A truck observed. Sorry about the finger in the photo… still learning camera phones and trying to take the picture quickly before the owner of the vehicle saw me and started getting ideas.-CM
Since my last post, I moved, started a new job and have had very little time to blog. Tonight I have not had time either, but I, apparently, did have time to spend 6 hours or so on an email to one of my relatives, who sent me the following video of Mike Pence, meant for broadcasting in “The Church of the Mall” (???!!!–what a poetically appropriate name), appealing to Christian voters and reflecting on his own church background.
[So apparently privacy settings are blocking the video from being screened from my site, but you can click through to vimeo]
I will resist an analysis of this video, the look, the sound, the words, as I would like this to be a page for those, like me, who voted for or plan to vote for Hillary Clinton in this election. Those like me who, despite some misgivings (indeed who have some major problems with her), find Hillary the most competent, and indeed the only possible, candidate this year. Yet we have relatives, friends, and loved ones passionately opposed to her and willing to vote for even a candidate as horrifying as Trump in order to keep her out of the Oval Office. (I hope I haven’t just alienated a bunch of people by “replying all”to my aunt’s email with this. We shall see tomorrow).
It is 1:30-ish am California time, and I have just squandered an entire evening of writing and grading (I’m putting it down to my civic duty before the election), so please forgive all of the little inconsistencies in the way I list these articles. In some I list the author, in some I list the publication. In others, I just put the name of the article and the link. I did not take the time to correctly punctuate and italicize everything. Because I didn’t want to use up my 10 free New York Times articles, I sometimes provided indirect links to New York Times research.
To those who wish to comment on this blog post, I would ask for you to keep your remarks civil or I will delete you. No trolls. If you think you disagree with me, please read the articles I have posted before responding. If things get too nasty, I will close the comments section. I’m a “Nasty Woman” like that.
Dear Aunt (Sweet Aunt),
First, I love you all, and I know that you are approaching this election season, as am I, with your faith and your love for Jesus at the forefront. I know, too, that our love for eachother as a family transcends political boundaries.
I have watched the Mike Pence video, and I am sending this email not to get into a political argument–indeed, I have already voted and I imagine many of you have too.
Although I had been sent a pre-paid envelope by the election office, I sent that baby certified mail with a tracking number.
Instead, I am responding to you in order to share, in kind, some of the articles that help to explain my own take, as a Christian, on this election season, and why I am not supporting Donald Trump. Even though Mike Pence quotes scripture and talks about his churchgoing, in an appeal to Christians to follow him, we have to closely examine the candidate he has tied his own character too. Remember that Paul described the Bereans as “noble” because instead of just accepting his word for it, they searched the scriptures to be certain of the truth of what he was telling them. My approach to this is to respond also with scripture, with the words of Jesus, who himself rejected political power when it was offered to him by the Devil:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus by their fruit you will recognize them. (Matthew 15:20, NIV)
If someone is appealing to me to follow him on the basis of our shared faith, then, I look for this good fruit. And when I read Paul’s list of the fruits of the spirit, I do not recognize Trump, who after all is the one who is running to be president, not Pence. Indeed, I see in him examples of what the “flesh desires”: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, … enmities, strife, jealousy, anger”
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
Although some evangelical leaders believe that Trump is a “baby Christian“, Trump has, since that initial meeting with his evangelical advisory council, demonstrated that he does not seem interested in following the teachings of Christ, continuing to insult women and other groups and engaging in violent, self-glorifying rhetoric. When Christians continue to follow such a leader, it sends alarming signals to those who might have otherwise been attracted to Christianity and to Christians. If Christians loudly back Trump as the best candidate, what does association with and loud support of such a man say about who we are to those who know Christianity only by what we show to them? Christian writer Jonathan Hollingsworth pulls no punches in describing what we look like from the outside. I ask, are we willing to gain power at any cost? Are we willing to gain power if that means we can impose our “own values” and “our agenda” on America but turn away millions, who will associate Christians with hatred and anger and division and selfishness and support of sexual violence? As Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot” (Matthew 5:13). In Luke, he repeats, “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (Luke 14:34).
Please note note that the majority of these articles I share below are by Christians, by conservatives, or by internationally respected newspapers/magazines, known for fact-checking their materials. If you would like to engage with me on this, I would simply ask that you read the articles I’ve posted below before doing so. I have roughly organized them by theme, but some of them could fall into several of the same categories. I have been obsessively reading for a year on this election, and I have a pinterest account with dozens, if not, hundreds of articles, if anyone is interested in reading further than the articles I have sampled below.
The KKK and the American Nazi party have publicly made their support known, there have been an increasing number of hate crimes recently, including murders and attacks against Muslims, the torching of a black church in Mississippi, which was also defaced with pro-Trump graffiti; the appearance at a football game of my own alma mater UW-Madison of people in costume as Obama with a noose around his neck etc. Although Trump’s campaign rightly disassociates themselves from these hate crimes, Trump’s own words encourage these kinds of interpretations. He has called Mexicans rapists. He has endorsed torture. He has called for banning Muslims from entering the U.S. He has insulted Muslim Gold star parents over their religion. He has claimed an American federal judge is biased “because he is Mexican.” He has said that the families of terrorists should be killed. He has called women who have spoken out against him disgusting, nasty, and “fat pigs.” He has bragged about grabbing women by the “p#@%y” [and as a woman who has been groped several times before I have an especially visceral reaction to that]. He has implied that “2nd Amendment” people can do something about her once she is in office. He has a a record of discrimination against black people in his housing units etc).
