‘Faith’ in a pluralistic society

We live in a world that is so closely knitted together than any time in history. The homogeneous nature of many societies has fast been replaced by a multi-diverse era. The abundant flow of information, the increasing migration of people for: business, jobs, marriage, the seeking of social and political asylum have all in some untamed manner made this change in most societies possible.

It is of note to say that this change has not left things as the were some two to three decades back. With the moving of people and the easy access to communicate across boarders and cultures, ideas have also found a way to travel. These ideas have come from different cultural and religious beliefs. We could say that moving people have moved with their cultures, values and of course religions.

For most societies that have been very homogeneous in their form, this change in the social fabric poses a perplexing situation of defining itself as a people, culture and religion. This perplexity has led to some degree of frustration in some quarters while in others it is a mixed blessing. Depending on how every concerned individual sees the situation, I think both sides are legitimate in their reaction. There is nothing that can be more human than these reactions. I am of the opinion that man is made a preserving being. The desire to preserve long held values, beliefs and cultures are part of what defined us as human. On the other hand we are progressive beings. The ability to innovate is a deeply seated gift in our human culture. While we may seek to preserve, we always embrace the sense of progress in our total culture.

At this time however, the tension will be what is the dividing line between preserving heritage and progress in any society. I believe it is not the question of “either or”. It is the question of every society being able to adapt and define itself in a changing time without losing its core values. This is not the contest for cultural supremacy but that of cultural accommodation and the exchanges of cultures in the arena of cultural dialogue.

To this end I think that the question of faith is crucially important. I do believe that faith is an essential part of our society. All societies have been known to have a consciousness of faith, some degree of believe in the existence of the supernatural. Well, someone may say “there are those who do not believe in the supernatural”. But that is only so because of the premise that there is such. So, whether you believe or don’t believe in the existence of the supernatural only underscore the argument that there is a possible consciousness of the supernatural that has made the debate possible.
However we define our individual or communal Faith it will always be a fact that it will affect the general nature of the being of any society as an entity. Faith and society are not opponents. Faith is a crucially necessary part of the society. It has to a large part been the conscience of the society in the formation of a morally conscious society. To try to organise a society without it will be like playing a soccer match without a referee. Many people assume faith or as we call it “religion”: the enemy of the society. Well, like every good thing among people, they can have both positive use and negative. We can count, with our fingers all the problems that have been associated to the question of faith, but when we wait to ponder for a moment we can see myriads of benefits that faith has brought to societies.

With our societies being religiously plural, we have a duty, like with every sphere of the society to find a square of meaningful dialogue: call it a market square of ideas or city centre for religious dialogue, the important thing is that we must learn to open for faith conversation in how we organise society. Some of the religions of the world have been spread by the use of sword, we know the outcomes and the historical stigma that has left, but they have also been spread by the use of debate and dialogue. Rather than hate and kill those who do not share our faith we must use the most of other abilities we have been created with, that of reasonable debate and dialogue.

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Nigerian election on my mind: A Simple reflection.

_53741317_nigeriaIn my recent visit to Nigeria, the first sight that got my attention was the posters of the two candidates of the two foremost political parties, APC (All Peoples Congress) and the PDP (People’s Democratic Party) hung on billboards, streetlights and electric poles. As is with such times, activities and conversations around every small and big gathering of Nigerians, formal or informal gravitates towards the forth coming election.  Like previous elections, this election is yet another defining moment for Nigeria as a country.

Seizing the opportunity my visit granted, I decided to take my own random poll of opinion from people I had opportunity of meeting in order to get the pulse of the electioneering phase. When in a cab or just sitting around with people, I would strike a conversation with the simple question of who the preferred candidate is and the ground for such a choice. In the responses I got, I quickly realized that the most buzzed words in this year’s elections are, ‘Change’ and ‘Continuity’ and depending on the leaning, people passionately argued their cases whether or not they had verified their claims.

But such is the melodrama with most electorates.  There are shared opinions on pressing issues but largely based on hearsay.

For the serving president, Goodluck Jonathan, who first became president after succeeding the late President Umaru Yar’adua whom he deputized and completed the last two years of his remain tenure, now seeks re-election into a second tenure, a second tenure some from the North do not think he should be contesting in owing to an alleged pact made within his political party.

However, Mr. Jonathan and his cohorts strongly believe otherwise. As a result, he seeks a continuation of his presidency in 2015 election and if he succeeds, he would be looking at serving as president for 10 years at the end of the tenure thus making him the longest serving president Nigeria would probably ever have except situation work otherwise.

The other strong contender is not a new face in Nigeria’s political history and indeed its nascent democracy. Apart from being the military dictator that ended Nigeria’s democratic rule in 1983 and who by that singular act ushered in a prolonged era of military rule in Nigeria, he is also the longest opposition candidate (who is yet to be elected) consistently standing against the ruling party (PDP) of Nigeria in the past three elections (2003, 2007 and 2011) thus making his bid in the present (2015) elections his fourth. He bares the mantra of change and without a surprise it has been his message for a little over a decade. Sceptics fear that his military past would still shape his form of leadership in a democracy; Buhari has consistently argued though that he is a converted democrat whose ‘Eureka moment’ occurred with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

What manner of continuity?

As a result of the forgoing, one is forced to closely examine the very nature of the messages these two candidates carry with the promises of shaping the future of Nigeria.

Today, Jonathan presides over the current situation of affairs in Nigeria with an economy that has a very mixed outlook and a security situation that is arguably one of the worst the country has faced since the civil war. Critics of the President do not hold him responsible for the emergence of these problems but the management of them which shows a lack of political will and an utter weakness of character in leadership is often highlighted.

On the economy, three main issues seem to define the failure of the Jonathan led government. First the so-called depletion of Nigeria’s foreign reserve and the excess crude oil purse. This is being adjudged against the backdrop that this depletion of the foreign reserve happened in one of the times Nigeria was making more money from crude oil than any other in the recent past. The Second issue is the 27 percent youth unemployment despite the different projects such as the You-WIN and SUR-P which the government launched. This was demonstrated in 2014 when over 500, 000 Nigerian youths applied for entry into the Nigerian Immigration Service where only 3000 people were needed. The third issue is the question of the honesty of the president to fight corruption. His pardon of a corrupt kinsman and former Governor of Bayelsa State after being charged with corruption charges and also his failure to launch formal investigations into alleged corrupt practices by members of his cabinet leaves a lot of question unanswered.

On the matter of security, his allegedly, or perhaps seemingly clueless disposition over the severity of the mass killing of people and abduction of hundreds of girls and women in Borno; his prolonged silence over the killings in Baga even though he was commiserating with the French Government over the Paris tragedy that occurred about the same time all add up negatively against him. Aside the security challenges in North eastern Nigeria, other parts of the country have seen bloody ethnic and sectarian crises that have been quietly swept away.

However, let us cut him a slack by adjudging him within the wider reality of the political milieu of Nigeria. Elitism is one of  the biggest forces that wield power in Nigeria. President Jonathan is a beneficiary of that. Even though Jonathan would appear like the very breath of ‘fresh air’ (his 2011 campaign mantra), a young face not carrying the same an elitist credentials, his emergence in the corridor of power in the onset had both the elements of elitist will and non-human circumstances (God’s hand or good luck as it were). If the saying ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune’ is right, Jonathan’s loyalty is to be unbroken but should he choose otherwise, he risks being isolated into a political Island by this king makers.

It is no surprise therefore that even though a child of elite choice, he seems to have fallen out of favor with some these same elites; prominent among whom is the former President Olusegun Obasanjo.  In the recent past some of his other allies have abandoned him midway to the 2015 election, shifting their allegiances elsewhere. They have shifted allegiances from him and constituted themselves around new interests thus reminding us of the fact that interest is a permanent commodity in politics and people can move and trade it anywhere they stand to profit the most. It goes without saying that President Jonathan seems to have, over his first tenure, been beset by both internal wrangling within his political party and unrest in Nigeria. But since it appears the dividing line between Nigerian constitutional provisions and the arrangement of a political party are often blurred one can hardly tell how much loyalty Jonathan had paid to his party and that of the constitution of Nigeria.

What manner of Change?

General Muhammadu Buhari, certainly reminds us of that generation who today form the elite group of Nigeria and in many regards should be playing the role of elder statesmen. However, due to the lack of a tradition of generational shift in our polity, he today stands a good chance with the serving president, who although represents a new generation hasn’t demonstrated that character of leadership many Nigerians expect of a leader. Other than this reason, the Buhari campaign message finds most resonance in the claim that he is distinguished by his usually hard stern and zero tolerance for corruption.

What now may be regarded as the political loss of President Goodluck Jonathan has become gains for General Buhari. First, the merger between Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC, a party with mostly Northern coloration) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN, a party with largely South-western leaning) into what is now All Progressive Congress is an action of expediency. It plays well by the number and that of regional collision and political collusion by some members of the President’s own party,  thus giving Buhari a constituency he did not have in 2011.

But whatever necessitated this merger would definitely come under test and its true value proven. Should the APC win the presidential election, what will that translate for within the arrangement of the merger? What sort of consensus has the power brokers within this merger reached and how will that translate into the wider governance of Nigeria as a country? While the record of Buhari on corruption stands arguably clean, I wonder what the real cost of the political arrangements within the APC entails for Nigeria as a nation.

Religion and ethnicity

We cannot play the Ostrich by assuming that religion and ethnicity are not played in Nigerian politics. This has been the development in the sphere of Nigerian political history and there is no place that this is ostensibly displayed than in northern Nigeria. The major ethnic groups, the Fulani, Hausa’s and the Kanuri are bound by a singular Islamic identity notwithstanding their ethnic differences. Islam provides that glue for mutual loyalty and in turn forms the ground for solidarity towards political aspirations and retention of power. During elections, while the ideal expectation would be to elect credible leaders, the definition of credibility gets trapped and filtered through religious and ethnics sieves.

Conversely, minority tribes, who fall outside this framework of Islamic identity in the north and have historically fought for freedom from the dominance of the Hausa’s, Fulani’s and Kanuri’s and have found Christianity, since most missionary activities in the north focused more on the non-Muslim communities, as a galvanizing point for a collective identity which often play in political aspirations.

The very notion that the ‘winner-takes it all’, means he who sits on the place of power can access and use national resources as they so choose. It is therefore true that, most Christians may rather have a bad Christian leader than have a Muslim as president. Most Muslims will a thousand times prefer a bad Muslim leader in power than have a non-Muslim. This whole unfortunate state of things is built on mistrust. As a result, every religion or ethnic group believes it is best served when it has its own person at the helm of affairs.

However, this is not the place to lay all that pertains to Nigerian politics. We will have to watch as things unfold in the coming weeks. Already the election that was slated for the 14th of February has been shifted on the ground of insecurity. It is too early to start insinuating the real intent for this than to accept it as it is. Until then we will have to find answers to questions like, for example, when does the tenure of the president end? If it ends before the new election date, will he still be presiding over the affairs of Nigeria or are we going to be dealing with an Interim government? For now we are safe by saying as the President himself said: ‘there will be a government in place on 29th of May 2015’. However that will come to pass, we will have to wait and find out.

 

Selah.

Did the world abandon ‘Baga’ to be ‘Charlie’?

The events of last week in Nigeria (the alleged killing of 2000 people in Baga) and France (the killing of 12 people at Charlie Hebdo in Paris) reminds me of the events of September 9th 2001 in Jos, Nigeria and the attack on the world trade center on September  11th. In both instances while the later received global sympathy and condemnation, the former was drowned in the frenzy of the later.

What about Baga?

Many have expressed their frustration with what they consider a double standard by the western media. In the wake of other killings in a market in Maiduguri by two young suicide bombers, the Catholic Arch-bishop of Jos, while granting an interview, accused the west of ignoring Nigeria to the threat of the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram. He said the international community had to show the same spirit and resolve it had shown after the attacks in France.

Following this, many have voiced the same concern over the social media on why nothing is being said about the deaths in Baga, Nigeria. While I share the same concern, my finger isn’t pointing to the west but rather I am looking inward, to Nigeria with the same concern. Where is the voice of the Nigerian leaders raised in solidarity to the people of Baga? In its sluggish fashion, just like it did during the abduction of the Chibok girls, there has not been any official statement from the leadership about the situation in Baga.

What was different? Continue reading

Beyond Chibok?

A parent’s pain

I was raised by a mother who loves to keep animals at home. I recall back in the day we had goats, pigs and chickens. Each of these have their unique attributes but the one that most fascinated me as a kid was the goat. I recall almost vividly a day when one of the does (‘mother’) lost her kid. She restlessly bleated for stretch of three days. She went round, bleating through the noise of the day and the silence of the night and through the third day her voice had gone patched; she hardly bleated loud any more but the pain in her voice was faintly obvious. She looked really sad and physically worn-out but we had no words in her goat ‘world’ with which to comfort her.

If a doe could be so deeply caring of her young and be that much broken when it gets missing, how much more broken could the parents of the missing girls in Chibok be? This is the empathetic burden I have as I think and pray for them. I hardly can wrap my mind around the nature of the trauma both the abducted girls and their parents have been plunged in to endure every single day. When the world seemed to pay attention, they had a flicker of hope, but now, getting close to three months after, this hope seem to have dissipated so fast and while the world seem to have moved on, they yet cry out and still hoping for a miracle to #bringbacktheirgirls..

Persistent kidnapping and destruction

While the fates of the missing girls continue to hang in the balance, Boko Haram’s incessant attacks on small towns and villages have not slowed down and the growing concern of insecurity across Nigeria seems to be on the rise. Since the abduction of the girls in Chibok, many more rural communities have been under ravaging siege and further abduction of women and girls to the unknown had followed: http://allafrica.com/stories/201406240277.html; there have been several bomb attacks targeting cities outside Boko Haram’s active hubs such as the twin bombs in Jos, leaving 118 people dead, a bomb attack in a shopping complex in Wuse 2; a bomb attack in the Christian dominated suburb of Kano and the Schools of hygiene. Other recent bomb attacks have been in Yobe and Bauchi state with record scores of death.

Although Boko Haram is yet to release any message claiming responsibility for these series of attacks, all fingers are yet pointed to them. This is not from reasons far fetched. First, they have taken responsibility for previous attacks and secondly, in the last video released by the group, the leader threatened further attacks to come beyond Chibok.

What is the fate of Christians?

The fact that Muslims suffere in these attacks by Boko Haram leaves an open question: Are Christians a major target? The answer is that anyone looking for a neutral ground to explain the nature of Boko Haram will easily dismiss the claim that Christians are major targets in the attack by Boko Haram. At least, reports on the news often do not describe the victims along religious lines. However, a keen interest in the nature of the abductions and attacks by Boko Haram shows that Christians are singled out for attacks. Of the major elements that Boko Haram is braced up against, Christianity is top on its list. This has been repeatedly said by its leaders and it’s sung in the opening songs in each of Boko Haram’s videos: ‘to fight the Christians until they are destroyed’. Chibok for instance is one of the few communities with a majority Christian population. Therefore, the statistical difference between The Christians and Muslim girls is obviously telling.

A complex violent phase

Notorious among them are attacks from the so-called Fulani Militias. Several remote villages have been attacked in Benue, Plateau and Kaduna by a supposed aggrieved Fulani herdsman leaving scores of people dead and villages completely destroyed.

The other element that may be playing out in the rise of insecurity is the fast approaching 2015 election year. Nigerian politics have in the past been characterized by violence both at the pre-election and post-election stage with ethnic and religious differences being the catalyst elements. In 2009, after President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the South, emerged as the president elect, it was followed by violent attacks in the Northern part of Nigeria due to religious coloration that had defined the candidacy of both Goodluck and his staunch opponent Mohammed Buhari.

All of these three elements, Boko Haram insurgency, prolonged ethnic acrimony and violent political campaign could combine to create a complex situation that may make it hard to tell what the next months could look like.

Boko Haram Terror In Nigeria

In recent years, the group known as Boko Haram which promotes a strict interpretation of the Koran and propagates it through Jihad (holy war) has been a source of terror in most part of North Eastern Nigeria. With a position against western education, democracy, Christianity and ‘moderate’ Islam, Boko Haram has carried out what could be termed strategic and symbolic attacks to randomly send their message. The group has attacked institutions of learning, killing students and burning down buildings to express their rejection of western education; they have bombed churches, killed and maimed worshipers. Such attacks have not been limited to Christians but also Muslims it considers liberal and corrupted by Western civilization. Government institutions like the military,  the police and financial institutions have been attacked with money and ammunition looted.

Historically, Boko Haram is the second of a terror group to have come out of the north. There was the Maitasine (the for-bidders) which was active in the 70’s and 80’s. Its violent attacks led to the death of many people in Northern Nigeria. However, there is nothing that indicates a known link between these two groups to support to  assume a‘resurgence’.

There have however, been clear links between Boko Haram and other similar terror groups like the al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and the Alsh-baab group in Somalia. Boko Haram activities have been mostly carried out in the North eastern states of Nigeria with soft-target attacks in other parts of central Nigeria and across the border of Nigeria by its splinter group ‘Anseru’ in the abduction of foreign nationals.

Unlike sectarian and ethno-religious crises in Nigeria, Boko Haram is not limited to a particular ethnic group nor does it perceive just a selected ethnic group(s) as its enemy. It attacks all it considers a threat. Although, thousands of people have been killed, recent statistic shows the months of January to March recorded the worst casualties within a short period: Over 500 hundred people in over 40 villages were attacked and killed. This is ironically sad because these sames places of attack are all in a state of emergency with heavy military presence since May of 2013.

It leaves the puzzling question yet on how to end the Boko Haram insurgency, how can Boko Habram be really unmask and how can their possible sponsors be exposed? This has been the most challenging part of finding ways to end this stalemate especially when it comes to using diplomacy with the group. It is obvious that the use of force has not ended the crises.

It will not be an understatement to assume that Boko Haram is more of a symptom of a deeper state of the problem of Nigeria. That of years of bad governance and neglect; that of years of economic derivation that has led to a teeming population of young unemployed people, that of ethnic and religious animosity that exist in the deep part of its history and is easily tapped into by elites who want to get power by all means necessary.

These challenges are complex and there is no easy, quick fix to it. While global records show that Nigeria is one of the fastest growing emerging global markets, we can only hope that this would, in the long run, can translate into the development of sustainable infrastructures that can encourage economic growth and reduce poverty among young people and at the grassroot level.

A popular cleric ones described Nigeria using the example of the Apostle Paul while he was in Athens, he said: “Men of Athens (Nigeria), I notice that you are very religious in every way” (Acts 17:22). Just as most problems in Nigeria have religious coloration to them, the solution to most of the problems can also be with the religious institutions. The clerics must not perceive religious plurality as a threat and must teach the same to their followers. A promotion of dialogue as a means of religious dialogue must be encouraged. Christian mission and churches have over the years played significant roles in nation building. Some of the best schools, hospitals and other basic amenities in Nigeria were first established by them. People, regardless of their faith and ethnicity have benefited from this. The church must continue to work on that path of advocacy for the rights of all citizens in Nigeria.

#Bring our girls back: Time to put the dirty laundry out.

In my most recent post I shared about the lingering question in my mind over the nature of resilience Nigerians show but most recently in the face of terrorist attacks. Hardly had I put down my pen did the women of Nigeria showed that it can be different.

The abduction of the school girls by Boko Haram in Chibok has opened a rather new approach to the reaction of Nigerians towards the government’s seeming silence on some of these attacks. I do not assume that the government doesn’t care about what is happening but it appeared from every available data that it is not in control of the situation, and that is even to put it mildly.

Before the Chibok abduction, other attacks carried out in some communities and even a boarding school which saw the death of several students went by so easily as always. In the same narrative, the attack on the State Security service (SSS-) Headquarters and the bombings in Nyanya would follow the same way, just being listed in the data page. Chibok on the contrary has proven otherwise. This singular act is not to go like the others. The stench that has been created by the back-log of hidden dirty laundry can no long be borne in silence. Out with them! They must be put out there in the open in order to send the message.

As always, things can easily be given political twist in our dear country. I support good governance but I ache in my heart when reasonable people begin to play partisanship with issues of life and death. For some, the Chibok abduction was nothing less than an attack on the president, to discredit his chance for re-election in 2015.  Could the love of power be so blinding? While it is true that Nigeria polity often carry with it such narrative of politicking, it is wrong to always assume that it is the case with every issue especially one as sensitive as this.

With no doubt, there has been frantic effort on the part of the Nigerian government to keep its dirty laundry away from the eye of the international community especially giving that it will be hosting the very first African Economic Forum in Abuja. This would draw media attention on Nigeria that has just recently overtaken South Africa to become Africa’s biggest economy. But the government has lost control of this one. It has definitely spiral out of control and brought the government to posture it has always fought to avoid.

Now we know the government doesn’t have much knowledge of what is going on. Now we know that the government cannot handle the Boko Haram menace and desperately needs the help of foreign government in the fight against terrorism.

Sometimes it is ok to swallow your foolish pride and dry out your dirty laundry else you will suffocate in its stench.

 

Nigeria: Terror and psychological resilience.

It’s been about 30 min. since I got to the gate where I would connect my flight to Abuja, Nigeria. As usual being here was a foretaste of home. Unlike the other lobby where I was the only black person, this one was packed with many people from Nigeria. Unlike the previous lobby where everyone kept to themselves or buried their heads in their iPad and phones here most people were talking with each other, some were people they had just met. It wasn’t long before I joined in a conversation with another fellow Nigerian. As usual, such conversations don’t take long to introduce Nigeria as a case: politics, economy and most of all the security situation. At this point my new found panellist had introduced the matter of insecurity. It is not hard to pick up our frustration about the incessant killings in Nigeria. ‘What?’ Exclaimed a man sitting close by. My new friend quickly asked, ‘what is the problem?’ The other fellow said, ‘bomb blast’! He told us there had just been an attack in Nyanya, Abuja. We were quiet for a moment but that silent had such a loud message of despair. ‘For how long?’ Another person said. ‘How long will this madness continue?’. I was lost for words and for a moment my excitement of visiting home now was with a sense of uncertainty. ‘How bad could this be?’ I asked myself as I began to pay attention to the news on TV in the lobby. It appeared many had been killed and many more injured. 

Fast forward 6 hours later. We had just arrived Abuja and I thought the city would be in a very low mood but how wrong was I. Everything seemed so normal that if I had not heard the news before traveling, the mood of people would not have given that away. I took a taxi from the airport and in the kind heartedness of my people, the driver asked if I had a safe flight. Really? ‘Did he just ask of my safe flight?’ I said yes and then asked him how safe he had been since there was a bomb blast. With a very short answer of ‘ok’, the conversation shifted to prolonged silence as I peered through the window to see how the atmosphere was, it still didn’t feel like something had gone wrong. It appeared to me that I was the one stuck with this but for many here, they have moved pass that. 

Of the many attributes I use for Nigeria, resilience has always been one of them. I refer to that resilient psychology where people are able to build a tough sense of resistance towards the toughness of life. Now, the president of Nigeria paid a visit to the place later that evening yet he was able to continue with a planned political rally just the next day.

Do I consider such resilience a positive attribute at the moment? It’s hard to say. Could we so easily carry on with life as if nothing happened? The place of the bombing would be swept clean but will that also be the memory of the departed?

 

 

 

 

Cultural learning: ‘Mind your language’

At first, the language sounded exotic; later it became a mere chattering and finally it became annoying. All questions have been asked and my days of grace for using English seem exhausted. My brain is forced to now take in at a fast pace like never before. I mean, I have to listen, translate, Interpret and then respond. This is the rhythm and conversation had never been this daunting. This is the reality of my experience with language when I entered a new culture.

Do this people who speak the language know what bunch of ‘geniuses’ they are? I mean, I feel handicapped just to utter a word and a DECENT sentence is even worst…but they; they just say things with so much ease…Wow! They are masters of their language and I have never felt this childlike before. These are bunch of geniuses and I am just too dumb to follow. I don’t know.

