Remarks at the National Stakeholders Roundtable on Partnership on Strengthening the Role of Religious Experts and Scholars in Countering Violent Extremism in Nigeria Held at NTI Kaduna.
Organised by Office of the National Security Adviser between 19th and 21st January 20, 2015.
Let me begin by congratulating the offices of the National Security Adviser and SSA on Islamic Affairs on the thoughtfulness of organizing this important and timely workshop. It is highly commendable to bring various shades of opinions and diverse stakeholders together to brainstorm on issues pertaining to our collective interest and security. I am of the opinion the more opportunities we have to sincerely plan, brainstorm, strategize and even socialize, the better for us because communication is one important way of peacemaking and confidence building.
While appreciating the organizers, it strikes me that the programme falls within the same time the American Embassy is also inviting a couple of Muslim activists to a programme of the same thematic concern. I then wonder if the Government and the US Embassy are working in concert in this all-important regard or it is just a mere coincidence. Curiosity is the key to knowledge and I think if the former case were the situation, a joint programme would have been much better and cost-effective. More importantly, it is relevant and appropriate that we collectively discuss counter-terrorism.
The fundamental purpose of Shariah, which means “divine guidance” but popularly construed as “Islamic Law”, (a more fitting interpretation of its component, “fiqh”), is security. This security operates on five levels, otherwise referred to as maqasid shariah, which are the security of life, of property, of mind, of progeny and of honour. These are basic necessities for existence in every human society and every society is duty-bound to protect these necessities. Counter-terrorism is a contemporary security mechanism for the protection of these basic necessities of existence and it is crucial it is given serious attention. We need to re-orientate the mind of the enraged to the Quranic prescriptions against unwarranted hate-speech against Islam and the Prophets. Allah told Prophet Muhammad “exercise patience on what they are saying” This should be our message.
Mr Chairman, on the other hand, while it is desirable and essential to discuss counter-terrorism against the backdrop of what our world has become especially with reference to the preponderance of guided weapons in the hands of unguided/misguided people, I would suggest the approach to the subject is more encompassing. For security and counter-terrorism measures to be robust and effective, they should address the root causes. The root is always there but we often deal with the branches. Two of these root causes are unfairness and injustice and expectedly, fairness and justice will counteract them.
Let me be specific here. There is freedom of speech but we also know that freedom is constrained by law when it infringes on personal integrity, state or national security. There is defamation law to protect individuals from slander and libel. In Nigeria as a state, no one is free to run his mouth wild and ask that a foreign country should topple a democratically elected government because that is a felony.
Speech can do more damage than physical torture and that is why there are legal safeguards against defamation and felony. Oppression or violence is done also by speech, among other ways, and both the Glorious Qu’ran and the Holy Bible are unequivocal in this regard. According to the two sources, “oppression is even worse than killing” and “oppression makes a wise man mad”. Prevention is also better than cure as we can actually counter-act many problems by guarding against oppression in speech and in deed.
Few issues can be used to illustrate this and one thanks the Pope for the recent statement he made that free speech has its limits. According to the Pope while in The Philippines last week, if his good friend “says a curse word against my mother, he should expect a punch in the nose,” adding “It is normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.” It is the faith of about two billion people in the world that some people have turned to the butt of jokes and highly offensive and inexcusable caricatures all in the name of freedom of expression. When a cleric issued a fatwa that such a person ought to be sentenced to death, the highly hypocritical western world cried out as if the cleric too had no right to freedom of speech. Intolerance of Islam led to the blasphemous pronouncements/presentations to which an intolerant group also reacts.
Whereas, it is the same campaigners of freedom of speech that arrested someone for hate speech, after supporting the attack in France. It becomes glaring that freedom of speech exists to insult a religious group while there is no freedom of speech to express one’s thought to the country. The limit of freedom of expression should be all-encompassing, not parochial. This is unfair and it is lack of fairness and the oppression that it engenders that makes people mad in the world, to paraphrase the Bible, including those that would have expected faith to have made wise.
The insight in the quoted words of the Pope would be lost to many, especially those who constitute problems to the world. The implication of its profundity is that it is natural one reacts when one is provoked. It is, therefore, sheer hypocrisy to always be blaming reactions rather than address the (in)actions that precipitate the reactions. Negative reactions are reactionary; they are not justifiable but the point being made is the need to dig deep and address root problems so that we make the world fair and just.
To cite another example, if a person puts a green leaf in-between his teeth, it is an ordinary thing. But when that is done in the presence of the deaf in our culture, it is provocative and there is a spontaneous reaction. It is unreasonable to blame the deaf for reacting while ignoring the person who puts the leaf between his teeth. Since it is not food, why must the agent provocateur put a leaf in his mouth to taunt or provoke the deaf in the first instance? This is the situation the world is facing. Muslims are being deliberately taunted, heavily maligned, collectively provoked and then roundly blamed for reacting as naturally as one would punch a person’s nose for insulting one’s mother.
Prof. Is-haq O. Oloyede, OFR, FNAL,
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