This Daily Beast article points out that at least one of the three men called himself a “big” Trump fan. The article also points out the discrimination other “Middle Eastern” looking Christians are facing.
Again, I don’t think I have even told my parents about the times I have been groped, but as a woman who has experienced that, it horrifies me that good Christian people are willing to vote for a man who has himself bragged about kissing and grabbing women without their consent.
Here is the screening schedule (to the best of my knowledge) for Nowhere to Run: Nigeria’s Climate and Environmental Crisis by location. Most recent date listed first with earlier screenings in descending order. Check the ‘Yar Adua Centre Facebook page for more details. Scroll down for the original post about the film and its premiere:
28 April – Alliance Francaise, Port Harcourt, 12 noon
9-12 December 2015 – Africa Pavilian, COP21, Paris
11 February 2016 – Blum Centre for Developing Economies, University of California, Berkeley
22 February 2017 – Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA. Adams 216, 7pm
31 August 2016- The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs sponsor a screening to be held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 5pm check in, 5:30 film screening, 6:30pm Conversation with Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr., Jackie Farris, and Kole Shettima, 7pm reception. To attend sign up online.
8 July 2016 – Rodo African Cuisine, Linden, New Jersey. The film will screen at Rodo African Cuisine, 1600 East Saint Georges Avenue, Linden, New Jersey, Friday, 8 July, 8-10pm. Free Entry. For more information, call 347-200-2509.
7 July 2016 – Nigerian Embassy, Washington DC.Nowhere to Run will screen at the the Nigerian Embassy, 3519 International Ct. NW, Washington, DC 20008, Thursday, 5 July, 6pm. To RSVP please respond at this link.
6 July 2016 – John Hopkins University in partnership with American University, Washington DC. Nowhere to Run will screen at John Hopkins University-SAIS, 1619 Masssachusetts Avenue, NW, Rome-806, Washington, DC 20036. 5-7pm. Please RSVP to African Studies, saisafrica (at) jhu.edu or 202-663-5676
At 6pm in Abuja at the Yar’Adua Centre today, 17 November, there will be a “green carpet” premiere of the documentary film Nowhere to Run: Nigeria’s Climate and Environmental crisis. Watch the trailer here:
The film was sponsored by the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation, narrated by Ken Saro Wiwa Jr., and directed (shot, partially edited, etc) by my brother Dan McCain, who is the Managing Director of the Lagos-based Core Productions. I have also worked with Dan last year and this year on the project and came up with the first part of the title “nowhere to run,” which is a sentiment we heard over and over again in the interviews of people who talked about the effects of environmental degradation on their communities. Dan and his production team travelled all over Nigeria gathering stories about the environmental devastation in Nigeria and interviews with Nigeria-based experts and professionals such as Nnimmo Bassey, Ken Wiwa, Liza Gadsby and Peter Jenkins, Muhammad Kabir Isa, Paul Adeogun, Hannah Kabir, Saleh B. Momale, Michael Egbebike, Fatima Akilu, Joseph Hurst Croft, Alagoa Morris, Inemo Samiama, Ekaette Ukobong, Michael Uwemedimo, Godknows Boladei Igali, and others. What we came to find over the process of making the documentary is that as climate change creates global changes in the environment, many of the natural defense mechanisms that could alleviate some of the harm done by the changing environment are being destroyed through human activity.
For example, flaring is a major contributor of greenhouse gases that are contributing to global warming. Although flaring is illegal in Nigeria, oil companies continue to flare because the fines are lower than the cost of capping off the flares and redirecting the gas (and if the gas were captured, it could do a lot to contribute to Nigeria’s massive need for electricity). The mangroves and rain forests that absorb the greenhouse gases that cause global warming are being destroyed through oil pollution, logging and construction. These same mangroves and wetlands could also help absorb and manage the sea level rise that is occurring as polar ice caps melt, and yet they are shrinking every year. So, there is ocean encroachment along the coast, massive erosion in the southeast related to heavy rains and forest clearing, and desertification in the north. Environmental crises also contribute to conflict. For example, as Mohammad Kabir Isa of Ahmadu Bello University points out in the film and in this interview, the shrinking of Lake Chad (caused both by human interventions that remove massive amounts of water for irrigation and changing rainfall patterns that no longer fill the lake as they used to) has caused massive migration into Maiduguri in the past 20 years. Once people get to Maiduguri, there were few jobs available so the social welfare provided by Boko Haram attracted members. Desertification is also pushing people further south, and the expansion of farming into migration routes formerly used by pastoralists is behind some of the conflict we are seeing between pastoralists and farmers.
This is not a simple story, but instead one of multiple diverse complications both on a global and local level that are contributing to much of the environmental and political crises in Nigeria today. We made a point of making this a “Nigerian” documentary, and the interviews in the documentary are all with people based in Nigeria.
There are some things being done to reduce dependence on oil and to better use the land, such as wind energy project in Katsina and cook stoves and ovens that reduce dependence on firewood. But much more needs to be done.
You need a ticket to get into the premiere, but you can get them for free at this link. Unfortunately, because of a family emergency, I am unable to be there, but I hope it goes well and does some work to raise awareness among those who have the power to make the kinds of infrastructural changes in Nigeria that are needed to reduce the pressure on Nigeria’s environment. Another reason to go is to see my brother’s gorgeous cinematography, which captures the environmental devastation in Nigeria as well as the great beauty that still remains. If you miss the premiere, the Yar’Adua Centre is planning to sponsor a series of screenings around the country, and I will try to post updates here.