I mumble and stumble. Like a child I had some successes when I’d say things as,”mit navn er…OG jeg kommer fra…` (in Danish) and very often than not, I get a praise, ‘you are doing good!’ Again, like a kid, I smile and feel good about my effort and then I mumble again. Learning a language as an adult carries the biblical proverbial understanding of ‘being born again’. I mean, you feel like your life has just taken a full 180 degrees to where it all started.

Talking about being born, my first child came and in just over a year, her first words in Danish started coming out. Of course she mumbled the words and often we did not quite get what she said but she tried.  By this time, I have lived in Denmark for almost three years and could pretty much get by with simple conversation. But being ‘born’ again as an adult isn’t like new born babies who come with such ‘plain sheet’ of a brain waiting to be written upon. My brain has had its years of writings done on it and one needs to carefully find the empty space to write anything new.

There are people who are ‘gifted’ with language and I am not quite one of those. I learn but it takes me a longer time given my reflective nature of learning. I watch as my little daughter outgrows me in the use of Danish. She has become my language teacher. Her childlike and repetitive way of speaking have become for me an opportunity to hear new vocabularies and sentences said over and over again. Of course her categories of words have not been at a professional level as she would only say things that relates to her as a kid: ‘my toy’, ‘see mama or papa’… ‘I can do…’ but yet I was learning. I had to watch her favorite children’s cartoon program again and again…and also try to read from her short story books for kids. In a way, we were like two small kids who are gaining mastery by repetition…

Although learning a new culture makes you feel like a child, the reality is that I have not really allowed myself to be that ‘child-like’. My adulthood means that I am usually very conscious of the mistakes I make and the fear of that often cripples my courage and sends me reaching out for my ‘crutches’, the English Language. On the contrary, my daughter builds her language as a child in all her childlike manner. She is not afraid of the mistakes she makes or overly conscious of what others think of her vocabularies and structure of sentences. She just speaks and speak again she does.

Maybe minding a language as a child is the key to learning it but how easy can it be for an adult?

 

 

 

 

Authority and Epistemology

Last night I had the privilege of reconnecting with a senior friend of mine, Ellis Potter. I have known Ellis for about 8 years and this time around, KFS (The Danish arm of the International Fellowship of  Evangelical Students: IFES) had invited him as one of the speakers at a conference titled Challenge held at the University of Aarhus. It was exciting to listen to Ellis once again and here is just a sneak peek of what Ellis shared.

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Ellis potter teaching.

The concepts of authority and epistemology are deeply profound and they affect our lives on a daily basis. Although I am familiar with his lectures, I always find new insights and questions every time I listen to him.

Ellis’ working definition of authority ‘… is the power to define reality’. Explaining the root of the word authority; Ellis points to the term ‘author’ as part of the first two syllables of authority, i.e. ‘author’ to show how it is used to refer to one from whom something originates. An author is the originator of, for example, a book. While we may disagree with an author’s position, he has the singular write to what he has defined within his work. Ellis further takes the first syllable which is ‘aut’, which comes from the Greek word, ‘autos’ meaning self or same to further explain his definition of authority as the power to define reality. For Ellis, this is not just the question of semantics but of  theological understanding of authority, which presupposes God as its source, no matter how we appropriate it in the different areas of our life. Of course authority in itself is good but can be abused, depending on how it is used. It can be used to create order and peaceful co-existence and a lack of it or an abuse of it creates chaos and disorder.

Quoting from Moses’ encounter with God at the place of the burning bush (see: Exodus 3:1-15), Moses asked to know who God is and he (God) responded: I AM WHO I AM. The original Hebrew translation renders it with a strong emphasis on the self-existent nature of God and that he chooses to define reality as he will. The implication of this is that our knowledge of the nature of reality for what it truly is ensues from our knowledge of God. Only God is self caused and is the cause of all existence.

Now to the question of epistemology, that is, knowledge and its justification, the value of knowledge is best understood in the very sense that our life is guided by it. All things rest on what we know or don’t know. But how do we know and how do we know that we know? Ellis reflects on four (but not exhaustive) sources of knowledge:

1. Bible (or revelation). This is a knowledge that is disclosed to us from a super-natural source and tells us of the natural. It is from outside our planetary space but tells us of our reality and its meaning. The Bible is a classical example of such knowledge.

2. Reason: This source of knowledge is from the exercise of our human intellect.

3. Institution (or tradition): Culture, family, education, government, religious institutions etc.

4. Experience: This is a rather subjective than an objective source of knowledge. Examples are: form and freedom, particles and waves: One has a universal, unchangeable element while the other has a rather particular appropriation.

During this lecture, every keen listener would see the interplay of epistemology and authority. Ellis made several propositional statements and works on providing justification for such positions as are held by him and why he thinks them not just as facts but statements of truth.

Ellis is quick to point at the in-exhaustive nature of the four corners of knowledge he works with and also points the danger in trying to prioritize one over the other, a situation we are already in. Ellis’ thesis is that our humanness is enhanced, not in creating a competition among these sources of knowledge in work to see them as complimentary. He encourages the strengthening of the weaker ‘corners’ and learning to bring all four in to greater harmony.

So, do you think you know?

He for She: Men for Women

The United Nation women’s day ran on the theme: Inspiring change! As its proposition for this year it assumes that ‘Women’s equality has made positive gains but the world is still unequal’. This holds true with regards to many other human right related issues around the world. But with regards to women’s day, the lunch of a new campaign ‘he for she’ may turn out to be a strategic approach to inspire the needed change that promotes the dignity of the woman. The campaign appeals to men to stand up and speak for the rights of women. The value of such a campaign is in its recognition of the role that can be played by men in the fight against violence women face around the world. The re-framing of the campaign to view men as collaborators and not just perpetrators of in-equality against women is in itself a significant step in the right direction.

The reality is that Women continue to suffer violence around the world. ‘According to a 2013 global review of available data, 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. However, some national violence studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime from an intimate partner ‘. Conversely, of particular mention is domestic violence against women. In many parts of the world, women, as well as Children, are seen as ‘properties’ to be owned by men. The fact is that in most societies, cultural norms and practices often give legitimacy to acts of violence against women and in most of these societies, shame, the fear of abandonment and social stigma would make many women die in silence than speak up. 

I recall a field research work I carried out in Nigeria, while still an undergraduate student, on the plight of widows in Nigeria. I was shocked by the many horrifying and gory stories of women (particularly widows) across Nigeria. In quite a number of cultures, in a number of instances, women are generally perceived as being expendable, inheritable and in some cases liable to be accused of being responsible for the death of a deceased husband. In practical ways, in some of these societies, if a woman cannot conceive or has not been able to give birth to a male child, she becomes responsible and is liable to suffer stigmatization and rejection. In the case of the death of a husband, where a wife is accused of being responsible for the death, in a particular custom, she is forced to drink the dirty water of the washed dead body to prove her innocence. The culture further require her to shave her hair, put on black clothes and mourn her husband for a period of time. Instances where some women have objected, the consequences were horrible. 

The saddening part of this is that very educated people have been a part of such barbaric acts towards women (It leaves the definition of ‘educated’ wide for open for a debate). In instances where someone arises to advocate for the rights and dignity of women in this matter, many have applied the so-called ‘western/non-western divide’ to the argument. Usually, men who think they have the right to hit their spouse would defend it as culturally acceptable and any opposition must be a western conspiracy to undermine their own cultural practices and rights.

As a Christian, the fight to protect the dignity of the woman is a fight to protect a human dignity. This is premise on the fact that both men and women are created of the same essence and they both bear the image of God in equal proportion. Of course our general makeup as men and women are designed in such a way that gives different capabilities but in no way do our abilities make either gender more human than the other.  

I strongly believe that many men can stand up for ‘She’ if they would learn to overcome some of the cultural hurdles that hinders them from speaking and treating women with dignity as humans and speaking up for them. Besides, they are our wives, mothers, sisters, friends, colleagues etc.

This note does not ignore the complexity of the issues. This is not simply a gender matter, it is about human dignity as a whole.

He must stand for she and she for he too

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