Category Archives: politics

For my loved ones in Republican states, call your representatives

Dear Republican loved one living in a “Red” State (from your non-Republican loved one living in a “Blue” state),

#womensmarch #womensmarch2017 #santabarbara

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Thank you for listening, two days ago, to me talk about my concerns about the Man in the White House. Thank you for listening, and thank you for asking me to send you a list of the things I am concerned about. I appreciate your openness to hearing my perspective.

There are some relatives I know voted for Donald Trump. I do not know if you did. I do not ask. What I do ask, however, of all my loved ones no matter how they voted is to please call your representatives and register your concerns with the ongoing executive overreach.

I realize that some people may have “held their noses” and voted along party lines or over concerns about abortion or high healthcare costs. I know those same people have serious concerns about his personal character and leadership ability. On the other hand, to those people who continue to defend the Man in the White House or to even celebrate him, please consider reading the links to the articles I provide below and giving some thought to our concerns.

I believe those of you who are Republicans and who live in states with Republican representatives have more power than those of us who live in states with Democratic representatives, since the Republicans currently have control of all three branches of government: the executive, legislative, and judiciary. Unless Republican lawmakers and those who voted for them stand up against abuse from the executive branch, I seriously fear for the future of this country.

Since the day of the inauguration, things have been moving so fast that it has been hard to keep up with everything that is going on (it’s similar to the days of the campaign, where Trump would blitz us with multiple things at one time so that when we focused on some new sensationalistic outrage, we missed the quieter but more dangerous discussions going on). However, this New York Times interactive site shows what Trump has done and what he still has to do on his agenda. PBS has a similar page from a few days ago that looks at 10 executive orders Trump signed with only one week in office.

Here is a partial (but not complete because I don’t have enough time to do that) list of some of my most pressing concerns.

Because I am alarmed at the amount of disinformation, fake news, and “alternative facts” floating around, I have decided to support institutions that are well known for investigative journalism and fact checking; therefore, I have subscribed to digital access for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. I have also donated to The Guardian, and have other magazine subscriptions, including Time, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, as well as The Sun and Essence. (And no, I don’t have time to read them all but the digital access to news is invaluable) If you find that you cannot access some of these articles because you aren’t a subscriber, please let me know and I can send you a pdf of the article. If you do not read news from these organizations because you think they are “biased,” please take a look at this “news literacy toolkit” one of my smartest students sent me last semester on how to evaluate what you read.

Commitment to a free and fair media.

Make America think again. #womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara

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I am alarmed by Trump’s proclaimed “war with the media.” A free press has long been considered one of the pillars of democracy, alongside the executive, legislative, and judicial branches—an essential check and balance to hold the government accountable. However, Trump’s “war against the media” has involved refusing to take questions from media outlets during press conferences, talk of moving the presscorps out of the White House, and restricting government agencies from speaking to the press or even publishing information on their websites. His “gag order” on Federal agencies does not allow them to engage in any external communications until Trump has completed putting political appointees into place.  While some analysts think this is merely temporary and not a big deal, it seems that he has targeted agencies, like the EPA, which are involved “environmental protection and scientific research.”. You can read more about this at The New York Times and PBS.

He has also been involved in propaganda efforts, such as demanding the acting director of the National Park Service to produce additional photographs of crowds on the Mall during inauguration and bringing a crowd to applaud him at his address at the CIA headquarters.; His advisor Steve Bannon reinforces this “war” with the media, and 6 journalists were charged with felonies while covering the inauguration protests on the day of the inauguration.

John Fea, a historian who teaches at Messiah College, points to the multiple untruths told by Trump, including the infamous appeal to “alternative facts” and his team since the inauguration and asks where the Christians who will stand up for truth are.

Ban on Refugees AND legal immigrants with visas/greencards

#santabarbara #womensmarch #womensmarch2017

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My most immediate concern is Trump’s executive order banning refugees entry from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, or Yemen (full text here following on an earlier draft, which proposed to “indefinitely block Syrian refugees from entering the United States and bar all refugees from the rest of the world for at least 120 days.” ). The ban also includes green card holders—that is permanent residents of the United States—and dual citizens of other countries—for example a British-Iranian or a Dutch-Somalian. If they are currently travelling, whether on business to go to a funeral etc, they will not be allowed to enter. Here are some of the stories of those travellers who were affected when the executive order was signed. (UPDATE, 29 January 2016: This story of a Somali woman travelling with her two children [American citizens] to join her husband in the U.S. is particularly upsetting. She was continuously browbeaten to try to get her to sign documents invalidating her visa, told she would be sent back to “Africa,” she was handcuffed, and she and her children were not fed during their 20 hour ordeal.)

These stories, as told by the New York Times, include the family of Fuad Shareef of Iraq, who worked as an interpreter and translator for the U.S. armed forces in Iraq, a job for which he had received death threats. He and his family were given clearance to move to the U.S. and they sold their home and car and gave up jobs to move to America, but were not allowed to board their flight in Cairo and are stuck there.  Nisrin Omer a Sudanese woman who is a PhD student at Stanford and a greencard holder was handcuffed, aggressively patted down and interrogated for hours after returning from a research trip in Sudan. Similarly Ali Abdi, a PhD student at Yale who has a green card is stuck outside of the country; an Iranian scholar who had a fellowship to study at Harvard is now unable to come. The stories also include a Yazidi refugee from Iraq who was about to join her husband; Christian Syrian relatives of U.S. citizens who have already landed in Philadelphia,; a dual British-Iranian citizen unable to get home to Scotland from Costa Rica because her flight connected through the U.S.; etc. etc, etc. This NYT article follows up some of these stories and describes the fear and unrest all over the world caused by this ban. Although immigration policy analysts say the ban is illegal and the ACLU was able to obtain a stay of action from a federal judge in Brooklyn so that travellers would not be deported, they may still be detained. Furthermore, this is only temporary, and White House senior advisor Stephen Miller has said, “Nothing in the Brooklyn judge’s order in anyway impedes or prevents the implementation of the president’s executive order which remains in full, complete and total effect.” (UPDATE 29 January 2016: The American Immigration Lawyers Association report that “border agents were checking the social media accounts of those detained and were interrogating them about their political beliefs before allowing them into the U.S.”Note that these were people with legal visas.)

This has already caused a massive international relations problem. Iran, which had recently signed a nuclear non-proliferation deal with the U.S., has called it “an obvious insult to the Islamic world.” Deutche Welle covers more global responses to the ban.

Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration also states that it will publish the “criminal acts committed by aliens.” For analysis on why this is problematic, see these articles,  on Simcha Fisher and the Daily Kos, which point to similar actions taken against Jews in Nazi Germany. The constant association of immigrants with criminality serves to dehumanize them and desensitize people to abuses against them.

A few Republican lawmakers, are joining Democratic lawmakers, to question the ban, but there should be more. [Update 29 January 2016 – Time Magazine now reports on “more than a dozen GOP members of Congress” who have spoken out against the executive order] [Update 30 January 2016  In particular, John McCain “has called the new Trump ban on immigration from a set of Muslim-majority countries a recruiting boon for Islamic State radicals.”]  Please call your representatives and register your protest.

American University history professor Richard Breitman has written about Anne Frank and her family were also denied entry into the U.S. and were eventually murdered in Nazi concentration camps. In a 2007 paper, he wrote “Otto Frank’s efforts to get his family to the United States ran afoul of restrictive American immigration policies designed to protect national security and guard against an influx of foreigners during time of war.” [UPDATE 29 January 2016 For Holocaust Memorial Day–the day Trump signed the executive order banning refugees–The Smithsonian has an article commemorating 254 Jewish refugees, passengers on the ship  the St. Louis, murdered in the Holocaust after being turned back from the shores of Cuba and the United States and sent back to Europe.]

Many members of our family have visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam and also visited the house of Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian who protected many Jewish refugees from the Nazis. Consider this in relation to the Syrian crisis today.  Can we not draw connections? What was the point of visiting those houses if we don’t learn from them? Will we be able to live with our consciences if we deny refuge to those running for their lives?

Here are several Christianity Today articles talking about the Christian responsibility to speak up for refugees, and those Christian organizations who already have: “How to Respond as a follower of Christ to Trump’s ban of refugees” and “Evangelical experts oppose Trump’s plan to ban Syrian Refugees.” [UPDATE 29 January 2016: a coalition of evangelical groups has written a letter opposing the privileging of Christian refugees over Muslim refugees. Those who signed it included the CEO of the Accord Network, the president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities,  the President of Korean Churches for Community Development, the President the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, the President of National Hispanic Christian Leadership, an Ambassador for the Wesleyan Church, the President of World Relief, and the President of World Vision US. Catholic and Mormon leaders have also opposed the executive order. The New York Times also interviews Christian leaders who oppose Trump’s plan.]

 The Wall

On 25 January, Trump signed an executive order on the immediate commencement of building a $20 billion border wall, which he concedes that “US taxpayers would have to initially fund” while simulateously defunding a myriad of far less expensive other programs including NPR and PBS, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Violence Against Women grants, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Office of Fossil Energy, etc but he cannot start building it until Congress approves. Please urge your representatives to oppose the wall. This article describes some of the problems Trump will face in trying to implement the wall, including  the huge expense of the wall, the ire of citizens whose land will need to be seized to provide property for the wall and those who are concerned that patrolling border communities with “tens of thousands of heavily armed, poorly trained, unaccountable agents puts lives at risk. This will turn these communities into de facto military zones” Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Colaition immigrant advocacy group says (The Guardian). See also, the New York Times.

It is not just advocacy groups who are criticizing the wall, however. Republican congressman Will Hurd of Texas has also said that “Building a wall is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border” NPR points out that Trump’s suggested “import tax” means that Americans, not Mexico, would pay for the wall.

And I haven’t even gotten into Trump’s worrisome appointments yet. Most recently, Trump has “restructured the National Security Council” and has given Steve Bannon, filmmaker and former publisher of sensationalist, conspiracy theorizing Brietbart News who has links to white supremacist organizations, a seat on the National Security Council.

Other issues of international concern

 China is talking about a WAR with the U.S.

Fox News points out the damage Trump is doing to American democracy and its reputation in the world.

Foreign policy experts are so concerned by Trump’s decisions that the “entire senior management team” of the state department resigned. These are people who had worked under both Republican and Democratic presidents in the past. Additionally over 100 diplomats and state department officials have signed “a draft document formally protesting President Donald Trump’s immigration and refugee order.” [You can read the full text of the document here.]

(Update 29 January 2016: Conservative analyst Eliot Cohen, who worked as a counselor to Condoleeza Rice,  has written):

Trump, in one spectacular week, has already shown himself one of the worst of our presidents, who has no regard for the truth (indeed a contempt for it), whose patriotism is a belligerent nationalism, whose prior public service lay in avoiding both the draft and taxes, who does not know the Constitution, does not read and therefore does not understand our history, and who, at his moment of greatest success, obsesses about approval ratings, how many people listened to him on the Mall, and enemies.

He will do much more damage before he departs the scene, to become a subject of horrified wonder in our grandchildren’s history books. To repair the damage he will have done Americans must give particular care to how they educate their children, not only in love of country but in fair-mindedness; not only in democratic processes but democratic values. Americans, in their own communities, can find common ground with those whom they have been accustomed to think of as political opponents. They can attempt to renew a political culture damaged by their decayed systems of civic education, and by the cynicism of their popular culture.

[…]

There was nothing unanticipated in this first disturbing week of the Trump administration. It will not get better. Americans should therefore steel themselves, and hold their representatives to account. Those in a position to take a stand should do so, and those who are not should lay the groundwork for a better day. There is nothing great about the America that Trump thinks he is going to make; but in the end, it is the greatness of America that will stop him.

The Environment

#womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara #womensmarchonsantabarbara

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Trump approved pipelines to pass near Sioux lands, building on a long history of disrespect, genocide, forced migration, and land seizure from Native Americans. Indigenous people are not protesting for no reason. According to Reuters, as recently as January 23, 2017, an oil pipeline in Saskatchewan, Canada, leaked over 50,000 gallons onto indigenous lands.  According to the New York Times, Trump owned stock in the company that is building the Dakota Access Pipeline. He claims he sold it, but he has provided no documentation to prove the sell–just as he has never released his tax returns. Trump also believes climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China and  plans to reverse environmental legislation.

The Rachel Maddow show gives researched evidence of serious environmental concerns under Trump.

Conflicts of Interest

#womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara

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Related to my concerns about Trump’s many falsehoods are my concerns about his ethics in other areas of life (and I don’t even have time to get into his abuse of women here). He has never released his tax returns and he has not divested from his business as presidents are expected to do. For comparison Jimmy Carter had to sell his family farm so as to not have a conflict of interest. By contrast, Trump did not put his business in a blind trust—instead having his sons manage his business. Now, there are reports that the fees at the club Mar-a-lago have raised membership fees from 100,000 to 200,000, cashing in on Trump’s new position and attracting those who might wish to have some influence over Trump or the government. There’s a lot more of this. I don’t have time to post it all right now. (Update: This piece by a Fordham University law professor explains Trump’s violation of the emoluments clause) But my question is, where are all of our checks and balances I heard people talking about before the election when they were saying Trump couldn’t do everything he said he would do? Who is enforcing our laws? And why aren’t we holding the man in the White House and our lawmakers responsible?

Education appointment

According to the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, a Senate Ethics review found that Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, who has never worked at an educational institution and has no experience in public education or education standards and who seemed quite unprepared during the hearing, is involved in 102 companies that could cause a conflict of interest. She also believes there needs to be guns in schools. During the hearing, DeVos would not agree that there should be equal accountability for private or charter schools that receive federal funds: Here is more from The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

Hundreds of Calvin College alumni (the college DeVos attended) sign a letter outlining the concerns they have about the appointment.

This is just a very preliminary list that covers only a fraction of the fears I have over this new government. The only encouraging things to me in the past week have been the massive women’s marches that took place all over America and all over the world. I went to the march in Santa Barbara where over 6000 people came out.

Salami aleikum. Allah ya kiyaye mu. (Afraid that's bad grammar but anyway) #santabarbara #womensmarch

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We did not have a street permit, but when the police saw how many of us there were, they opened the streets for us.

I am also encouraged by the people who have gone to airports in the last 24 hours to demand that people with valid visas be let into the country.

Now is my time to get over my anger at those who voted (based on what they saw as “morals”) for Trump and to appeal to you to stand up for your values with us. You can’t get your vote back, but you can stand up for what is right. We will not agree on every issue, but I think (and hope) that many of those who voted for Trump believe in kindness, goodness, hospitality, love for our neighbour. It is only when we can realize, as President Obama said, in the face of grief and anger, that “we are not as divided as we seem,”  that we can stand up against the kind of reckless authoritarianism we are seeing manifest in the man currently in the White House and those around him.

Build kindness not walls. #womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara

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Courage and love. #womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara

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Please. Call your representatives. Remind them of the ideals for which you voted: life, liberty, freedom and justice for all.

We are created equal. #womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara

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Grow compassion. #womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara

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This is just the kick start. #womensmarch2017 #womensmarch #santabarbara

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For my Conservative Christian relatives on why I am not voting for Trump (and some useful links and resources for Clinton or “other” voters with Trump-supporting loved ones)

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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.
screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-6-29-38-pm

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).
Now, of course, Trump’s opponent, who identifies as Methodist, is not entirely free of these sins of the flesh either, but neither does she claim to represent all Christians as Trump does, joke about getting rid of all the non-Christians (LA Times), or claim to be a saviour, a rhetoric that has been adopted by Trump’s most ardent supporters, such as this Breitbart article that claims “Donald Trump is Last Chance to Save America.” (Update 8 November: More recently Trump claimed on the even of the election. “You have one day until the election. It’s not even one day. Half a day, to make every dream you’ve ever dreamed for your family and your country to come true.”  Here he repeats earlier statements, as published on his website, that “You have 40 days to make every dream you ever dreamed for your country come true.” He is promising that he can make every dream come true. That’s dangerous messianic rhetoric. Even Barack Obama who inspired voters to believe “yes, we can”  [and also inspired certain unrealistic expectations of people who expected Obama to solve all problems rather than focusing on the “we”] did not imply that he alone was the solution but instead appealed to an American tradition of working together to bring about a greater good.)
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.
Much love, Carmen

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Christian responses
“Have we Forgotten the Point of Christianity” by Christian writer Stephen Mattson on Sojourners
“Speak Truth to Trump” by Andy Crouch executive editor for Christianity Today
“Trump’s Offer to Christians is same Offer Devil Made Christians” (see this article, in particular, as a response to the temptation of political power and “our agenda to make America great again” (stated by Pence, in the video you sent) (See Matthew 8:11) and “Hillary Clinton is the Best Choice for Voters against Abortion” by Christian Post writer Eric Sapp
“Decency for President” by Max Lucado, Christian bestselling author
“10 Conservative Christians who are not supporting Trump” by Emily McFarlan Miller for Religion News Service
“Powerful Evangelical Women Split from Male Church Leaders to Slam Trump” (Article focuses on Beth Moore). Joshua DuBois in The Daily Beast
“I’m Pro-Life and I’m Voting for Hillary. Here’s Why.” by Christian Mom-blogger Shannon Dingle, who has adopted multiple disabled children

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Conservative Responses
“The Conservative Case for Voting for Clinton” by David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, and currently one of the senior editors at The Atlantic
(Update 7 November) Moving piece by Republican strategist “Ana Navarro: I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton–and against Donald Trump” CNN
(Update 7 November) Fox News host and conservative commentator Glenn Beck is touched by Michelle Obama speech, says Donald Trump is “Dangerously Unhinged”“Glenn Beck Tries Out Decency” The New Yorker ; “Glenn Beck: Opposing Trump is ‘Moral’ Choice–Even if Clinton is Elected.” CNN ; Even Breitbart reports on this, linking to Beck’s Facebook page where he made the statements:
“For this Republican, Never Trump means ‘I’m with Her'” by Caroline McCain, granddaughter of John McCain
“10 Reasons why I will never vote for Donald Trump” by conservative writer Aaron Goldstein in the American Spectator
(Update 7 November) “The Conservative Case for Hillary Clinton” by Erica Grieder for The Texas Monthly
(Update 7 November) “The Problem of Character: Why Conservatives Must Reject Donald Trump” by Ashleen Menchacha-Bagnulo for the conservative Witherspoon Institute publication Public Discourse
“5 Conservative Reasons to Vote for Hillary Clinton” by conservative writer Tyler O’Neil
On the prominent Republican leaders Trump lost after the tape of him bragging about groping women came out: “Republicans who won’t vote for Donald Trump: McCain, Kasich, and more” AM New York