Some Core Productions images taken during the shooting for the documentary:
Even all these years later, seeing the date September 11 still gives me a small jolt. Last night I was up past midnight trying to put up a course syllabus online. When I glanced at the date in the top right-hand corner of my screen, I jumped a little. I was chatting with my brother online about a documentary on climate change we are working on, and I said, “oh my goodness I just saw that it was Sept 11.” “Yeah,” he said.
I forgot again today until I saw this tweet from President Obama
"The events of September 11, 2001, left a permanent mark on the spirit of every American." —President Obama pic.twitter.com/oob3Hc0vmi
Because remembering September 11, now, through a lens of fourteen years, I think of how America’s knee-jerk response, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, the years of bombings that often killed people as innocent as the ones working in those towers, ultimately led to rise of ISIS, maybe even Boko Haram. If we could go back to that time, if America had not gone to war, if we had investigated better, if we had responded less violently, what would the world look like now? Perhaps it is futile to play “what if” games, perhaps even worse things would have happened. But despite all the trauma of the day, since September 11, 2001, the world has been filled with bombs. Hundreds of them have gone off in Nigeria since 2010. I was closer to the Boko Haram bomb at the COCIN Headquarters Church in Jos on 26 February 2012 than I was to the World Trade Centre on September 11. Americans are loud in their grief, but elsewhere far more people have been killed than were in the towers, the planes, and the Pentagon on that blue-skied day in September fourteen years ago.
Yet it remains an epochal day in the history of the world, the scale of it, and by what it precipitated in the world. I’ll post here a few of the other articles I’ve written about my experiences on September 11. I’ve revisited those memories many times over the years. Reading back over them, I am struck by how each time I remember, other details emerge, while others fade away. Here are three columns I wrote in 2011, around the ten year anniversary of the tragedy.
Daily Trust has recently updated their website. The dedicated site for my column is gone, and almost all of my articles have their introductory paragraphs cut off now. I will try to slowly begin to archive them here on my blog from pre-edited copies that I submitted to my editor. The first article I will post here is on the event of the 10-year anniversary of the attack on New York published on 10 September 2011 and the second and third are from articles I had published in January of 2011.
Ten years ago, September 11, 2011, my flat mate and I arose to a crisp, clear-skied Tuesday morning in the New York City borough of Brooklyn and began preparing for the day. I had recently quit my job as an editor at a small children’s book publishing company in order to return on a Fulbright scholarship to Nigeria, where I planned to live in Jos for the year, doing research before applying to PhD programmes. I hoped to spend that Tuesday packing. While my flatmate got ready for work, I made tea and turned on the radio to listen to the news on New York’s National Public Radio (NPR) station. A crisis had begun in Jos on September 7, where both my flatmate and I had gone to school. NPR had begun to cover it in previous days, and we were anxious to hear the news. But when I turned on the radio, all I could hear was static. Strange, I thought, and turned the dial trying to find a signal. I tuned in to a different radio station, where the news was being reported of a plane flying into the World Trade Centre in lower Manhattan. I imagined that it was a freak accident involving a small private plane that held only a few people, like the one JFK Jr. had crashed in two years earlier. But as we ate breakfast, a school friend of ours from Jos now living in the U.S. called, her voice high and worried. “I just saw a plane flying into the World Trade Centre,” she said. “On TV. Are you Ok?” This was the second plane. The story became clearer. Both planes had been commercial flights. Both towers of the World Trade Centre were on fire and seemed to be structurally damaged. The news was unthinkable. Neither of us knew how to process the information. I had been in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics and had visited the Olympic park the day before American domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph set off a bomb there, but this was larger and more frightening than anything I had ever heard of. “Are you sure you should go to work?” I asked my flatmate, as she prepared to walk out the door. “Do you think the subways will be running?” “My meeting is in Brooklyn, not in Manhattan,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
We were very young, and neither of us had any idea of the world that day was christening us into. As she proceeded to the subway, I quickly dressed and ran down to the pier on the Hudson River only a few blocks from where we lived, which had a clear view of lower Manhattan. In previous columns I have written about standing on the pier with other New Yorkers, mouths agape as we watched hot fire devour the centre of towers, white smoke pouring across the blue sky into Brooklyn. I’ve described how a ripple of smoke ran down the South Tower before we saw it collapse into dust, how I walked numbly away from the water back towards my apartment, through deserted streets, televisions blaring through open windows. By the time I got back home to the radio, the second tower had also fallen. I lay on my bed, hot tears trickling into my ears trying to calling my flatmate, another friend I thought had been in the tower, my aunts and uncles. All networks were busy. My flatmate got home around noon, covered in soot. She had not yet arrived at work when the train stopped. She had walked about 70 city blocks back home through the ash blowing across Brooklyn, holding a paper serviette from a deli across her mouth and nose. Later, we went back out together, down to the pier where I had seen the first tower fall. The sky was clear and blue and the afternoon sun, hot. Where the gleaming silver twin towers had once loomed over the skyline of lower Manhattan, there was nothing but smoke. Suddenly, we heard the sound of planes overhead. My body tensed. There was a no-fly order imposed. There were not supposed to be any planes in the sky. When we looked up, they were fighter planes. It was a symbol of what was to come.
The next few days, we stayed at home and listened to the radio with two other friends who came to stay with us because they didn’t want to be alone. The couple who lived below us in the brownstone house were both newspaper editors, and one day I stayed with their children while they both went in to work. The children asked me why someone would fly planes into the World Trade Centre. I didn’t know what to tell them. “There are crazy people in the world,” I said. “There are bad people.” Around the city, family members posted photos of missing loved ones on subway walls and lamp posts. Small shrines sprung up around them, with candles and ribbons and letters. A bagpipe procession went past our window, as a funeral was held for a fireman at the Catholic church down the street. The Muslim shop owner around the corner from my house put up a gigantic American flag.
Two weeks later I boarded my plane back to Nigeria, on my way to another wounded city, where my parents had hosted a refugee camp at their house, churches and mosques had been burnt, and one of my father’s students had been found murdered, washed up on the banks of a river. It felt, in those days, as if the whole world were on fire.
Ten years later, both countries I call home are harsher more violent places. The U.S. has turned on itself. American extremists lash out against Muslims, who they blame en-masse for the attacks, filling the internet and airwaves with hatred. Al-Jazeera reports that in the past ten years the FBI has “investigated more than 800 violent acts against Muslims, Arab Americans, or people perceived to be of Middle Eastern origin.” The violent rhetoric in the U.S. does not stop at American borders. Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed seventy-seven people in a bomb and a shooting this July, cited American bloggers in his online manifesto. In the countries the U.S. invaded following the 9-11 attack the death toll is much higher, and such actions are used by violent extremists as justification for further violence.
In Nigeria, the entity popularly called Boko Haram has, this year, initiated Nigeria’s first suicide bombs, only a few weeks ago attacking the UN building, which, like the World Trade Centre, represented the existing global system. Ten years after the first large crisis, Jos has become an appalling place. The first few crises may have been instigated by politicians, by “bad, crazy people” as I told my landlord’s children in the wake of 9-11, but is continued through communities seeking revenge. Those who were children at the time of the first crisis have grown up to become murderers, committing atrocities against those with whom they might have been friends had they lived in a different city, but whom they have been taught to despise. Parents and clerics and leaders who should be restraining them, encourage hate, or else refuse to speak because they are afraid their children will turn on them.
One of my favourite writers C.S. Lewis imagines in his novel The Great Divorce, Hell, as a place where people continue for an eternity in the path they decided to follow on earth. Unforgiveness, hatred, and arrogance eat away all their good characteristics till they become shadows, left with nothing but the sins they refuse to give up. Given a chance to go to heaven, most of the ghosts in the novel return voluntarily to hell. In heaven they are unable to hold on to their hatred, and they’d rather live in hell than forgive.
Ten years after the Jos crisis and the 9-11 attacks, I am only left with questions and fear for the future. What are our children learning? What are they becoming? What kind of world will we leave them? Where will we be in another ten years? Are we willing to do the hard thing, forgive those who have killed our loved ones and teach our children peace, or do we want to take revenge after revenge, until we have made for ourselves hell on earth?
Nearly ten years ago now, I stood with fifty or sixty other people on a Brooklyn pier looking over the water towards downtown Manhattan, in New York City. It was a crisp September day. The sky was clear and blue, except for the white smoke that streamed over Brooklyn. The iconic twin towers were burning. When the first ripple of smoke travelled down the first tower and it collapsed into dust, I stood with the others gaping. There was a stunned silence. We could hear nothing but the sound of people shouting on megaphones over the water. And then the people around me began to scream. “It’s falling.” “It’s fallen.” “That’s it. He’s going to war,” one man said. “He’s going to war.”
I thought I had just seen a friend die. I walked away, my hands on my head, dry eyed, my mind blank. As I walked back to my apartment, the streets were deserted. I could hear nothing but the sound of television news blaring out of open windows. Two construction workers I had passed on my way down to the water, ran past me. One dropped his helmet. “Leave it. Leave it,” screamed his parter. By the time I reached my apartment, I heard on the radio that the second tower had fallen. I lay on my bed, the sun travelling over me, trying to call my family (all networks were busy), waiting for my roommate to come home.
I lost a friend that day—but not to the towers. The friend who had worked in the world trade centre complex was fine. I lost my friend to anger. “I hope they hunt down who has done this,” I emailed my friend living in distant Midwestern America. “And kill them.” “Why do you want to respond to violence with more violence?” he asked me. “If you couldn’t look them in the eyes and kill them yourself, you shouldn’t say you want them to be killed.” I was furious. What did he know, living far away in an untouched city where he couldn’t smell the smoke, where he couldn’t feel the grit of pulverized buildings and burned bodies floating through the windows and settling on everything like harmattan dust, where he hadn’t suffered the agony of thinking a friend had died, a neighbor had died. His pacifist ideas felt namby-pamby, ideal without experience. How could he preach to me, when he didn’t understand my grief. I wasn’t saying we should go out and kill innocent people. I was saying we should kill terrorists. I never wrote him back. I never spoke to him again.
I flashed back to that day this week on New Year’s Eve, when I heard of the bomb that exploded in Abuja and the rumours of other bombs that turned out not to be true. I can understand now that there may have been more sense to my friend’s words than I gave him credit for. I regret losing a long friendship to anger. In anger, America went into a war they didn’t understand. They geared their action towards stereotypes rather than intelligence, and their actions have caused mass suffering and deaths far beyond what we Americans suffered on September 11.
Yet, although I never supported the war in Iraq, I can understand the anger that made other Americans support it. I do believe that international law should be followed in bringing justice, but I still understand why I reacted so violently to my friends glib pacifism, which did not seem to take seriously the massive suffering caused by those who hijacked planes and brought down towers.
It is true. I am white and the citizen of a superpower. My country has thrown its weight around the world. I can never completely understand the feeling of powerlessness, the feeling that there is nowhere else to go—or the very personal history of oppression. But I do know what it feels like to live in a city under attack, both in New York and in Jos. I have experienced terror attacks in America and lived through multiple crises in Nigeria. I have close friends who are Christians and Muslims in Jos, Kano, Abuja, Kaduna. I have seen the anger on both sides. And I know that it is not my friends, it is not the ordinary people who have committed acts of terror. But it is the ordinary people who suffer when angry people take the law into their own hands. It is the ordinary people whose houses are burnt and brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers and children are killed in the violence of retaliation.
Both Martin Luther King and Malcom X were assassinated by hateful extremists, and injustice has certainly not completely ended in American society. [UPDATE: In 2015, with the constantly reported killings of young black men at the hands of the police, this becomes particularly clear.] But the peaceful yet passionate forms of protest espoused by both men towards the end of their lives provides a powerful model of how change can be effected. Nigeria is not America. And no outside solution will ever work to bring peace. It must be a peace that come from within. But we can look, as both of these American leaders did, to other models of transformation as examples of ways in which peace can be built, and remember that the deepest ideals can sometimes be the most revolutionary.
In September 2001, my flatmate and I were closely following the events in Jos. We had both grown up in Jos and had moved to New York together after finishing university. Each morning we would turn on New York public radio to listen for coverage of the crisis raging across what we remembered as a peaceful, quiet city. Then, on September 11, two jets slammed into the twin towers in New York, and Jos fell off the international news radar. Although my parents didn’t have a mobile phone in those days, I was able to get through to some other friends in Jos, who had a landline. My parents got word that I was fine when someone came to deliver a bag of garri for the several hundred people camped out in and around their house. They later told me they hadn’t really had time to be worried about me. They had heard the news but figured I wouldn’t have been in the World Trade Centre. In the meantime, there was gunfire on the streets of Jos and hundreds of refugees to find food for.
As New York draped itself in American flags, distraught family members plastered photos of their missing loved ones on subway walls. All over the city, candles were lit in little makeshift shrines to the dead. Two weeks after September 11, I left New York to fly to Jos. My trip back had been planned for almost half a year. I had quit my job in anticipation of spending a year in Jos, and now I was flying from one city in mourning to another. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay in New York and heal with the city. But I thought that if I let the attacks change my plans, I would be giving in to the terrorists. So, half in defiance, half because I’d already quit my job, I travelled back to my other home where people went about with haunted eyes, trading stories of where they had been, what they had seen during the crisis. “Happy Survival,” they said. It was an apt greeting for the time.
Those first few months back in Jos, I’d spend hours watching CNN, wincing at the endless replays of the jets slamming into silver buildings, eagerly following the cleanup in New York, listening to stories of the families of those who had been killed in the planes and the towers. A few months after I had settled, the cultural affairs section of the US embassy brought an exhibit to the University of Jos of “Ground Zero” photos taken by a New Yorker photographer—beautiful abstracts of fallen beams, of light rays defined by dust, and portraits of firemen and clean-up workers at the site where the towers had collapsed. I was hungry for images of New York, but as I walked through the rows of photos, I was struck by how the other people around me shook their heads at photos of smoke and ash and weeping people. “This is terrible, this is terrible,” they said. I felt a sense of vertigo. The same people who had just lived through nearly a week of war, of smoke on the horizon and shootings in the streets, the same people who had neighbors gone missing, never to be seen again, these same people were shaking their heads in sympathy for the tragedy in America.
Yet what did America know about what had happened in Jos. CNN was not covering it then. There were no international exhibits of photography travelling around to educate the globe on the thousands of deaths Jos had suffered. In that moment, my world shifted further on its axis. I still grieved New York. But now I wanted to collect the stories of those not constantly on global television, make heard the voices buried under the loud mourning of my homeland.
Sadly, almost ten years later, Jos does rise to the top of African headlines. The shock that a peaceful city would erupt into violence is no longer there. News coming out of the Jos is increasingly more horrifying. “God forbid,” wrote one of my Hausa actor friends on Facebook, when someone invited him to shoot a film in Jos, the home of the National Film Corporation, the National Film Institute and once a booming centre of Hausa films. Jos is now one of the Nigerian cities most likely to make international headlines for violence.
Living in Nigeria with emotional investments both here and in the United States, I continue to recognize eerie parallels between my two homes. The first week of 2011, there was an upsurge of violence in Jos between rival factions, after a car-load of people returning from a wedding party were killed and a bus passing through Jos from Lagos to Yola was burnt. The second week of 2011, a gunman in Tucson, Arizona, shot American Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and eighteen others. Following the shooting, there was the kind of partisan bickering and casting of blame that has become usual in American public discourse. But whether the kind of violent metaphors and imagery used by “teaparty” political agitators against their political rivals had anything to do with the motivations behind the shootings or not, the rhetoric of hatred that is used regularly in American political discourse contributes to a general atmosphere of dehumanizing “the Other.” The consequences of such hateful rhetoric are seen even more tragically in Jos, where people seem to be killed on an almost weekly basis.
