Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to have been invited to chair this book presentation by Chief Joop Berkhout, OON, the Executive Chairman and CEO of Safari Books Limited, the publishers of not a few notable titles that are increasingly documenting for posterity, the historic developments in Nigeria’s public space.
Their last offering at which I was present, was Governor Nasir El Rufai’s “The Accidental Public Servant” which was not only revealing but extremely well received. Today, we gather to receive another offering from Safari Books; and while I expect that the book reviewer will take us through its well researched contents, I will now share with you my own source of delight.
A few weeks ago, a report broke on Cable News Network (CNN) that North Korea was threatening war on South Korea.
This was not the first time.
What struck me particularly was that within minutes, a Professor from one of America’s universities was already on the set, providing insights into the mindset of the Korean leader, its government and its people as a way of assisting the public, and I am sure the American Government understand and anticipate what was likely to happen.
Happily, nothing terrible has happened till date.
But that incident left me recalling how many times I had seen this kind of thing. One intellectual or the other in America or Britian, specializing solely in the history, culture, diversity and people of one country or the other and providing resources and intelligence to their National Government and people, which often forms the basis of national security and economic decisions.
They have experts on Syria, Israel, Palestine, the whole Middle East, Asia, Africa etc.
Whether the experts get it right or not, I have always asked myself a simple question:
Who and where are our university dons who are experts on Mali, Chad, Niger, Ghana and our other West African neighbours to start with?
Who are the experts on all the nations that make up the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)?
How do we use our knowledge of the politics and culture of OPEC countries to influence and shape OPEC policies?
Will such people not be a veritable source of information (or intelligence if you prefer that word) to our national security and by extension our Government, in anticipating political and economic developments in the ECOWAS sub-region and helping us take better informed decisions; about the political and economic issues arising in the ECOWAS Sub-region in a leadership capacity?
These were my thoughts and I was thinking about what could be done about promoting the interest of professors and intellectuals in Nigerian universities to take up research about each West African state and better still go and live there for a period, study them, develop papers and reports about them for onward transmission to the relevant department of our Government for useful engagement with those states and to serve national security and economic purposes.
Perhaps if this was the case before now, we would have had better information for our security services to assist them deal with the terror problems we are currently facing.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am not suggesting that nothing is being done, but I know only what is obvious.
Enter Dr. Yinka Olomojobi of Babcock University, Ilisan-Remo, in Ogun State of Nigeria and his “Frontiers of Jihad, Radical Islam in Africa” and you will understand why I said “I am delighted to be here”.
At the time I was writing this address, I had not finished reading the book in detail, but the much I have read compels me to make some comments, and in doing so I will do my best not to pre-empt the review.
I only wish to express an opinion about the linkages being made between acts of terror and criminality, with what is now gaining global definition as ‘Radical Islam” as being the cause.
I have observed that this is largely a work of research and this might explain this definition of “Radical Islam” because the references that support the research of Dr. Olomojobi noted on pages 40-47,69-72, 108-111, 142-144, 175-178, 232-234,293-295,334-336 and 341 are dominated by materials from western authors and commentators.
In my view, they reveal an ignorance of Islam at the best, or a deliberate stereo-type of terror in Islamic States.
I say this because, as I have said earlier, ‘experts’ are not necessarily always right and we have proof of this in the intelligence gathering upon which an unnecessary war was launched against Iraq.
Furthermore, it seems to me that a religion whose foundation is PEACE cannot be the foundation or excuse for acts of murder, rape, savagery, pillaging and terror.
It may well be that the perpetrators claim that they act in pursuit of some type of Islam but I think the sensible thing to do, if we must understand their intention, and defeat their purpose is to refuse to accept that reason.
It is sheer propaganda to fool the general public and to deceive gullible people in the name of a faith whose tenets they themselves breach and violate.
The biggest risk of succumbing to this propaganda is to put a religion on trial while expecting its adherents to join the fight against criminals.
Put differently, is it “Radical Christianity” when Adolf Hitler pursued his anti-Semitic agenda against the Jews? It was described as mass murder. It became known as Holocaust.
It is also not “Radical Christianity” when a preacher in Los Angeles who later relocated to Guyana in South America asked his followers to commit mass suicide on November 18, 1977?
It was mindless crime, even though there was a religious undertone.
As Dr. Olowojobi himself reproduced President Buhari’s comments along these lines in the book when he said,
“You cannot go and kill innocent people and say Allah Akbar! It is either you do not believe it or you do not know what you are saying. So it has nothing to do with religion; they are just terrorists and Nigeria will mobilize against all of them”
I agree with this position entirely. I commend Dr. Olomojobi for intellectualizing the discourse, and I hope there will be other participants in our quest to rid our land of common criminals who masquerade as promoters of faith.
The word “radical” in its ordinary meaning is said to “concern the most basic and important parts of something”; which is “thorough and complete” according to the Oxford Advanced Dictionary, 7th Edition at page 1196.
This definition supports my argument because murder, rape, kidnapping and bombing are not the “basic” or “important” parts of Islam and they do not make Islam “complete”.
The simple truth is we have allowed the voices of a few criminals to rise above that of billions of law abiding global citizens.
There is no such thing as ‘Radical Islam’, it is a definition we must depart from quickly.
If there is such a word I would say it is ‘Radical Dis-Islamization’.
What we are dealing with is a new wave of crime, by criminals who seem to have an edge because of the need for a new global legal order and the gaps created by globalization.
Guns alone will not defeat them, neither will nuclear armaments.
It is our collective understanding and our collective agreement that this has nothing to do with religion, it is our development of the appropriate counter-messaging, it is our collective resolve to stop helping to promote their brand, by calling their names, that will expose them for what and who they are, and help us to defeat them.
Let me conclude now by sharing with you one of the most profound statements I have heard on this matter.
It was made by a Muslim American, when the New York City refused to grant a permit for the construction of a mosque around the Ground Zero area where the Twin Towers were bombed, during the redevelopment efforts.
Although I do not now remember his name those words he spoke as he wept openly will remain with me for a long while.
They were to these effects “criminals have stolen my religion”.
They capture my position that this is not about Islam.
They support my view for a departure from accepting any definition, concept or excuse of “Radical Islam”, and it is only in this way that the majority of about 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide can be mobilized with Christians and other faiths to join in the fight against criminals.
Thank you for indulging me with your time.
Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN