved.

Now, the worst of Islam is what we see around the world daily, murders, forced conversions, kidnappings, 9/11, 7/7 and other atrocities too numerous to mention. And what is the best of Islam the world has seen? Apart from repeated assertions that Islam is a religion of peace by individual adherents, nothing major or world-renowned. No grand gestures of peace, no mass movements to spread the goodness and mercy or love found in Islam. People say countries like Saudi Arabia live in peace, yes, but only because they've suppressed other religions. Even in Dubai, the face of a modern Islamic country, are there churches there? Can a Christian go on the streets and preach the gospel and be listened to, ignored or mocked, but not arrested or tortured?

The marker of a truly accommodating country is one where all can practice their various religions freely, like in America and Europe (and England to the point where freedom of religion has resulted in Islamists taking over state schools).

I often think of the best places to live in that would be far from the dangers of Islamic-sponsored terrorism, which would be away from the West and countries where Muslims have power like Nigeria. Somewhere like Ghana - where Muslims are few and powerless - seems good to me.

So I'm Very Glad to be a Christian
I come from a Muslim background; my late father was a Muslim, and his side of the family are still Muslims. But I am now a Christian, and I thank God every blessed day for bringing me to faith in Him. I have seen the light, and it is good and pleasing in my sight. I am proud to be a Christian. I can hold my head up high knowing that anywhere I go, I can proclaim faith in Jesus without shame or pain knowing that people are killing in His name, and that I am negatively tainted by the sins of my brothers and sisters.

If I were a Muslim I would be distraught at what my fellow believers are doing. I would be grieved to share a God with a large chunk of people that have read in the same Holy Book I'm reading that God said to kill others to glorify him.

I am pleased that I know the truth and it has set me free. I am proud of the way Christians around the world conduct themselves: although often provoked by Muslims, as a group they never retaliate. Our faith says to turn the other cheek and lead people to Christ, but never compel them. No one can ever misquote Jesus and believe that killing non-Christians will make our God happy.

And no, I most strongly insist that the Christian God and Allah are not the same. How can they be, when one encourages half his followers to kill infidels in order to enter paradise, and the other says 'I have come that they might have life, and have it in abundance'?

I've had some Muslims email me asking me to return to Islam. I say to them all now: Never. Why would I? I have all I need in Christ, and His people, although quite imperfect, are not killing wantonly in His name. My God is good and gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love. I worship Him not out of fear or compulsion or family tradition, but out of love, appreciation, gratitude and partial understanding of His ways. I have genuine examples of when I've seen Him in action, and God my Father has replaced and superseded my earthly father (whom I loved) in every way.

The fact I remain anonymous on this blog is testament to the intimidation and real fear of reprisals converts from Islam to Christianity face daily around the world, where many are killed by their own families for leaving the religion. But you will never hear of a former Christian that was killed by their families for converting to another religion. There is freedom in Christ, and this freedom I cherish dearly.

Islam before 9/11 held little attraction for me due to its subjugation of women, its distant, unknowable God, repetitive prayers that allow for little creativity in communication, and reading of holy texts in a foreign language, although I like the modest dress of its women and it's a fact that the majority of the people that helped me in Nigeria were Muslims.

But today more than ever, I am blessed and highly favored to be a Christian.