There is a long history of how dehumanizing rhetoric is used to justify violence. In the United States, Americans excused their enslavement and brutal treatment of Africans and their descendents by reasoning that they were not actually human beings. In the genocide in Turkey against the Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century, Armenians were called dogs and swine. In Nazi Germany as death camps were set up, propagandists repeated the old poisonous libel used during pogroms throughout the centuries that Jews drank the blood of Christian babies. In Rwanda the Tutsi were called cockroaches as they were being slaughtered.
I am, thus, horrified and apprehensive when I hear similar kinds of dehumanizing rhetoric in America or Nigeria. In America, extremist members of the conservative “teaparty” movement question the citizenship of President Obama, and make calls to “take America back.” Members of Congress have been called by racial epithets, spat on, had doors and windows of their offices smashed in, and had their home addresses published by opposition parties. In Nigeria, I’ve heard Beroms called “arna” and “blood-thirsty savages.” I’ve seen Fulanis called “dirty/stinking”, “hoards” and “marauders.” I’ve seen calls urging “indigenes” to “drive away the settler,” with violence if necessary. Such rhetoric is followed by attacks, which while also seemingly political in origin, take an even more dramatic toll on ordinary people. Hundreds of people in Plateau State have been killed in the past year, thousands in the past ten.
Right before sending in this article, I received an email telling how two nephews of a Muslim friend “were killed in Anguwan Rukuba. They were machine drivers. The wife of the one killed got a cell phone call. ‘They have me, they’re about to kill me.’ Somebody in the background said, ‘tell them Anguwan Rukuba.’ His people went with soldiers the next day and found the bodies.”
Those in both countries I hold dear would do well to take heed to the warning Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords made in March 2010 after her office was vandalized. In a chilling anticipation of the attack in January 2011, where she would be shot in the head, she said: “The rhetoric is incredibly heated. Not just the calls, but the emails, the slurs.[…]I think it’s important for […] community leaders, figures in our community to say, ‘Look, we can’t stand for this.’ […] For example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, the way she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district. And when people do that, they’ve gotta realize there’s consequences to that action.”
Several times I have proposed keeping up with the blog by posting photos from my vast archive and writing a quick memory of the context behind the photograph, and today I intend to start that–begin the rhythm of a new blog posting schedule.
I went into my photos folder and picked a date at random. And this is the first photo that came up.
Taken on 26 February 2012 after the Boko Haram bomb at COCIN Headquarters church in Jos, Nigeria (c) Carmen McCain, all rights reserved
The date: 26 February 2012
The photo: A bank flier amidst broken glass from a Boko Haram bomb at COCIN Headquarters church. I had been living in Jos at the time, while writing my dissertation, and the church was only a block and a half from my house. It was around 7:15am. I was lying in bed, procrastinating getting up, when suddenly an ear-splitting BOOM came, shaking the house. I lept out of bed, tangling in the mosquito netting. I couldn’t find my keys to run out of the front door, so I ran out the side door. In the sky were thousands of bats.
The closed windows in my neighbour’s houses had shattered. We all sat on the ground in a neighbour’s house, listening to the shouting outside the wall. Later that afternoon, when tensions cooled, I walked over to the church to take a few photos. I later wrote about the experience in more detail.
With the recent attacks on mosques in Jos and Kano, church in Potiskum, and during a biometric verification exercise for state workers in Zaria, it felt like a the right photograph to post today, expressive of multiple ironies. It expresses the uncertainty that we continue to face about the “global reach” of terror, in a time when ISIS, Al Shabaab, and Boko Haram often seem to work in conjunction (and in a time when more stories of terror against minority populations in the U.S. and Europe are being heard); the tensions of Nigeria’s economic expansion and attempts to join marketplaces of global capital in a time of Boko Haram. And so on.
Hopefully, my next photo will be a little more cheerful.
PDP poster shoved through bus windows, 25 March 2014. (c) Carmen McCain
Two days ago, while returning in a university bus from the institution in one of the western states of Nigeria where I teach, we ran into a PDP rally. The people danced and shouted, pounded on the bus and pushed posters of Jonathan and Sambo through the windows. I smoothed the crumples and put it in my bag–a souvenir of this time. I was relieved when we left the mob behind us.
When I got home, there was no light. There had been no light for five days. I tried to turn on my stove to cook supper, and there was no gas–a leak somewhere. I ate cornflakes, which I keep on hand for times like this, and went to bed. The next morning, waiting for someone to come fix the gas leak, I washed clothes on the front steps. There was a moment, when black smoke billowed up and then drifted across the sky, that I had that familiar clenched feeling in my stomach–gut memories of Jos, Kano. Black smoke on the horizon and the grumble of distant shouting.
Boko Haram propaganda video playing on the phone of an IDP I interviewed. (c) Carmen McCain
I finally have enough NEPA to turn on AIT, the only station I get with my jerryrigged wire that works as an antenna, and see all the election adverts. A jovial president and bright-faced young people celebrating all that he has done while in office. The occasional beleaguered advert from the opposition.
Nigeria 2015 campaign, February 2015 (c) Carmen McCain
A friend tells me over the phone that he is watching a documentary on Buhari’s VP running mate, Osinbajo, on Silverbird Dream network, when suddenly it goes blank with only a station logo on it. It stays that way for about 10 minutes before coming back on again. I think of the night in February when elections were postponed. How immediately after Jega’s announcement, PDP adverts played on the state television network NTA. The president laughing. The president running on a treadmill, the president and his wife singing with Nigerians of every tribe and people about “Mama Peace.” Shiny happy people holding hands and celebrating the anticipated return of The President.
This morning, I also have enough NEPA to finish a blog post I started several days ago.
Last month, while briefly in the U.S. to take care of getting my STR visa, so that I could make a more permanent move to Nigeria, I recorded a podcast with London-based blogger Ade Torrent, for his series of podcasts on his website GidiBusiness.
Ade had asked me months ago if we could do a podcast, but when we tried it while I was in Nigeria, Skype cut off about every 10 seconds. So, it was not until I visited the U.S. and had steady enough light and electricity to have a 30-ish minute chat without being interrupted, that we were able to record the podcast about blogging from Nigeria.
I returned to Nigeria at the beginning of March to begin a job at a lecturer in a part of the country I have never lived before. Since my arrival, I have struggled with even more severe problems than I discussed in the podcast. Today is one of the first days we have had more than a few hours of light. Thus, the delay in posting this.
I’ve never done a podcast before, but I had a lot of fun with this one. We talked about lack of light and solar options (I am still working on that), balky internet, blogs and search terms for Hausa porn (the most common search term I have gotten in my 5+ years on this blog has been “hausa films blue films” followed not far after by “kannywood sex”) that draw people to my site (to be oh so amusingly thwarted), my research on the Hausa film industry, and what I am doing these days. And the inspiration I have gained from other Nigerian bloggers like Abidemi Sanusi, Teju Cole, Nkem Ifejika, Chikodili Emelumadu, Ainehi Edoro, Nura Abubakar, and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim.
The light has gone again. And I need to go reload my internet credit, so that I don’t run out over the election weekend.
Let me end with a text message I just got from a pastor in Jos:
The hour has come 4Nigerians 2decide 2morrow.Dworld waits. Let us all join hands n hearts 2PRAY 4PEACE 2Reign as we vote n that God?s will be done. Prayer works n it is not an escape route. God Rules n Reigns. Not D riggers, the merchants of death, the sycophants, the false prophets, the merchants of corruption n those who plot Nigeria?s break-up if they lose, but GOD.It is He who has the final SAY. Let us UNITE 4PEACE nDnation?s survival.Vote Wisely.
I apologize again for the long absence from this blog. I was not going to allow myself to post again until I handed in a chapter of my dissertation. However, this morning when I opened up the Weekly Trust and saw nearly two paragraphs missing from my column, leaving an abrupt transition that made no sense, I decided I needed to get the corrected version out there. It seems that a photo was accidentally pasted over the missing portion during layout, as the online version has the missing pieces. At any rate, here is my column as submitted this week. If you read the hard copy and are looking for the missing paragraph, I have put the missing portion in bold print. I have made my own little editorial decision here in deciding to leave out the conclusion, which I think, on second thought, was a little too much. If you want to read it, just read the article on the Weekly Trust site:
Benin City, in the sealed off world of a Nollywood film set, feels like a different country. Crew members from Lagos, Cross River, Imo, Edo, Plateau set up each scene, joking, sometimes yelling. Boko Haram is discussed in a theoretical way. The story we act out is set in the 1960s, in the years following independence, before Biafra, when everything is new and the years ahead full of promise.
Saturday, 14 July, during the Edo state gubernatorial elections, we work through the day inside a walled compound. Early Sunday morning, I wake to shouting, sirens, and continuous machine gunfire. My stomach clenches. The election has turned violent, I think. But when I throw on a gown and go outside to ask people what is happening, they greet me with grins. “It’s celebration,” they tell me. “Oshiomole has won by a landslide.” I return to my room and turn on the TV. Onscreen, people dance in the streets. The mood is festive. Everyone I speak to is happy. They tell me Governor Oshiomole has built roads and schools, has fought corruption. Throughout the next few days, I hear the crack of gunfire, see fountains of fireworks through the trees. In the streets of the city, Oshiomole’s likeness peers down from billboards, speeds past on the sides of cars. I am glad that democracy seems to be working in Edo State, but I grimace every time I hear the guns. “If this were Jos or Kano,” I say, “that sound would mean people were dying.”
Friday, 20 July, the first day of Ramadan, I board a bus for Lagos. At a construction diversion on the road, we sit in a go-slow for hours. Beside us, the mobile police, in body armour, wave their guns in the air. I shrink away from the window. I feel a scream rising in my throat when the mobile police race off and our driver follows, speeding behind them. I imagine armed robbers roaming the kilometers of trapped cars, us caught in the middle. I remember people in Kano killed by stray bullets at checkpoints.
My fears are unfounded. Following the mobile police advances us hours ahead in the hold-up, and we make it to Lagos by nightfall. The next few days, I relax in Victoria Island, in 24-hour air-conditioning, with a view of the water. Boats and jet-skis speed past. At a fish park overlooking the lagoon, I speak Hausa with the young man making suya. At a party in Lekki, I chat with an expatriate couple. I mention to the husband that I had grown up in Jos. “Oh, that must be a nice peaceful place to live,” he says. I laugh. “Not so much,” I say, thinking he is joking. He stares at me, confused. A little later, I speak to his wife, again mentioning Jos. “Is that on the Mainland?” she asks.
That night we stop by a mall in Victoria Island, decorated by a huge poster of a blonde model. Fashionable young girls with perfect make-up and young men in tight Prada shirts walk past me. As I wander into a Woolworths full of imported clothing, Fela chants over the loudspeaker: “Suffer suffer for world, Enjoy for heaven.” We eat ice-cream at the KFC. I can’t get Fela’s voice out of my head.
