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.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

I'm Back in Love With Chimamanda Adichie Again

Permit me this double-mindedness dear reader.

I know I first espoused my absolute adoration of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in  "Chimamanda Adichie, Natural Hair and Me", and she was number one in my list of "6 Nigerians that Make Me Proud", but then I spoke about my disappointment in some of her words and actions in "How Adichie Fell of Her Pedestal".

I declared that to me she was no longer this wonderful being; she had fallen off her pedestal and I now saw that my hero-worship of her was flawed and ultimately doomed to failure because she was human and imperfect.

I'm in love with Chimamanda again

But I've changed my mind. Adichie is brilliant and I cannot lie. She really is. I never totally denied her genius, but I was (temporarily) turned off by the harshness I noticed and her lack of warmth towards fans, as well as her sense of superiority. But I've since been able to reacquaint myself with her poise and wisdom through consuming some of her interviews and speeches, and I have changed my mind.

But was it she that changed? Was she always this fountain of witty, thrilling anecdotes that illustrate her points so succinctly? Was she always this playfully intelligent, erudite and clear-minded sage that never over-did her power to enchant listeners, was often endearingly shy, with her voice sometimes quivering (nerves?); was she always such a delight to listen to?

Or did she sense that she was tipping over the edge in terms of believing the hype and becoming egotistical, and decided to backtrack, repent and transform into this luminous, graceful woman that has audiences rapt in attention?

Was it that I knew she was this impressive and true but that that reality was usurped by the furore surrounding her 'mailbox interview' and calling a fellow Nigerian writer one of her 'boys'?

Well, although I wouldn't go as far to say I regret ever seeing her in a bad light - because when I wrote about her falling off the pedestal of my mind I meant it, and was very sad about it - but I have now been re-awakened to the beauty of her intelligence. I let small slights overshadow the beautiful thoughts this woman continues to pour out, and it is a privilege to be alive when she is 'in vogue.'

Her Interviews in Nigeria vs Her Interviews in England or America

It strikes me as interesting that the interviews she does that many including myself find displeasing are those she does with Nigerian interviewers. The interview where she angrily chided the interviewer for calling her 'Mrs' and declaring that she does not want that title (despite being married) happened in Nigeria. I think she has less patience with Nigerian interviewers- as if they rub her up the wrong way, and she often comes off as a snooty, humourless 'feminist' in all the terrible connotations of the word that scare Nigerian men and traditional women.

However, she is very accommodating, genuine, warm, bright, candid, full of humour and laughter and ever so generous with her informed opinion with British and American interviewers. And they are completely enchanted by her. Her articles are widely published in The Guardian newspaper, and Channel 4 News love her.

Adichie discussing her latest book Americanah on Channel 4 News with Jon Snow

Channel 4's lead anchor, Jon Snow (who I love by the way. And he's married to a fully African woman, a brilliant intellectual type named Precious Lunga from Zimbabwe. Jon Snow is also very progressive, I just love the man) particular seems to be taken by her, and I don't mean in a silly, British-paternalistic-fawning-kindness-to-Africans-out-of-some-misplaced-guilt-over-colonialism way, but in a respectful "I like that you are intelligent and African and a Nigerian and a woman, so please shed some light on Boko Haram. Your type of voice is so rare and so needed right now" way.

My favourite Channel 4 News lead anchor Jon Snow and his wife Precious Lunga

He truly engages with her in these interviews and I love that she repays his trust in her capabilities with searingly acute dissections of Nigerian politics that retains her patriotism but pulls no punches.

I think I'm starting to see Chimamanda not only in a different light, but in broader aspect. Sometimes she has bad days and sometimes she has great days. She is of course always poised, but in some interviews she is more 'switched on' and happy than in others.

Take this interview with Lola Ogunnaike for Arise Entertainment 360 for instance. Her body language is closed (crossed legs, crossed arms and she taps her fingers often, a sign of impatience or nerves), she seems uncomfortable and lacks a certain joie de vivre she often has, although she is gracious in her answers.

Ogunnaike (whose regal tone and confident cadences makes me swoon with admiration; she reminds me of the elegant Ivanka Trump) does overdo the fawning and lashes on the acclaim, and I could see Adichie cringing under the layers of superlatives bestowed upon her; at one point Ogunnaike asks: "What does it feel like to be a literary rock star?"

Compare it to this interview below with Damian Woetzel, where she is much more lively, fierce in wit and delivery and brimming with humour, masterfully engaging and real in relaying her profound feelings of identity, Africa and other subjects; I could listen to her forever. (It's also funny how she sits where the interviewer is supposed to sit by mistake, and I like that the man is gracious enough to allow her, without insisting that they swap.)

Adichie's interview with Damian Woetzel is tremendously entertaining

The interview is particularly wonderful, and! Somehow, she manages to mention Fulani and Fulfude! The last question from an audience member was from a Fulani woman from Guinea, and when Adichie asks her "Do you speak Fulfude?" I was like wow.

Biafra, Feminism and Homosexuality

Adichie is also very brave. She has not only wrote and spoken extensively about the Biafran War, an incident Nigeria wants to forget (the film based on her book Half of a Yellow Sun which tackles the war has been banned from screens in Nigeria), she also focused one of her TED Talks on Feminism (below) and wrote a lengthy piece describing the injustice of Nigeria's anti-gay laws.

Biafra, Feminism and Homosexuality: You couldn't find three more controversial, incendiary, polarizing and hot-button issues in Nigeria today, and she skewered them all effortlessly. You may or may not agree with her, but you cannot deny that she addressed all the points and presented her case well. She is fearless, and exemplifies this famous quote by Marianne Williamson:
We are all meant to shine, as children do
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give others permission to do the same.
The clarity of her thoughts, fierceness of her convictions and power of her delivery gives me the freedom to be bold.

My initial reaction to her feminist talk was to disagree, because contrary to the norm (educated, first-generation British-African woman born in the 80s tend to be quite the feminist) I'm a traditionalist and my post titled "I'm a Submissive Woman, What's Wrong With That?" explains my stance.

But I listened to it again and found myself nodding to and agreeing with everything she said. There was no need to insult or demean men to gain our rights, she was saying, but a Nigerian woman (she concentrated her observations on Nigerian culture, much to the delight of the Nigerians in the audience who clapped and laughed generously at her often very funny observations) shouldn't have to shrink from success to enable a man to feel good.

Adichie's is the best modern, globally-sound Nigerian voice we have right now.

I used to imagine the things the great boxer Mohammed Ali would say today if he could talk. The man that was so vocal about race, politics, religion and his own greatness in the past I imagined would have a lot to say about Obama and various aspects of African-American culture today. What a shame that he is unable to inspire our generation with his words, and how cruelly ironic too, that he has had to live his final years voiceless, when he was once celebrated for his exuberant oratory.

Well, Chimamanda Adichie is someone who is using her strong voice to stoke the flames of intellectual debate about the most important issues of our time, and I have fallen in love with her all over again.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Interview with British Fulani Author Munir Bello

Finding out that the author of The Break Up Recipe, Munir Bello is a British Fulani-Nigerian piqued my curiosity immensely. 

Munir Bello, Author of The Break Up Recipe

Sure, his self-published e-book about relationships is hilarious and received rave reviews from publications like The Voice and Female First, and reviews here and here were also glowing, but what I really wanted to know was: what did his parents think about him stripping naked to promote the book (yes, that's his well-oiled physique below)? 

And was his ex-fiancée - the woman that inspired him to write after she broke up with him - Black, Nigerian, Fulani or none of the above? 

Munir strips totally naked to promote The Break Up Recipe. As you do.

Munir also said that he attended a Gay Pride parade to hand out flyers promoting his book, and is happy to attract a gay audience thanks to his hot bod on display. This 30-year old Fulani man's outlook on life is definitely refreshing, so I asked him a whole load of questions, and bless him, he not only answered all 50 (I was very curious) with great candour and humour, he also gave me an insight into how another Fulani Brit thinks. Thanks Munir!

Where were you born?
I was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1983

Where were you raised?
I was raised in Lagos where I went to school until the age of 10 and travelled around Kaduna, Sokoto, Kano and Abuja where I have family. I then moved to England at the age of 10 to school and have permanently lived here since. I used to go back to Nigeria quite regularly during the school holidays, but less frequently now as my immediate family now live in London.

Describe your family.
Like most I am the product of a mother and father. They live in London. My father is a consultant and my mother runs a small business. I have 3 siblings; the oldest is a lawyer,  my younger sister works in sales and my younger brother is a radio presenter.

What is your current occupation?
I am an author. I wrote a book called The Break Up recipe. I am also currently in the process of writing the sequel for the book as well as filming a dating show in London which will be airing in the summer.

What is your family's religion and what is your personal religious belief?
I was born into a Muslim family and I am a part-time Muslim. By that I mean that I do consider myself a Muslim, however I am not fully practising. I fast during Ramadan.

What career did you want to go into when you were younger?
I originally wanted to either be an actor or a journalist. I realised early on that I was not good enough to be an actor so decided to concentrate on something else. As for journalism, it was something that as I got older, I had less of a desire to do.

What is your relationship with Sokoto/Zamfara?
My paternal grandmother lives in a small village in the state and so do some of my uncles, aunties and cousins. I very much do consider it my home and generally when I am asked where I am from I tell people that I am a Nigerian from Sokoto (It has been pointed out to me that it is now Zamfara, but when I was growing up it was Sokoto and that has now stuck in my vocabulary)

What is your relationship with Nigeria?
Nigeria is the country that I am from. Although I am a dual passport holder and have lived most of my life in The UK, I consider myself a Nigerian as my earliest memories are from there. I speak Hausa at home to my family which serves as a reminder to my roots.

Do you have any extended family in Nigeria, and if so, are you still close to them? 
I have plenty of extended family in Nigeria as I come from a very large family, and I am close to them. We communicate regularly online.

What is your view on Boko Haram?
My view on Boko Haram is that it is an organisation that has put our country in the news for all the wrong reasons. I am certainly not in any way a sympathiser.

What is your view on the Bring Back Our Girls campaign and it's popularity around the world?
I am glad that the world is sitting up and taking notice by trying to help us eradicate the problem with the violent attacks. I am sad, however, that the name of my country is seen as synonymous with terrorism which unfortunately is one of the first words that come out of people's mouths now [when they thing about Nigeria]. The campaign hopefully sends out a strong message of support to the families of these girls and I hope that in the end it helps bring them home. I also hope that it isn't just a social media fad that will lead to a swift evacuation if it becomes considered as old news.

What is your view of the Nigerian government?
My view on Nigerian politics is extremely limited as I don't keep up to date with the current affairs. From what I know, we have a president who seems powerless in the face of everything and we have a first lady who delivers many excellent sound-bites that bring a huge smile to my face. In fact, my neighbour and I have been watching lots of her Youtube clips recently. Interesting is a word that springs to mind.

Would you ever return to Nigeria to live long-term?
'I don't know' is the honest answer to that question. The reason is because two thirds of my life have been lived in the UK so I am more used to the way things work over here. I wouldn't rule out living in Nigeria for long periods of time over the course of a year in the future, as when I have children I would like them to know where their father comes from.

Would you want your kids to be strongly connected to Nigeria?
I absolutely would because I have so many wonderful memories from when I was living there. As mentioned previously, I'd like them to know where their father comes from as there is a strong likelihood that they would be raised in the UK.

Are you proud to be Nigerian, given often negative perceptions of the country?
I'm very proud to be a Nigerian because there are values within our people that are very commendable, such as a strong work ethic and an entrepreneurial streak that is unrivalled. We also are very good at adapting and some of the hardest working people I have ever known are from Nigeria. The negative perceptions which are well publicised are to do with fraud, corruption and most recently, bomb attacks. The positives greatly outweigh the negatives. We have the biggest GDP in Africa and some amazing scholars.