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On National Security/Corruption/Business Ethics
This letter written by 50 Republican former national security advisors (Letter in New York Times) description in Business Insider
“The Donald’s Dangerous Dismissal of NATO Allies” by Evan Moore in the conservative journal The National Review
“Trump insults Gold Star mom, freaks out U.S. allies” by conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin
On Hillary Clinton’s emails: “Admit it. The Clinton Email Controversy  bothers you but you don’t really know what the Clinton Email Controversy is” by Ken Crossland on Medium. This Newsweek article comparatively examines the private email server used by the Bush white House and some of the missing emails from that time. On Sunday, November 6, the FBI director said that “the agency stands by its original findings against recommending charges” (Washington Post).
Donald Trump’s Business Plan left a Trail of Unpaid Bills” by Alexandra Berzon, Wall Street Journal
“Trump’s Empire: A Maze of Debts and Opaque Ties” by Suzanne Craig for the New York Times

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On Racism, sexism, violent rhetoric, and enthusiastic responses to Trump’s rhetoric by “deplorable” white nationalists
“This is How Fascism Comes to America “ by conservative columnist Robert Kagan, Washington Post
(On Trump’s discrimination against black renters in the 1970s) “No Vacancies for Blacks: How Donald Trump got his Start and was first accused of Bias” by Jonathan Mahler and Steve Eder for the New York Times. “Donald Trump’s 1973 Discrimination Case Really was Part of Something Larger” by Lily Rothman for Time Magazine
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).
“Hate Crimes Against Muslims Most Since Post 9/11 Era” by Eric Lichtblau in the New York Times (September 2016)
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.
An open letter to the University of Wisconsin chancellor by my pastor in Madison, WI, about a recent incident at a football game, in which a man in a costume depicted Obama with a noose around his neck, a reference to lynching: “Alex Gee: An Open Letter to the University of Wisconsin, Madison” 
At the University of Wisconsin-Stout, a Saudi student was just murdered a few days ago. “Saudi student is beaten, killed in Wisconsin.”USA Today
A Republican protester is beaten up at a rally in Nevada. “Trump rally protestor: I was beaten for a Republicans against Trump sign.” The Guardian

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On Sexual Assault and Adultery 
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 a timeline of accusations that have been made against Trump (International Business Times)
“Trump, Companies accused of mistreating women in at least 20 lawsuits.”USA Today, investigation shows that accusations of Trump sexually harrassing and demeaning women have been going on for years, long before he started running for president
“Trump bragged on hot mic about being able to grope women”Fox News (in which Trump brags about trying to seduce a married woman and about kissing women without their consent and “grabbing them” by their genitals. Since that time multiple women have come forward with stories of him doing just that. Multiple news agencies, including Fox, have reported on this. Trump has responded to these allegations by further demeaning these women and insulting their looks, saying that they would not be his “first choice” (Time Magazine). Most of these women had confided in their family and friends before the tape was leaked.
etc

On the eve of the election: Podcast with Ade Torrent on blogging from Nigeria

PDP poster shoved through bus windows, 25 March 2014. (c) Carmen McCain

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.

They have started, I thought, (as I had thought when I heard gunshots in Benin after an election.) But the smoke drifted away and dissipated. The sky was blue again.

On the eve of the election. March 27, 2015.

On the eve of the election. March 27, 2015. (c) Carmen McCain

On the eve of the election. 27 March 2015. (c) Carmen McCain

On the eve of the election. 27 March 2015. (c) Carmen McCain

Since yesterday evening, there has been light, on and off. More than I have had in the two weeks I have lived in this compound. I hope it lasts through the election. I finally have enough battery time to go online and read the most recent  articles about Boko Haram and the people who have escaped from them. [Al Jazeera (whose journalists in Maiduguri have most recently been confined to their hotel rooms) has a particularly horrifying series about women who have escaped  forced marriages in Boko Haram camps and the huge number of orphans who have been left behind.]

Boko Haram propaganda video playing on the phone of an IDP I interviewed. (c) Carmen McCain

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

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.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 11.34.22 AM

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 postcast is here, and while you are at it,  check out his latest podcast with voiceover artist, Sanjo Ogunseye. It’s a really great listen. Ade also has many other sites:  GidiBusiness, a YouTube channel, Google+,  Twitter, Pinterest, a personal website and more. My personal favourites are his photoblog, A Torrent of Photos, which record his wanderings with his camera, and his YouTube channel A Torrent of Videos, where he vlogs while wandering around London and beyond, camera rolling.

Ade Torrent (c) Ade Torrent

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.

Kano Hisbah to Prosecute Gossips

Blueprint yesterday carried a story that the Kano Hisbah Board will “prosecute idle people and those trading in the business of gossiping.” If this is true, this will be the harshest and most disturbing action of the Kano hisbah I’ve yet seen. The Hisbah are shari’a “vigilante” groups (as they have a formal function recognized by the state “vigilante” always seems like the wrong word to me–though it seems to be the word most often used by scholars to describe them).

According to Rasheed Oyewole Olaniyi in his 2011 Africa Today article “Hisbah and Sharia Law Enforcement in Metropolitan Kano:”

Hisbah had its origin in the initiative of Islamic groups with the aim of supporting Sharia implementation. Following the reintroduction of Sharia, there was a spontaneous proliferation of Hisbah groups by Islamic civil society. Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso formally launched Hisbah in 2000 as a form of institutional support to control crime and maintain social order enjoined by Islam. The establishment of Hisbah religious vigilantism was part of the Kano State government’s effort to implement Sharia and a response to curb the insecurity and rapidly growing social anomie among youths. (84)

However, Olaniyi notes that initially under the Kwankwaso government, there were inconsistencies in the way the hisbah operated and  two factions developed. In 2003, newly elected governor Ibrahim Shekarau created the Hisbah board:

According to him, section 28, subsection 1, of the 1999 federal constitution empowers Kano State to promulgate a law establishing the Hisbah Board, responsible for general policymaking and coordinating activities between state, zonal and local government Hisbah committees. […] Hisbah personnel do not have the power to arrest or prosecute culprits; rather they are expected to hand over people found to have violated Sharia law to the police.

The board is meant to engage in activities useful to society such as encouraging sanitation, helping with traffic, controlling crowds during religious services, mediating local conflicts, acting as a sort of neighborhood watch, and so on. I have heard stories of how helpful they have been in providing community security and have seen them directing traffic around mosque time. In keeping with shari’a regulations banning alcohol, the hisbah also regularly destroy alcoholic beverages.

Hisbah with trucks full of confiscated beer (c) Kano Hisbah Board facebook page

However, the board has been involved in quite a few controversies since its establishment. In 2005, a controversy developed when they began to arrest commercial motorcyclists who were carrying women. (See two articles from that time period by Fatima Adamu and Jaafar Jaafar). During my research on Kannywood in 2008-2011, the hisbah also seemed to act as an arm of the censorship board (the director general of which, Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, had been the former deputy head of the hisbah), confiscating equipment on film sets they deemed to be operating without permission and arresting filmmakers. As I recounted in an earlier post, “Director of Photography Felix Ebony of King Zuby International recounted how hisbah had come to a location he was working on and impounded four speakers and one camera, telling them they had not sought permission to shoot.” The hisbah also shut down music and fashion shows in the state, and I heard complaints that poor people could no longer have singing and dancing at their weddings as the hisbah would shut them down. (Wealthy people, on the other hand, they told me would just hire police to stand guard at their doors and the hisbah would not be able to enter.) In March 2010, one of my Muslim musician friends called me very upset that his Christian friends in the “Police Band” had been beaten up and arrested by security forces for playing at a Muslim wedding. When Shekarau was running for president in 2011, he denied during an NN24 debate that the hisbah had any problem with the film industry, but these claims seemed rather disengenuous.

When Rabi’u Kwankwaso was voted back in, however, there seemed to be the feeling that such high-handedness was a thing of the past. And since Kwankwaso resumed office, there have been some popular moves by the hisbah. Among what some see as the achievements of the hisbah during the Kwankwaso tenure have been several state coordinated mass marriages  of divorcees and widows.

Brides in the Kano Mass Wedding (c) AFP, Aminu Abubakar

(The Hisbah even have a facebook page created 30 December 2011, though by the time I posted this, it only had 105 “likes.”) This year, however, there have been more reports of extreme pronouncements from the Kano State hisbah.

On July 17, the Hisbah board banned night-time courtship, an old tradition in Hausa culture where a young man will visit a young woman outside her house at night. Such practices are described in some of the early soyayya novels such as Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino’s  In da So da Kauna and Kaico!. In fact this clip of the 1994 film adaptation of the bestselling novel In Da So da Kauna (It sold over 100,000 copies) shows the heroine Sumayya receiving two such visits from suitors at night. (Her second suitor, Muhammad, played by author Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, is more successful than the first one!)

According to Blueprint, 

Director General of the board, Alhaji Abba Said Sufi, who stated this in a terse statement, said the measure was meant to curb open immorality among youths, which the board noted was on the increase.

[…]

Sufi vowed to rid the state of all corrupt vices, stressing, “It is better for government to infringe on its citizens’ right than allow corrupt and un-Islamic behaviour to continue in the state.”

Shortly thereafter, during Ramadan, newspapers began to report that the hisbah was arresting Muslims who were not fasting. (See these articles from Daily Trust, Daily Times, and Blueprint.) While some people saw this as within their jurisdiction as enforcers of shari’a law, others were alarmed by what they saw as an abuse of power. Regarding the ban on night-time courtship, Blueprint reports:

Some respondents who spoke to our correspondent faulted the measure, saying it was against right to privacy as advocated by Islam.

Ahmed Mohammed, a student of Bayero University, Kano, said social visits among the opposite sex had been going on for ages, saying the government had no reason to ban them in a democracy.

He said even if such decision is to be taken, there should be a legislative backing.

According to a later Blueprint article, similar protests were heard against the arrests of non-fasting Muslims:

Some of those who spoke with Blueprint are of he opinion that religion is an issue between a person and his Creator.  Hisbah, therefore, has no power to harass them or force them to fast.

Yesterday, a friend on twitter who had read that day’s Blueprint alerted me to the latest communications of the Hisbah. Although the article has not yet been put online by Blueprint, I share a photo of it here. To be taken to a readable version, just click on the photo and then click on the magnifying glass icon:

Here are a few highlights of the article: According to The Deputy Director General legal matters of the Kano State Hisbah Board, Barrister Nahabani Mohammed, the board had organized “a one-day workshop to educate its personnel and their informants on the way and manner of identifying people whose main business is to sit in a certain corner and gossip.”

Now, read carefully the sorts of things that were seen to be prime evidences of gossip worthy of prosecution:

He said, “You will hear them alleging things like, ‘Do you know the governor had done this and that? Do you know Comissioner A has just bought three new houses?’ Or ‘Do you know that the commander general of Hisbah has just taken a new wife?’ Things like these are what we intend to stop.

Mohammed, who told our correspondent jokingly to rush and pick a form in the Zawarawa mass marriage scheme before widows, divorcees and even young girls became scarce in Kano, askiked, “Of professional gossips and idlers are allowed to sit around and talk about life style of their neighbours, their families, political officeholders and other things they cannot prove or verify, before you know what is happening it will spread fast and create hatred in the society.”

The implications of this are extremely worrisome. While I can understand concern over rumour-mongering in times of crisis, this sort of vigilantism against “gossip” could create a climate of terror of the kind found in a totalitarian-state. Is this about religion or politics?

Look at the examples he gave of “idle gossip.” The hisbah would arrest people for gossiping that a Commissioner “has just bought three new houses” or that “the commander general of Hisbah has just taken a new wife.” Such measures seem designed to stop public protest against abuse of power and corruption among the political class. And in my experience, this is the kind of talk that does preoccupy many ordinary people. It reminds me of what hiphop artist Nazir Hausawa (Ziriums)  told me in February 2009 when then Governor Shekarau authorized destruction of “illegal structures” during a bid to host the next FIFA world youth soccer tournament.

There is a hadith that if you see something haram, you’re supposed to fight it. If you can’t fight it, then you talk about it; if you can’t talk about it, then you feel it in your mind. The way that Shekarau is destroying people’s property right now.[…] People can’t do anything but feel bad in their minds. We, [filmmakers and musicians], are in the middle. We can’t fight, but we can talk about it […] through film.

It seems that even talking about it is now forbidden…

For more information about the history of the hisbah in Kano and implementation of shari’a in Northern Nigeria, see these resources.

Kano Hisbah Facebook page

“Hisbah and Sharia Law Enforcement in Metropolitan Kano:”  by Rasheed Oyewole Olaniyi. Africa Today. 57:4 (Summer 2011), pp. 70-96. (Note that this version is behind a pay-wall, but you can access a free version of an earlier draft of the paper on the IFRA website here.)

Gender, Hisbah and Enforcement of Morality in Shariah Implementing States of Zamafara and Kano in Northern Nigeria” by Dr. Fatima Adamu, at The African Gender Institute

Sharia Implementation in Northern Nigeria 1999-2006: A Sourcebook, edited by Philip Ostien

Recent News on Hisbah

“Kano Hisbah Board to prosecute idlers, gossips.” Blueprint. 24 August 2012

“Kano Hisbah Detains non-fasting Muslims.” Daily Trust, 8 August 2012

“Kano Hisbah Board Nabs 20 for refusing to Fast.” Daily Times. 8 August 2012

“Kano Government Arrests Non-fasting Muslims.” Blueprint, 7 August 2012 (the most detailed of the reports)

“Kano govt bans night courtship” Blueprint. 18 July 2012

“Hisbah Board Plans Mass Wedding for 250 Divorcees” Leadership. 11 June 2012.

“Hisbah officials, others, take wives in Kano Mass Wedding” Daily Trust. 15 May 2012.

“100 women, men get Kano Hisbah mass wedding today” Daily Triumph. 15 May 2012

“Kwankwaso’s security outfit keeps tongues wagging in Kano.” Sunday Trust. 19 June 2011.

“Governor Ibrahim Shekarau on Hisbah, Censorship and Kannywood in the Presidential Debates” by me on A Tunanina, posted 19 March 2011

“Hisbah: In Defense of the Information Minister” by Jaafar Jaafar, Dawodu.com,  2 March 2006

The Caine Prize, the “Tragic Continent”, and the Politics of the “Happy African Story”

Behind as usual in posting on this blog, I’m going to jump back in (with minimal apologies about my absence and the usual promises to catch up) with my most recent article, published today, “The Caine Prize, the Tragic Continent, and the Politics of the Happy African Story.” Here, I engage with British novelist, and the 2012 chair of judges for the Caine Prize for African Writing, Bernadine Evaristo’s  ideas expressed, in an essay on the Caine Prize blog, on what a new African literature should look like. (If you don’t want to read my long, half memoir, half academic preface to the article, just skip down to the photo to read my article and other responses to Evaristo’s article by other Nigerian writers.)

A Preface:

Some of the issues I brought up in the piece have been haunting me for years, as I have struggled with my identity as a white American who moved as a child to Nigeria with my parents and have since occupied the privileged position of the global wanderer. As an undergraduate, I wrote a creative senior thesis of collected  poems,  which I introduced with an essay, “Writing Home.” I wrote that  I had  become “a member of a certain community of writers,” perhaps best expressed  by expatriate Indian writer Salman Rushdie in his essay“Imaginary Homelands”:

It may be that writers in my position, exiles or emigrants or expatriates, are haunted by some sense of loss, some urge to reclaim, to look back, even at the risk of being mutated into pillars of salt. But if we do look back, we must also do so in the knowledge–which gives rise to profound uncertainties–that our physical alienation from India almost inevitably means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost; that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, Indias of the mind. . . . (Imaginary Homelands 10)

At age 21, on the cusp of my adult life, I was relieved by the idea of not having to choose a place to be rooted. I found home in the metaphoric space of the trans-Atlantic flight, writing,

Perhaps more than any other place, I have felt at home on airplanes.  There, I do not have to claim one piece of soil but rather every place we fly over. Sometimes, at night, I wake up and crave being on an airplane, any airplane, but specifically a transatlantic one: the familiar feel of take off, being pressed into the cushions, my suddenly sleepy eyes seeing through an oval pane of plastic the land stretched out beneath me. The rain forest of Lagos, the desert of Kano, the lights of New York or Atlanta, the misty clouds of London or Amsterdam slowly drop away and look like maps, or aerial photographs. I love to fly through the clouds, which make odd airy sculptures, or at night to press my cheek against the cold window and with a blanket over my head gaze up at the stars: constellations which can be seen from three different continents. Orion, I can see in America, England, and Nigeria. But somehow from a plane, the patterns are even more brilliant, closer, larger, and almost tangible through the frosty pane.

As I grow older and as I pour much of my focus into the study of Hausa literature and film, which is often neglected in studies of Nigerian literature (often focused on English-language literature), I have become more troubled about issues of privilege and my own problematic position, as one who, by virtue of my American passport, has access to world travel and research grants and privileged treatment in Nigeria that most Nigerians do not have. My lifestyle, in a way, is made possible by the immobility of others. I now deconstruct my earlier romantic notions of being able to claim “every place we fly over.” Now, when I read Simon Kuper’s essay “Take the plunge and emigrate,” which argues from a similar unrooted position, my reaction is less celebratory.  I ask–as the youth of the West roam free, what does this mean for the places and the people where they decide to settle?

As I work on my PhD dissertation, I mull over Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s often misunderstood essay “Can the Subaltern Speak” and the various ways she has revisited the topic since her first presentation of it in 1983.  In a 2010 response to other scholars’ engagement with the question, she clarified that her “point was not to say that they couldn’t speak, but that, when someone did try to do something different, it could not be acknowledged because there was no institutional validation” (2010: 228).   In thinking about the field of postcolonial studies, in which I locate my own research, I have become increasingly concerned by the full-scale celebration of cosmopolitanism, hybridity, migration, and diaspora so prevalent in the field, the happily ambivalent identity of “in between” that I reveled in as I wrote my senior thesis.

It’s not that I don’t think the concepts are useful. They are–on many levels. And, of course, postcolonial scholars theorize them in much more sophisticated ways than I did as an undergraduate attempting to claim a hybrid identity. But I have become more concerned about the ways that these theories of hybridity, et al. sometimes gloss over class issues and privilege the experience of the “diaspora” intellectual over the experience of the so-called “subaltern” left at home. The problem is one of framing, that the voices most often heard by a global media and global academia are those situated in the cosmopolitan centres of the West.

Spivak is useful in helping think through these issues. On the one hand, as a postcolonial intellectual situated in a powerful American ivy league university and often counted as one of the Big Three postcolonial theorists (Spivak, Said, and Bhaba), she is also complicit in this privileging of expatriate voices. Indian intellectuals, Rahsmi Bhatnager, Lola Chatterjee, and Rajeshwari Sunder Rajen based at Jawaharlal Nehru University, point out, in a 1987 interview,  “Perhaps the relationship of distance and proximity between you and us is that what we write and teach has political and other actual consequences for us that are in a sense different from the consequences or lack of consequences for you.” I would also argue that the abstruse language which Spivak chooses to make her arguments, which could otherwise be quite politically powerful, limit their discussion mainly to other academics.

On the other hand, she constantly questions her own positions and ideas, in a way that any scholar or writer who has privileged access to travel and funding, must do. While bemoaning the institutions which are often deaf to the voice of the subaltern, she has also become personally involved in learning from those she defines as “subaltern” and thinking through ways in which they can be empowered through education. 

Much theory, I’m beginning to understand, is dependent on positioning and audience.While living in the U.S. and teaching introductory African studies to American students, I was (and still am) quite sensitive about negative portrayals of Africa–the barrage of images of flies and dirt and poverty and ads from charities that always featured tears trembling in the eyes or the snot running out of the nose of some ragged African child. I would open my classes by having students read Binyavanga Wainaina’s “How to Write about Africa,” then juxtaposing that with a few Naija music videos. If I find myself teaching in America again, I may pair Wainaina’s essay with Teju Cole’s “The White Savior Industrial Complex.”

When, last month, I reviewed Abidemi Sanusi’s gut-wrenching novel Eyo, that was nominated for a Commonwealth Prize in 2010, I felt the tension between being a postcolonial critic whose institution is located in the United States and being a resident of Nigeria, where I become ever conscious of the many abuses that Nigerians constantly talk about. On the one hand as I read Eyo, I thought, hey, Nigerians look really bad in this book. On the other hand, I thought–Sanusi is exposing the horrific underworld of human trafficking and manages to humanize every character in it–a striking accomplishment. (Read my review here.)

My reaction to Evaristo’s statements, then, came out of all of this mulling about ideas of privilege, positioning and audience, as well as from some mind-stretching conversations with writer friends who live here in Nigeria.  [UPDATE 13 May 2012: Let me just further clarify, that I think that writers in Africa or anywhere else in the world should write whatever they like in whatever style and whatever language that they like. My main point in the essay below is basically combating what seems to me to be a certain amount of prescriptiveness in telling African writers (especially those living on the continent) “how to write about Africa.” Telling writers not to write about suffering just follows up on older instruction to writers to write about the nation or to write about politics.  South African writer Njabulo Ndebele, in Rediscovery of the Ordinary, similarly protests the imperative of the “spectacular” in South African writing, arguing for more representation of the daily struggles of ordinary people to try to make their lives as normal as possible–which he calls an “active social consciousness.” I am not trying to defend those writers who cynically exploit suffering in order to become popular with non-African readers–it does happen–I’ve read it–and I’m not a fan. I dislike sensationalism and pandering to a Western audience as much as the next critic, and I agree with Ndebele (and with Evaristo if this is what she was saying) that there should be more focus on ordinary life. My main point is that I think we must be careful about saying that writing that depicts suffering is necessarily “pandering.” Ndebele points out that the spectacular writing that grew up in South Africa was in response to the almost surreal conditions people found themselves in. To say that writing that reacts to one’s environment is meant for Western audiences falls into the same trap that Graham Huggan falls into in his book The Post-colonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins.  Huggan  implicates the field of postcolonial literary production and publishing as well as the academic field of postcolonial studies in capitalist structures of selling exoticism. Yet, in his rush to denounce the Western reader of “exotic” postcolonial literature, he only briefly acknowledges in a few caveats that that the readers “by no means form a homogenous or readily identifiable consumer group” (30), almost completely glossing over the reader of postcolonial literature in formerly colonized locations. Stating that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart “implicitly address[es] a Western model reader who is constructed as an outsider to the text and to the cultural environment(s) it represents” (2000, 46), he seems to have completely missed Achebe’s defense that “African writers who have chosen to write in English or French are not unpatriotic smart alecs, with an eye on the main chance outside their countries” but are indeed writing for heterogenous peoples of different languages and cultures that make up “the new nation-states of Africa” (1965, 344). In this article, then, I try to point out that to focus so obsessively on the reaction of a Western audience, when many writers are writing out of their own experiences that include love and laughter and tenderness in addition to moments of suffering and are usually thinking of readers closer to home, is to put almost impossible strictures on the writer. Let the writer write what she wants.  If that happens to be science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, crime fiction (and I’m a HUGE fan of Nazir Adam Salih’s fantasy and crime fiction written in Hausa, in addition to the more scathing and sensational social critique of writers like Balaraba Ramat Yakubu ),  great. If that happens to be more straightforward realistic narrative based out of the writer’s own experiences, this too is important writing.

To read my original article as it was published, click on the photo below to be taken to a readable version. Otherwise, scroll below the photo, to read the article with references hyperlinked. Following the article, I have copied a few of the responses I got on facebook from writer/artist friends when I asked for reactions to Evaristo’s essay. (Responses reproduced by permission of authors)

[UPDATE 3 July 2012: I’m honoured that this blog post was mentioned in Stephen Derwent Partington’s East African article “More Responsibilities than bonuses for the African Writer,” in which he summarizes what I was trying to say much better than I did, myself. A former professor of mine, Peter Kerry Powers also engaged with my article on his own blog. ]

The Caine Prize, the Tragic Continent, and the Politics of the Happy African Story

Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 12 May 2012 05:00

 On 23 April 2012, the chair of judges for the Caine Prize for African Writing, British-Nigerian writer Bernadine Evaristo wrote a blog post about selecting the soon to be released short-list: “I’m looking for stories about Africa that enlarge our concept of the continent beyond the familiar images that dominate the media: War-torn Africa, Starving Africa, Corrupt Africa – in short: The Tragic Continent. [… W]hile we are all aware of these negative realities, and some African writers have written great novels along these lines (as was necessary, crucial), isn’t it time now to move on?” Her critique of “stereotypical” African stories is similar to those made by other African writers, such as Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina in “How To Write About Africa” and Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole in “The White Savior Industrial Complex.” Her opinion piece also invokes previous critiques of the Caine prize. Last year columnist Ikhide R. Ikheloa wrote, “Aided by some needy ‘African’ writers, Africa is being portrayed as an issues-laden continent that is best viewed on a fly-infested canvas.”

I share these concerns about dehumanizing images of Africa. When living and teaching in the U.S., I tried to “enlarge” my American students “concept of the continent” by emphasizing exciting current trends in African fashion, music, and movies, as well as the daily lives of ordinary people. My aim was much like that of Samantha Pinto, one of the other Caine Prize judges who blogged this week: “I hope as a teacher that my students learn to carry some of these beautifully crafted stories into a much larger conversation about Africa than the one that exists in mainstream American media.” My own scholarly interest in Hausa popular literature and film began precisely because I was enchanted by the love stories and tales of everyday life consumed by popular audiences but largely ignored by African literary scholarship preoccupied with grand narratives of the nation.

However, I admit that as I read Evaristo’s comments, I felt a tension between her impatient charge to “move on” past representations of suffering, and the context of currently living in northern Nigeria, where people leave their homes daily knowing that they could be blown up or shot at by unknown gunmen. Only two weeks ago in Kano, an attack on churches that met on Bayero University’s old campus killed dozens of university students and professors, the very cosmopolitan middle class often celebrated by writers abroad, and more bombs were found planted around campus. Suffering is not limited to bombs, as I was reminded when recently attending a church in Jos. Pointing to a dramatic decrease in tithes and offerings as evidence of hard times, an elder sought prayer for those who lost their livelihoods in the Plateau State’s demolition campaign of “illegal structures” and would lose more in the recently-announced motorcycle ban.

Kaduna-based writer Elnathan John, in a conversation with other African writers on Facebook (quoted by permission), wrote that writers should be more concerned with the quality of the writing than in dictating to other writers the correct topics to write about.  “When I am told to tell a happy African story,” He said, “I ask, why? Where I live, EVERYTHING is driven by fear of conflict, bomb blasts, and daylight assassinations unreported by the media. Every kilometer of road has a checkpoint like those in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Now, I am a writer writing my realities. […]Our problems in Africa will not disappear when we stop writing about them.”

While not every place in Nigeria is bomb-torn and certainly not every story from as big and complex a continent as Africa must reflect such tragedies, a predicament remains that Kano-based writer Abdulaziz A. Abdulaziz identified in a Facebook conversation with me. While agreeing with Evaristo on the need to move past stereotypes, he wrote, “There is a dilemma here; what do Africans have to export again. For me, African contemporary artists have no better theme than corruption and bad governance as the main issues dominant in our everyday life[…]”

Elnathan John continued, “A lot of the Happy Africa story activists live outside the continent. Not that I begrudge them anything, but it is easier to dictate to people living a reality when you don’t know or live that reality. […] Every Sunday morning (in many Northern States), we expect a bomb or a shooting spree. People who live in Maiduguri even have it worse. Their entire lives are ruled by violence and chaos. Nigerians, like Zimbabweans (and many other African countries suffering decay and violence) do not have the luxury of Always writing about beach house romances. Our problems are too real, too present, too big to be wiped out from our stories.”

Thus, while we can all identify with Evaristo’s frustrations in how Africa is misread by the West, her first flawed assumption seems to be that African writers who write tragic settings are not writing of their own experiences but rather pandering to a Western audience that expects to hear about tragedy. To say we must “move on” past stories of hardship suggests to those who are suffering that their stories don’t matter—that such stories are no longer fashionable. Writers who live amidst suffering are in the unfortunate position of inhabiting an inconvenient stereotype. They are silenced by threats of terrorists inside the country and by the disapproval of cosmopolitan sophisticates outside.

Such literary prescription begins to feel like Dora Akunyili’s erstwhile rebranding campaign—a luxury of those who do not want to be embarrassed while abroad, which does little to solve the problems on the ground. Although Evaristo asks, “are too many African writers writing for the approval of non-African readerships”?, her admonition to avoid stories of suffering seems to be just as implicated in seeking the approval of  those “big, international markets in Europe and America”. Directly after she asks “to what extent does published African fiction pander to received notions about the continent, and at what cost?” , she argues, “For African fiction to remain more than a passing fad on the world stage, it needs to diversify more than it does at present. What about crime fiction, science fiction, fantasy, horror, more history, chick lit?”

Now, I love science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction et al, and know of African writers, including Evaristo, who are doing exciting things with these genres, especially in African languages, but Evaristo’s focus on the “world stage” reveals her second problematic assumption—that the most important readers of African literature reside outside of Africa. It is a reminder that though the Caine prize is awarded to “African writing”, it is still based in London.

Last week, overwhelmed by the attacks on Bayero University, I printed reader responses to  an earlier article on film rather than writing about the tragedy. Afterwards, one of my readers chastised me for writing about film rather than about what the “army are doing to our people.” While, like Evaristo, I defend my right to talk about a diversity of subjects, the comment reminded me that there is a large reading public here in Nigeria looking for writing that is relevant to their lives. It also made me think of my dear friend, Hausa novelist, Sa’adatu Baba Ahmad’s refrain that for her “literature is a mirror to society.” That every conversation these days seems to return to bombs and shootings does not mean that people do not laugh or joke or gossip or dream or love.  Indeed, I believe that the best writing captures the humour, the humanity, and the gossip alongside the backdrop of suffering.

So, by all means let us, as Evaristo appeals, have new genres, new styles, that are “as  diverse as, for example, European literature and its myriad manifestations” Let us have “thousands of disparate, published writers, with careers at every level and reaching every kind of reader.” But let us also be true, let us be relevant. And let us not, in pursuit of a global recognition, erase the voices of ordinary people, who so often bear up under immense suffering with grace and humour. For it is these stories of survival that give us the most direction in how to navigate an increasingly terrifying world.

Fin

While writing the article, I asked my friends on Facebook what they thought of Evaristo’s article. Some of them responded after I had already turned in the article, so I asked their permission to republish their comments here. See them copied below. [Update 13 May 2012: The quotes in the above article from Elnathan John, who writes a popular satirical column for Daily Times and short stories on a wide variety of themes, including facebook and middle class love in Nigeria as well as darker issues based on current events, came from comments on another writer’s page. They were part of a larger discussion in which he was expressing frustration at writers telling other writers what to write. He was insisting, like other writers I’ve seen in conversation, that he should have the freedom to write about whatever he likes, and that themes and topics in writing will change over time in response to what is relevant.  Following his statement that “Our problems are too real, too present, too big to be wiped out from our stories,” he says, “In the end, like you say: ‘Just tell me whether my work is good or bad. That conversation, I am very happy to have.'”]

Kano-based writer Abdulaziz A. Abdulaziz reacted positively to Evaristo’s essay, but still noted the tension between writing stereotypes and writing about ongoing problems:

I agree with Evaristo. It is indeed time to move on. For example, isnt it shameful that in 2012, a story about second World War is making the list? I think African writers have rendered so many themes to cliches. Why, for example, should we still be reading novels about Biafra or the mau mau guerilla war in Kenya? On another pedestal, it is indeed ironic that Africans complain about stereotypical depiction of a grotesque Africa by non-African writers, the same African writers are not doing any better. It is just like feminists lambasting gory representation of women yet they go about writing about naive women and prostitutes! Even the classical Achebe, according to some acidic critics, did no better than Conrad regarding the image of Africa. However, there is a dilemma here; what do Africans have to export again? For me African contemporary artist has no better theme than corruption and bad governance, as the main issues dorminant on our everyday life especially since we all fed from Achebe, Armah, Ngugi and Ousmane who instructed us to responsive to the society.

May 8 at 12:57pm ·

I responded to Abdulaziz:

Hi Abdulaziz, just to jump in here a bit (before hitting the road to a conference and then hopefully checking again later tonight). I liked Evaristo’s call for new themes and genres–I’d love to see more African science fiction etc–, but I was troubled by what felt like a prescription to “move on” past depictions of suffering, when as you note that there is corruption, bad governance, and currently bombs etc going off around us. If one writes what one knows than it seems to me that it would be difficult and even escapist NOT to write about some of these things. (That said, one can metaphorically write about things in non-cliched ways in new genres etc) It felt to me that in her appeal to move past “stereotypes” about Africa, she was still appealing to African writers to please or “teach” a Western audience rather than responding to the preoccupations of one’s own society. As for writing about Biafra or WWII etc, I don’t really have a problem with that because I think these topics actually have not been explored enough. I’ve never actually read African fiction about the experience of African WWII soldiers, so I actually thought that story was refreshing and new.

Ukamaka Olisakwe, whose novel On the Eyes of a goddess was recently released, responded passionately:
Have we moved on, or have we only moved onto a new level of ignorance and stupidity?Should I write about a beautiful Africa? Should I distort the truth just so to satisfy some school of thought that frown at the continuous dent on the ‘inglorious’ African image.Last time I listened in on the conversation of intellectuals. They were thoroughly fed up with stories of suffering Africa; of child soldiers, abused women and children, of wars and corruption. African writers should move on, should tell flurry stories: chicklit, thrillers, comedy, commercial fiction, etc etc, they said. I agree, some stories have been told over and over again, like a clothe washed for too long, until it began splitting at the seams. Yes, I do not want to read anymore of Biafra stories- that have been well documented. Instead I wish to learn new details about that war from the Nigerian side. I want to read a biography of Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu. I want to know how he felt years after he made that declaration. Did he feel regret or fulfillment? I want to learn new details, information, that hadn’t been brought under the sun.But should we, writers, move on and desist from telling it as it is. A new war is on in Nigeria, a kind that could gradually wipe the fragments that we are. Should writers ignore this salient moment, or begin to please those who think they know better?I refuse to be conned into that, because at the end of the day, you end up just satisfying those sect, and also, definitely, writing another single story of Africa. I say, write about Africa the way she is, the way you see her: beautiful, sad, hungry, raped, beaten, classy, sexy, girlie, scholastic! Be eclectic dammit! But do not tell lies and do not leave out important details that matter. I can’t wrap my suffering and malnourished mother in colourful wrappers, adorn her neck with heavy, priceless gems, so that outsiders would marvel at her supposed beauty, but only to strip her at home and let her to more suffering and wretchedness. That would be a sham, a badly written fiction. Each day we are slapped with our gory reality. We – or rather – I, will not write what I don’t see. Writers are torch-bearers, those who would document each moment in history for posterity. We need change, and to attain that position, we must keep screaming until our cries pierce the deafest of ears. We have the worst leaders in the third worlds – those that are so blind and misguided we are bereft of words, adjectives, to qualify the alarming shame. We just weep. They roam about their sand castles, kings that they are, ruining the lives of many, and I’m supposed to turn a blind eye? Funny.I refuse to lie about her(Africa) state. I will write about her the way I see her. If you see her differently, then write her that way.

Abdulaziz responded:
Way to go Uka. What a spirited response. I concur. No to a Potemskin village: a beautiful facade to an ugly house.

And finally, after I posted the article copied above, writer and visual artist Temidayo Odutokun responded:
I shared the link and posted that ” We cannot write or make art of what we do not experience, but when we choose subject matter, let us have them reflect the unpleasant things as well as the joys of our society buried in layers of the rubble that we see piling on everyday.” […] For even when we make imaginative art or fiction, materials are gotten from experiences we have had or heard of or seen happen to other people or a combination of all these. However while we tell of the general hardship that is the dominant issue in our society we could put in same weave, the little joys and pleasantness that punctuate our struggling through, daily; The things that help us catch our breath; The things that cushion the heartache that comes from reading of these things or seeing them in other forms of art like visual or performing, for those too are part of the reality.

The Strange Poisonous Fruit of Hate: South Africa, Nigeria, and the world

Here is last week’s column, “The Strange Poisonous Fruit of Hate.” I wrote it in a very scattered state of mind. At times, there was gunfire in the background which punctuated my own emotional turmoil. I’m afraid my attention span manifests itself in the piece, which jumps around a bit, but which perhaps gives a feeling of Jos following the St. Finbarr’s Catholic church bombing in Rayfield and the tragic ‘reprisal’ attacks that followed–as well as my increasing horror at the hatred I see creeping out on little cockroach feet to infest the world.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (left) with his publisher at Parresia, Richard Ali (right). A friend is in the background. (c)CM

I had been planning to write a piece on my personal boycott of South Africa, following the  deportation of around 150 Nigerians (125 initially and more thereafter) from the Johannesburg airport for supposed irregular yellow card certificates. I had spent the week before agonizing with my friends Elnathan John, a blogger with Daily Times whose most recent short story has been published in ZAM Magazine, and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, the literary editor for Sunday Trust whose collection of short stories The Whispering Trees is forthcoming from Parresia Press. (For a taste of their work, see Abubakar’s story “Closure” and Elnathan’s story “Your Man” both published in Sentinel Nigeria, edited by Richard Ali.) Elnathan and Abubakar had been two of the twelve African writers invited for the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing workshop to be held in South Africa this year. (The Caine Prize for African short stories is sometimes called the African Booker, and luminaries like Helon Habila and Binyavanga Wainaina have been among the recipients of the prize.)