It is that night that I start getting sick. I think it is all the air conditioning. I jump whenever I hear a door slam or a car backfire.
As we fly over the Plateau, emergency rule now lifted, I peer down through the gauzy clouds. It is green and peaceful, little patches of farms and rocky mountain tops. I wonder if there are militants hiding there in the hills—whether we might be able to see them from up here in the sky. After we land, we walk across the tarmac past a military lineup and rows of black jeeps. I turn around and look at the license plate. It says “Senator.” An airport employee tells me that Senate President David Mark and a delegation of the National Assembly has just departed after attending the funerals for Senator Gyang Dantong and majority leader of the Plateau State assembly Gyang Fulani both killed in the attacks over two weeks before. Exiting the airport, we drive through misty green hills. It is cold outside, but inside the car, with the windows rolled up, it is cozy. Farmers carry home buckets of produce on their heads. The clouds are dark overhead. The 5 o’clock news on the radio recaps the politicians’ funerals and the recent floods in Jos. “Do not throw your rubbish in the drainage ditches,” the woman appeals. “Water no get enemy. But when it has nowhere to go….” When I read the figures later, it says the floods have killed over forty people, dozens more are missing. There is fear of a cholera break out. A disaster born of rubbish.
I sleep, I cough, I wake, exercise, drink tea. Outside rain drips on leaves that have grown up to the windows. Vines wrap around roses, stifling the flowers as they climb towards the sky.
This photo, taken by Mansur Ringim, and circulating on twitter and other news media this morning shows security vehicles entering the old campus.
This will be a quick post, as I am feeling a little overwhelmed by the attacks (apparently around 8:30am this morning) on Bayero University, Kano–but I feel a little duty bound to post something about it.
I know the campus very well and have attended the churches (both Catholic and Protestant) that meet in lecture theatres on Sundays. The place is dear to me, and it is devastating to think about what happened this morning.
According to Vanguard and Nigerian University News, among those confirmed dead are Professor Jerome Ayodele of the Chemistry Department and Professor Andrew Leo of the Library Science Department. I believe I had met Professor Ayodele once, after I had attended one of the services and he introduced himself to me. Premium News, which ran a running commentary of updates and eye witness reports of varying credibility throughout the day, also reported that Sylvester Adah of the Bursary was confirmed dead. The latest figures from Vanguardare 20 people dead. Leadership said 18. By 11pm, Associated Press was reporting at least 16 dead in Kano and 22 wounded. They also reported another church bombing of a COCIN church in Maiduguri, though that seems to be getting much less press than the other attacks. [UPDATE 30 April 2012: Here is a brief article from Daily Trust that gives more details on the Maiduguri attack, which apparently killed five. ]
Friends I spoke to on campus told me this morning that the area had been cordoned off, so they were not sure of what exactly had happened. But they had heard all of the explosions and gunfire and sounded shaken up. One friend I called, who stays on campus, told me that he saw the attackers as they passed by on their way out after shooting up the churches. They exited out of one of the side gates that is kept locked. He said they sped past on motorcycles and once they got to the gate, shot the lock off of it with their guns. A journalist friend who had come to Kano for the weekend with her family after the bombings of This Daynewspaper in Abuja was staying in a neighborhood behind the university. She called me on the road back to Abuja, said the sound was terrible–that her relatives across town in Fagge could hear the attack.
What has not yet been clear to me is how the attackers, who most news articles claim entered the campus on motorcycles, were able to enter the campus. Normally, the security on the Old Site has been quite tight. Even before any of the attacks on Kano, the BUK security on the old campus would check the boots of cars and would not allow motorcycles to enter unless the guards were familiar with the driver or passenger. One of my friends who works on campus speculated that they were allowed on because they were riding on private motorcycles and were not yan acaba, commercial motorcyclists. He also said that they entered with a car. I also wonder how they got all of the weapons on campus. Did they bring them in that morning on the motorcycles or had they smuggled them in earlier and have them hidden somewhere on campus?
Witness statements in the Tribune (that I found after I wrote the previous paragraph) seem to answer some of my questions but raise others, such as how they were able to escape without their motorcycles.
A source, who preferred anonymity, said the gunmen came through the backgate on the new campus road of the university and immediately went straight to the lecture theatre and the sport complex, threw IEDs and fired their guns at the same time.
However, when the security men of the BUK got wind of the attack, they locked up the gate to prevent the gunmen from escaping. The gunmen, however, were said to have forced the gate open with bullets and escaped.
At the time of filing this report, the three motorcycles used for the operation by the gunmen were still at the place they were abandoned, while the students who sustained injuries had been admitted to the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital.
Boko Haram spokesman Abul Qaqa’s claim that “We have just started this new campaign against the media and we will not stop here, we will hit the media hard since they have refused to listen to our plea for them to be fair in their reportage” and the recent attacks on Gombe State University and now Bayero University speak to a worrisome new trend of attacks. (A caveat to this is that I don’t think either the Gombe State University attack or the BUK attack has yet been claimed by Boko Haram, but whether they are the doings of the group spoken for by Abul Qaqa or not, they are worrisome.) With attacks on government, military, international institutions, churches, mosques, primary schools, and now on media and universities, it seems as if the target has simply become almost all aspects of life in the north. (see these links for partial timelines of attacks from Irin and Punch)
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