Monthly Archives: January 2012

A LETTER TO THE CLERICS

Religion. It is indeed the most powerful force in the world. Billions across the globe reckon their lives are fated by a Deity and a set of written or unwritten instructions in the form of a Bible, a Koran, Kojiki and so on. Over the years it’s been argued if this human feature is not just a consequence of an inherent human sense of self-inadequacy and mortality. It has also been argued if God – any god, for that matter – is real. I suppose the most important debate is how religion has become the premise for many of humanity’s excesses. In this context, religion has become a weapon which threatens the existence of human population. What is particularly striking about all religious forces is how much our rational minds succumb to the supposed words of a deity. This is not a bad thing in itself but at some point – some life-determining point – surely rationality should overrule the rules of any religion. It is this message I seek to pass across to all our prophets, imams, priests, pastors, gurus, rabbis and the other people who help interpret and define the creeds of our many religions.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks it was easy to point to Islam as the most unaccommodating religion in the world but then came 2011 and the Norwegian killings by Anders Behring Breivik who killed hundreds with a bomb and the barrel of a gun. His motivation came ultimately from anti-Muslim convictions. To set the records straight I must mention that Mr Breivik has been diagnosed to have paranoid schizophrenia. However, we can surely say that the hijackers of the airliners on 9/11 were just as insane. It can thus be said that insanity is a subtle part of religion. In fact, devotion to a deity is often measured by how far a follower can put aside rational thoughts and replace it by the interpretations of a religious creed regardless of how altruistic, detrimental, or perverted this creed may be. So, bearing this in mind it can be said that a certain subset of Muslims would consider Osama Bin Laden a martyr because he reached the brink in the cause for Jihad. While this is controversial and is a sentiment not shared by every Muslim, evidence shows he represents a thriving strain that has inspired other mushrooming sects across the world from Boko Haram to the Janjaweed militias.

So, the question is if we should be average religionists or fanatics who can go the extra mile in our worship of a Deity. An all-encompassing answer cannot be provided by me, a practising Christian. I do not know what the Hindus think of murder in the name of worship. I do not know if Allah is pleased by the wave of killings in Northern Nigeria. I do not know whether the Dalai Lama would be pleased if a follower attempts to kill the Chinese Premier. There are a lot of things I cannot say of other religions. This leaves me in a quandary. However, I can assume a lot from the natural order of things. Comparing humans to animals is demeaning but surely, no animal, however bestial, will kill its own kind. In fact, an animal will only attack another species in a bid to survive. Surely then, religious fanatics cannot be killing ‘unbelievers’ in order to survive. Killing someone who constitutes no threat to your own existence cannot be right no matter how extreme a doctrine is. Since all religions claim that all forms of human life is given by their respective deity it would only seem reasonable to postulate that the right to take away life is the preserve of the deity in question. Of course, some sects claim that their deity bequeaths this right to them. This leaves us with a perennial problem that shall take me to an ancillary point. Before then, I must pose this question to religionists who say their deity does not forbid killing of a fellow human being: Would it please to your Deity to kill a newly born baby because it was born to parents not practising your religion of choice? Same question applies with respect to other persons of all ages.

Radicalism is not something we can live with. Our system has checks and balances for societal improprieties but when a crime of religious passion of the scale of 9/11 is committed do we look to the law books or do we respond in kind? Everyone has an opinion regarding this and certainly we are not bound by the international consensus of a body like the UN. However, religious leaders must understand that in a world with disparate religious persuasions there will only be anarchy if we separately abide by our own laws. We must have a convention recognised by all and sundry. When the life of a fellow human is concerned, no person has any right to kill regardless of the religious premise. You only have right to your own existence regardless of whatever you believe in. This is not to say that the UN charter is more sacred than the Koran. It only means that in a world with plurality of religions a standard can and should be reached. This is why our respective deities gave us minds of our own: We can handle ourselves! Also, our respective deities have a reason for allowing other religious groups exist. It is not for us to exercise our inhumane killing instincts but to show tolerance in preparation for the end of time when our God, gods, goddesses will mete out appropriate punitive measure as is appropriate to ‘unbelievers’.

Finally, our religious leaders must play a big role in converting fanatics who have strayed from the centrality of religion which is to worship in harmony and peace. In today’s world, a religious war will be a bigger deal than what it was in ancient times. With the subtle proliferation of atomic and nuclear weapons in many rogue states it is not impossible that a religious sect acquires weapons of mass destruction that it would wield against religious ‘enemies’. This would only lead to retaliation and counter-retaliation. In the end, a World War 3 that leaves the entire world in rubble will ensue. Our religious leaders must understand that God did not give us free-will so we can end our stay on planet earth. The dynamics of the world is such that people have disagreements, differing opinions, contradicting viewpoints but they can contain them without necessarily resorting to murder. A person who can live in harmony with a stranger is more mature than one who can only live in peace with a friend. Let us all give peace a chance. To do this you do not have to love members of other religious groups, neither do you have to hate them. You only have to respect the worth of human life. If we keep killing ourselves we are no different from the praying mantis, laughing jackals and the spotted tigers! Please religious leaders, take this message to your congregation: We are humane by nature!

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VIOLENCE IS NOT AN OPTION

For five consecutive weekdays Nigeria was draped in green, white and red, the colours of the major workers’ union, NLC. The central government had removed subsidies on petroleum products imported into the country and that had sparked a nation-wide strike which literarily brought Nigeria to a pause. Streets which where normally boisterous with the hustle and bustle of commerce were silent except when an occasional convoy of union activists drove past chanting ‘Solidarity for ever!’ Usually, their vehicles where adorned in green figs and the banner of NLC.

On the fifth day of the strike I had volunteered to work since my house was close to the psychiatric hospital where I intern as a pharmacist. I had to walk down there considering the commercial bus drivers had joined in the strike protest. What struck me, however, was how lifeless a city like Lagos can become when the citizenry decide to revolt against the Federal government. It brought floods of written memory from articles I had read about the Nigeria-Biafra civil war. Respective authors, with free-flowing lines, had painted pictures of boulevards, streets, and parks quiet for fear of stray bullets, snipers and assailants alike. That fear was palpable, crisp like loaf bread. Death had been in the air, obligatorily breathed in like oxygen. That admixture of corporeal fear and oxygenated death summoned a feeling which no writer could aptly describe with words…

When I managed to get to the clinic I was astounded to find a bevy of patients waiting in line to see the only physician on duty. The doctor was obviously very weary and I was pretty sure she could not be delivering her best as she attended to them. At the pharmacy, there was a long queue of patients with prescriptions to be filled. I was going to be working with a fellow intern. Normally, at least 10 pharmacists would be on ground to attend to the prescriptions. Today was different! So, even as I settled into my swivel chair I knew I had to be different too. I had to skip through details, make necessary compromises, and work as fast as I could.

Eventually, we rounded up for the day. I had done my part in the service to humanity but the grief was there. To see hundreds of patients flock to the hospital – some via foot, some from remote places – to consult with a physician because all services, from local healthcare delivery to BRT transportation were closed for the week brought sadness to my heart. The issue was big: Fuel subsidy: To be or not to be. However, as I listened to a sixty-seven-year-old woman narrate the tale of how she had trekked 20km to fill her prescriptions the issue seemed to be less about the subsidy. These were humans who had risked everything from heat stroke to brain stroke to get here. Of course, the implication of not using their medication implied they might relapse to full-blown schizophrenia so waiting out the strike action was not a viable option. They had put their lives on the line in order not to have their lives on the line.

So I pondered: This was merely a week-long strike. What if it was war: were instead of NLC buses revving past me it was armoured tanks slowly thundering through; were instead of the colourful flags of labour union being waved around it was AK47s held by armed rebels that jutted out of the jeeps; were instead of shouts of solidarity it was the crack of bullets that ripped through the still air waves; were instead of silent roads dirtied by bills, burnt tyres and fig leaves it was abandoned streets strewn with lifeless bodies in a pool of congealed blood? First of all, I would not have thought of going to the hospital. Secondly, and more importantly, I am not sure I would still be alive. These were the thoughts that shrieked me back to the present even as my patient, stricken with bipolar disorder, repeated over and over again, ‘Violence is not an option.’ Maybe it was just a symptom of his malady, or maybe that was the undeniable truth.

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