Elnathan John in Abuja. (c) CM

Elnathan had applied for his visa over a month earlier but, because of a technicality regarding a deadline he was not told about for paying a N110,000 ‘repatriation fee’ that South Africa requires many Nigerians to pay before granting them visas, his visa was delayed until 3 days after he had supposed to travel the trip had to be cancelled.  Abubakar was able to get the visa in time but when he got to Johannesburg was told that his yellow fever certificate (which he had gotten following an inoculation in the Abuja Airport port health office) did not have the manufacturer’s batch number, and he was sent back to Lagos.  (Abubakar describes his travails in this article in Sunday Trust). Ironically, the day Abubakar was sent back, Elnathan got a call from the visa office saying that he should come pay the N110,000 visa fee. (He declined.)

Following this outrage, I determined to boycott South Africa. South Africa businesses make billions of naira in Nigeria (the largest market in Africa for South African businesses like MTN and DSTV), yet they continue to treat Nigerians with disrespect. In 2005, Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, incidentally one of the patrons of the Caine Prize,was held at the airport for over nine hours. (see here and here).

My Boycott: My phone had been slowly dying for about a year (and I had been stubbornly putting up with it.) But upon my resolve to boycott South African businesses, I took the opportunity to buy a new two-sim card phone and along with it a new glo line to gradually replace my MTN line. I also recently switched over from MTN internet to Glo (a Nigerian company), which gives more bandwidth and is cheaper. So far, I have been very pleased. Although the Thursday (8 March) after the deportations, South Africa’s foreign minister came out with a humble apology, later followed by an apology from South African President Zuma himself, the apology was too late for both Elnathan and Abubakar who missed the Caine workshop. Neither does South Africa seem to have any plans to compensate the nearly 150 visitors who were sent back to Nigeria by over-zealous immigration officials. Although I have long been invested in an “Africa without Borders” and while I am pleased with the apologies from the South African government over the diplomatic incident, I think this is an appropriate time to challenge the hegemony of  South Africa’s businesses on the continent.

As I was writing my column, I was struggling with a bit of cognitive dissonance over my belligerence to South Africa vs my plea for peace in Nigeria. I didn’t get into that in the column, but I think I can settle my internal inconsistencies by thinking about inequitable power structures. Diplomatic relations between two sovereign nations are quite a different matter than people taking justice into their own hands.

As usual, to read my column, you can click on the photo below to be taken to a readable version of the original, or you can scroll down below the photo to read it on my blog (with lots of links added).

The strange, poisonous fruit of hate

 Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 17 March 2012 05:00

 It’s a little before midnight on Monday, the day after the bombing at St. Finbar’s Catholic church in Jos. There was automatic gunfire a few hours earlier and I am having trouble concentrating on anything. I turn on the TV and Centurion is on. It is a film about a group of Roman soldiers fleeing a band of indigenous warrior Celts in ancient Britain. The movie is violent. Arrows thunk into the chests of soldiers. One Roman soldier betrays another, stabbing him so that he becomes bait for the wolves pursuing them, while the other man escapes. During an interlude, I hear, in my own world of Jos 2012, what sounds like the shouts of spectators at a football match. I know it is not football. I turn down the volume on the TV to listen. Onscreen, Romans soundlessly slam Celt faces into log walls. Celts stab spears through Roman bellies. Outside I can hear the rumble of an angry mob, then gunfire.

This week I had planned to write about xenophobia in South Africa. About how two of my friends, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and Elnathan John were unable to attend the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing workshop that was to hold from March 5 to 15. Elnathan’s visa, for which he had applied at the beginning of February, was delayed until the travel date passed. Abubakar got the visa on time but was turned back at the Johannesburg airport because the immigration officials claimed he didn’t have the manufacturer’s number on his yellow fever certificate—even though he had been inoculated and received the certificate from the port authority in the Abuja airport. I spent the week furious at South Africa, which makes billions of naira in Nigeria from businesses like MTN and DSTV, and from Nigerian films on the Africa Magic channels, yet still treats Nigerians with such disrespect. South Africa eventually apologized for deporting around 150 Nigerians over the yellow fever issue. It was an appropriate gesture, but the apology came too late for my friends to represent Nigeria at the Caine workshop. I went ahead and bought a new phone SIM card from a Nigerian company and made it my main line. My ideal is an Africa without borders, but following South Africa’s display of contempt, I prefer to support Nigerian businesses.

Now Tuesday, it is still hard to concentrate. I read Internet news all day long. Hatred hangs in the air, a suffocating grey smog creeping along the earth. It is pathological, infectious. In South Africa, the poisonous structures of apartheid have been internalized and then erupt into violence. Xenophobic riots in May 2008 killed 62. Last week the hatred showed a more refined face, a more polite aggression. Uniformed immigration officials smiled cold professional smiles, while expelling Nigerians from their country.

But it is in Nigeria too. The hate. Writing in the Daily Times, Ademola Thomas Olanrewaju points out that Nigerians discriminate against each other much the same way South Africans discriminated against them. He cites how Fashola ‘deported beggars to their respective states’—how states all over Nigeria discriminate against so-called non-indigenes. Much of the violence in the country grows out of notions that people should stay in the land of their great grandfather’s origin or else live as second class citizens. This hatred also seems to be one of the factors behind the violence of Boko Haram, who have spoken about their plans to drive Christians, even those who are indigenes, out of the north and who tolerate no one except those who share their own purist ideals. Those claiming to be Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad raze schools, shoot up mosques, bomb churches, police stations, soldier barracks, the UN headquarters. [A partial UN list of attacks up to 20 January 2012 here.] Leadership reported the story of a former member of Boko Haram who attempted to flee the sect in Maiduguri by running to Kaduna with his fiancée only to be found by them in Kaduna and carted away to unknown tortures.

In her classic science fiction novel A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle writes of our planet as being covered by a dark shadow of evil. The shadow feeds on hatred. It covers the globe and is lodged like shrapnel in every human. After the bombs went off at the COCIN church in Jos two weeks ago and then at St. Finbar’s Catholic church last Sunday, cyclical revenge violence killed nearly as many innocent people as the bombs had. In my own country of origin, the United States, politics has become a cynical game of pitting those who claim purist American and Christian ideals against everyone else. The toxins enter the soil, and strange fruits grow out. The Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik praised anti-Islamic American bloggers Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and others in the Internet manifesto he wrote before he killed 77 people. Since Breivik’s bombing and shooting, other bloggers have praised this self-confesssed killer as a patriot. [See for example, this one] In America’s war of revenge after 9-11, the poison entered the armed forces as it does in most wars, driving soldiers mad. Out of a jingoistic military culture grew the American torture in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Most recently an American soldier in Afghanistan went berserk, going out in the middle of the night to slaughter 17 Afghan civilians asleep in their homes.

Violence feeds violence. Hatred feeds hatred. Living in a violent environment, we are all traumatized. We feel helpless. Striking out against those perceived to be on the ‘other side’ seems to be the only thing we can do. Our first reactions are those of mistrust. But the only way out of this is to reach across boundaries to those who are as hurt and confused as we are—refusing to demonize the ‘other’. In the midst of all of the bad news, my father forwarded me some encouraging stories. On March 12, the Kaduna youth wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Northern Youth Muslim Forum met to pray together and break the Christian Lent fast together. According to Leadership, the CAN youth chairman Diji Obadiah Haruna said that the breaking of Lent fast with Muslims was continuing a tradition that had been halted by crisis: “Our quest to bring back the true spirit of togetherness has given birth to an association that will foster unity between Muslim and Christian faithful […] Love is the key […] The more you plan for progress, definitely, the more some obstacles will come your way. But I believe we will conquer those evils that do not wish us well.” Likewise, the National President of the African Youths for Conflict Resolution, who led the Muslim delegation, Dr. Suleiman Shu’aibu Shinkafi said, “I urge us all to respect each other’s religion and to stop the incessant killings and bombings or any act of terrorism against each other through whatever name that both Christian and Muslim doctrine has disowned. ‘We pray that God will expose those who want to see us apart and may God continue to join us together in his glory and mercy.’”

The actions of Christian and Muslim youth in Kaduna offer a glimmer of hope in troubled times. But beyond formal meetings, we need to rebuild those informal friendships across faith and ethnic boundaries that are often interrupted in times of crisis. It is in these personal relationships that we recognize that the ‘other’, so easily labeled as an enemy, is actually a brother or sister. It is only by this sort of unity that we will be able to rebuild Nigeria, Africa, and the world.