Munir Bello: Proudly Nigerian, proudly British and proudly Fulani

What do your non-Nigerian friends thing about the country?
Generally speaking a lot of them would like to visit the country mostly due to the great PR the food receives over here. I do tend to introduce them to some of our foods. The weather also means that it is a natural draw for non-Nigerian friends of mine who spend a lot of their time in cold climates. The lifestyle and pace of life over there also makes it appealing to friends of mine who have visited the country.

What does being Fulani mean to you?
I live with the knowledge that being Fulani, I am part of what was the old ruling class and am sometimes unfairly judged as the son of a rich man who knows nothing about a hard life or hard work which couldn't be further from the truth. At the same time however, it is a fact that we are the best looking people in Nigeria and yes I am being biased on my beautiful family members. Our people are traditionally nomads, hence why it was a seamless transition for me to move to another country.

Do you think being Fulani differentiates you from other Nigerians? If so why?
The differentiation has been touched on in the previous question. It is more apparent in the UK than back home because there aren't many of us here. The majority of Nigerians present here tend to be Igbo or Yoruba.

Would you say you were knowledgeable about Fulani customs and traditions? 
I'm ashamed to say that I am not knowledgeable enough to have a debate about Fulani customs. I know small bits from my time over in Nigerian and from what my parents have tried to teach. Fura da nono is one tradition I am fully fluent in.

Are you proud of your Fulani heritage? 
Without a shadow of a doubt, yes I am.

What aspects of Fulani culture do you most identify with?
Being a nomad.

What are your thoughts on Fulani nomads and their lifestyle?
Very admirable. I have a lot of respect for the discipline it takes to be a cattle herder, which is underrated.

What are your thoughts on the spate of Fulani gunmen that allegedly shoot down many villages in the North?
It is not a subject that I am familiar with but my thoughts on any gunman that would shoot down a village of people is that he is a coward.

How do your family honour your Fulani heritage, if at all?
They've instilled in me not to forget where I come from and always make a point of reminding me that I come from a people I should be proud of which I am.

Do you speak Fulfude?
Sadly not.

Do you know/have met Fulanis from across Africa, and how did you get on?
I met a Fulani from Sierra Leone 16 years ago and we are friends to this day.

What do you think about me: a British Fulani Christian?
I think you're normal, there are lots of people who come from a predominantly Muslim community who are Christians. I come from a heavily inter-married family so although my parents are Muslim, my uncles and aunties are a mixture of different religions. Also my grandmother on my mothers side taught me the Bible and the Quran from a very early age.

What do your British friends think about your Fulani heritage?
They don't know anything about the Fulani.

Have you met many Fulani people in England? If not why do you think you haven't? 
I have only met one from Sierra Leone. I think the reason for the scarcity of a Fulani presence here is because Fulanis either stay in Nigeria or go to America and other parts of Europe.

Does being a Fulani man affect or influence any aspect of your life in England?
None whatsoever.

In some of the interviews for your book, you mention going out to drink with friends and writing when drunk, and you also pose naked with a cover of your book. How do you reconcile your 'Western' behaviour with a (presumably) conservative Fulani heritage?
I'm a product of a Nigerian upbringing in the first third of my life and a western upbringing the rest of it, meaning that the two cultures meet somewhere in the middle and compromise. The picture for the marketing cover was originally met with some resistance by my parents but not outright opposition, the rest of my family have never commented negatively on it.

What's more important to you: being British, being Nigerian or being a Fulani man? 
In order would be 1) Nigerian, as it is where I was born, 2) Fulani as it is my heritage and where I'm from (it's not 1 because of my minuscule knowledge) 3) Being British because it is a nationality I inherited but one that I am nevertheless very proud of.

Does your heritage affect your dating choices or choice of who you will marry?
No not at all; my girlfriend is British and it's not a problem for my family. 

What do your family think of your lifestyle?
Good question. I've never really asked them. I think overall they're happy with it as I've never been taken aside by them and told I need to change my ways.

Whenever you return to family in Nigeria, do you feel assimilated or different from them?
I feel assimilated, the only difference would be my accent but i still remember the customs and the correct way to eat the food.

Are you happy you're in England or do you wish you had stayed in Nigeria?
I'm very happy I'm in England. Had I stayed in Nigeria then I wouldn't have gotten to see as much of the world (cheaper to travel form here) as I have or met the many wonderful people that I have met. All the good people I met back home are either now here or if they are back home we are still in touch. Three letters were worth the move over here: KFC!!

What do you think are commonly-held misconceptions people abroad have about Fulani people?That we are a bunch of uneducated in-breds. Not many people realise what the generation before us did which was that they left the country to get first class education and helped pioneer many things back home.

Would you say you play up or play down your Fulaniness? 
Neither really, it's something I'm proud of but as I don't get asked much about it, I rarely get the opportunity to elaborate on it.

Has your name, because it is Muslim, ever posed any issues for you? 
Oh yes!! Most airports I go to will pull me aside for extra questioning due to "computer generated" reasons. It's the last thing that I need after a long flight but I tend to ignore their stupidity rather than get angry about it.

How do you feel about your Islamic background in a country where Islam is often associated with global terrorism?
I don't hide my Islamic background and so far I've never had any problems because of it. I think I have been very lucky in that respect. I get more irritated by other Muslims from other countries who, once they find out my Islamic background, try to test how much I know, almost as if I need their approval. I find it very pathetic. Muslim converts also tend to do this a lot.

Do you feel completely assimilated into English life or do you feel like an outsider sometimes?
I am an outsider because outside of a major city I am considered a minority. I don't feel alienated, but I am aware that I am not considered as the norm in some quarters, but then that is very normal because if a white person rocked up into Lagos they would be seen as an outsider also. It's never hostile on either side however.

Describe what The Break Up Recipe is about.
The Break Up Recipe is a romantic comedy from the point of view of a man. it contains some funny observations on life and some expletive language. To sum it up, a guy gets dumped by his fiancee and then looks back on his previous encounters with the opposite sex. He comes back to the modern day and creates new experiences with the opposite sex.

What do your family think about your book?
They like it. They have been incredibly supportive throughout. They did initially harbour reservations over the language and the naked image, but were never hostile about it.

You state that you were inspired to write it after a bad break-up with a fiancée; where was she from/what race was she?
Bloody hell you really have done your research! I was wondering when that question was going to come up haha. She was a white British girl.

Did her race pose any problems for you?
Absolutely none. As pointed out earlier, due to the regular intermarriage within my own family, dating outside my race/religion has never been an issue. Come to think of it, it's very acceptable as it's never even been mentioned or alluded to when I've told my parents about someone I'm dating.

Does your Fulani heritage show up anywhere in The Break Up Recipe?
No there isn't any mention of my Fulani heritage in the book.

Do you think the book would have succeeded had it being published in Nigeria?
Time will tell, there is definitely a huge audience in Nigeria that would appreciate it. however due to limited accessibility (It was originally released as an e-Book) it's too soon to say. Now that it has been released as a paperback, we will see. In fact today was the official release day of the book as a hard copy.

What do you think of other Nigerian novelists like Chimamanda Adichie et al?
She is a wonderful author and a great ambassador for our country. I love her books and think that she paints a wonderful picture of our country through words.

Much of the reviews I read didn't focus on your race/nationality, why do you think that is?
The reason for that would be because they were reviewing the book rather than the author, but in some interviews it is something that is referred to. The book isn't set in Nigeria and it has no race references, hence why no reviews would mention it. My bio however states my nationality and my pictures kind of give away my race, especially my marketing picture.

What would you do if the follow up to The Break Up Recipe gets on the New York Times best-seller list?
What I always do when something good happens to me: I'd say a silent thank you to God first, after that I'd probably go on a holiday and enjoy a well deserved rest.

See? Nice guy, great answers, hot bod. So go get the book on Amazon! And also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.