The Darkness only Love can Drive out: the COCIN church bombing, Jos, on 26 February 2012

A COCIN church newsletter on the ground outside the church gates after the bomb blast. (c)CM

 

(This is written 19 March 2012 but time-stamped earlier for blog organization purposes)As I describe in my Weekly Trust column

Onlookers at the COCIN headquarters church the evening after the bombing. (c)CM

below, I was not far from the bomb blast at the COCIN headquarters Church on 26 February 2012, the first suicide bombing in Jos. (Since then, there has been another suicide bomb on March 11, at St. Finbarr’s Catholic Church in Rayfield) It literally shook me out of bed at around 7:15am. Later in the day after things had calmed down a bit, I went to the church and took a few photos. You can access the album, here. I had not planned to actually go into the compound so I went with a zoom lens that made it difficult to get much perspective once I did end up going into the church compound. This, as I wrote on Facebook that evening, is what I saw and some of the rumours I heard that day (some of them false–for example–tragically one of the men misidentified as a bomber and beaten to death was actually a church member):

Ok, before I go climb into my bed, an update. Jos is calm and quiet. I was able to pay a brief visit to the COCIN church this evening, and this is what I saw: lots of people in the compound taking a look. First, the initial description someone gave on Al-Jazeera this morning was incorrect. The bomber did not drive into the church towards the pulpit. The car entered the compound with three men in the car (how exactly he entered is still murky to me as I’ve heard different versions from people who were at the church shortly before the blasts). Somehow two of the men got out of the car and the driver sped towards the church building. Apparently the car detonated a few metres from the back of the church […]I saw the crater where the car exploded, which had filled up with scattered church bulletins. The damage is not as dramatic as you would expect from the kind of sound that came out of the explosion. The church is currently under construction with wooden scaffolding all around it, so it is hard to tell the extent of the damage, but what I saw seemed to be a crack in the wall in the back, and a small portion that was blown off, which might perhaps cause structural problems. No part of the church, however, was collapsing. Neither did any of the pews in the church seem to have been burnt or displaced, though they were covered in dust from the explosion. The most notable things were the parts from the suicide bombers car that were scattered all over the

One of the wheels of the car carrying the suicide bomber. (c)CM

compound. There was a tire lodged into the back pew of the church. There was an engine somewhere else and another tire that went around the side, the fusilage elsewhere. There was what looked like an orange plastic water tank that seemed to have been torn apart. Apparently earlier in the day, the bombers body parts were also strewn around, but fortunately, I did not see that. The other notable thing was that windows as far as a 2-3 blocks away were blown out. All of the cars in the parking lot outside of the church had their windows blown out and a few of the ones closest to the church were blackened and a little melted from the blast. The windows in the 4-5 story COCIN headquarters office building were mostly blown out. There was shattered glass everywhere.[…] As far as casualties, I’m not sure, but what I heard earlier in the day was that 3 church members died on the spot, and 3 more died in the hospital later. There could be more, but I don’t have any way to verify that.

It took me until the next Sunday to walk around in the neighborhood near the church and realize the extent of damage that had been done in reprisal violence. The fruit sellers in front of the First Bank down the street from the church told me that they heard the blast and saw the dust cloud. When the mob ran down the street, they ran away, and the mob burnt or looted all their merchandise. The mob also burnt a Muslim owned restaurant and other shops in the area. I went to give my condolences to the men selling spare parts across from the Mobile station in that area, and he told me that the morning of the bomb they had been at the house down the street where some Muslim women have a business selling masa and miya every morning in front of their house, waiting for the ladies to finish frying the masa for breakfast. When the bomb went off, a mob came and they all ran away. Not only did the mob burn all the businesses around but they also burned down the house of the women who sold the masa and miya every morning. I had bought food from them before, and I knew most of the Hausa business people in the area. This I think is when the devastation really hit home to me–the bomb was bad enough, but then the human desire for retaliation resulted in far more innocent people suffering.

Before reading my article “The Darkness only Love can Drive out” (to read the hard copy click on the photo below, or scroll down for a blog version with links), if you are interested in reading the stories of some of the other victims, here is the sad story of Hajara, who fled Boko Haram in Yobe only to be killed in the Jos COCIN church bombing, and Grace, a Sunday School teacher. Her family tell of how she was born prematurely and they see the years they had with her as God’s blessing.

The darkness only love can drive out

Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 03 March 2012 05:00

 I was in Jos and staying with friends in town. Sunday morning, I had been hitting snooze on my phone alarm for an hour. At around 7:15am, I was just about to get out of bed to prepare for church, when it happened. The gritty boom that made the house shake.  “JESUS,” I shrieked in a brief instinctual prayer, and leapt out of bed, swatting at the mosquito net that tangled around me.

I had heard the bombs at the football viewing centres in December. They had an echoing, reverberating sound. This was more immediate. It sounded like rocks and metal crunching. When I stepped into the hallway, grit from the ceiling had fallen down over everything. Outside, thousands of bats were in the sky. The morning sun was bright.

Of course, we knew exactly what it was, when the sound shook the house. In those few seconds it took me to untangle myself from the mosquito netting, I knew it was a bomb, and that it was at one of the churches somewhere nearby.

When the bombs and the gun battles were exploding in in Kano, Bauchi, Yobe, Borno, Kaduna, and Gombe, Jos had remained unnaturally calm. In January, refugees from Yobe had fled to Jos. I joked that the city had temporarily gone back to being the ‘home of peace and tourism’. Of course we had known it was only a matter of time.

In the house we prayed and read the Psalms. My mother kept calling. A Nigerian friend called from the UK. As my shakiness subsided, I drank tea, sent text messages, went online to check for news.

Around 9:30am I began to smell smoke. Strange, I thought, that I hadn’t smelled it before when the bomb had gone off. Outside, there were sirens, and the sounds of shouting, punctuated with silence. A friend, who usually attends the 9am service at COCIN headquarters, had gone to the church shortly after it happened. She came back repeating what she had heard, that there had been several people in the car, that they were in military uniforms, that one of them had died in the bomb and one had been beaten to death by the angry crowd. That she had heard at least two church members were killed, one of them a female usher. The smoke we were smelling was not from the church. It was from nearby shops that a mob of youth had begun burning. A doctor from Plateau Hospital came by. He confirmed that three church members had died. Others had been taken to Plateau Hospital. Many had ear injuries. He said that achaba drivers were being attacked. One woman with a machete wound to her head said they had seen the mob coming. They achaba driver had tried to turn around, but he hadn’t been fast enough. She survived. He hadn’t.

That evening, when things had calmed down, I went to the church to see the damage for myself . There were over a hundred onlookers milling about. The church, which had been under construction, was still surrounded by wooden scaffolding. There was a long crack down the backside of the church and a section of blocks that looked as if they had been blown off. There was a crater in the ground a few metres away from the building where they told me the car had exploded. It had filled up with the church bulletins that were scattered all over the compound. All of the cars in the car park were damaged with shattered windows, and drooping frames. Those closest to the building were blackened and pocked, with door handles blown off.

Windows of cars smashed by the impact of the blast (c)CM

Shards hung in the windows in the office building behind the church. The impact of the bomb had smashed windows as far as three blocks away.

Windows smashed out in office building behind church (c)CM

Most striking were the car parts that were scattered everywhere. There was a tire nestled against the last dusty pew in the church. Another tire lay outside towards the side of the building. The engine was a few metres away. When I came out of the compound, friendly police wanted to see my photos. They asked me if I had seen the body parts. I said no. That was something I didn’t want to see.

A few days later, more information has come out. The death toll still seems ambiguous, but it seems that at least five church members were killed, fifty others wounded, and three or four other people killed in mob violence.

Of course, Jos came out of this particular attack better off than some places have. The Madalla bombing killed around thirty-five. In Kano, the multiple bomb blasts killed nearly two hundred and the fighting continued off and on even to last week. The Friday before, five people had been killed in an attack on a Kano mosque. Later bombs went off in Gombe. There were other attacks in a village in Kaduna on Sunday.

I am of course devastated by what happened in Jos—that innocent people who rose early in the morning to worship God were killed. It is something every Christian in the north now faces when we go to church. But equally horrifying are the reports of mob violence against innocent young men on okadas just trying to make money to feed their families, the smoke that came not from the bomb at the church but from the Hausa businesses a block away which the mob burned. And then there is the devastating story that the man the angry crowd beat to death that morning was actually a church member who had been misidentified. As another friend pointed out, because so many have escaped from prison, people feel the need for immediate justice. But that was not justice. The story sickens me.

Boko Haram, who has claimed responsibility for the COCIN church bombing and much of the other violence in the north, attack Christians and Muslims alike. The church attacks make the most news, but the Kano mosque attack on 24 February follows other attacks on mosques and Muslim religious leaders in Borno. [This UN publication, published 20 January 2012, gives a partial timeline of Boko Haram attacks.] The police attacked are from both faiths. What worries me is that Boko Haram seems to have become an umbrella under which all manner of violence can be excused, whether it is claimed by them, blamed on them, or in retaliation for what they’ve done. In a bizaare twist, papers (see Tribune ) reported that several church members in Bauchi were caught with explosives trying to attack a ‘rival’ COCIN church the same Sunday. The COCIN president denied it.  And such a story does seem suspicious coming as it did on the same day as the Jos attack on COCIN headquarters. [The story has since been confirmed]. But it does illustrate how Boko Haram seems to have become a cover for any other evil plans anyone may have.

All, I can do is to repeat what I keep saying, so that I grow tired of speaking, so that I resent having to keep writing about violence when I would much rather write about film and literature:  the only way to defeat this evil is to band together, Christians and Muslims, and refuse to let Boko Haram succeed in making us violent in turn. The words of Martin Luther King Jr., from Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community are worth repeating:  “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. […] Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”