Since We Are Afraid of Infinite Silence
Thoughts on Boko Haram
Consider the danger of infinite silence.
They come to us in the name of God, for evil has taken the guise of virtue. They say they are speaking a collective language, premised on restating the religious utopia created by their prophet. Their prophet. Clearly, their God and their prophet are imagined. Evil has taken the guise of virtue.
I realize that, in the final analysis, what Boko Haram wants is to silence our freedom. They want to introduce a regime of creative stagnation. I understand that creativity begins at the threshold of freedom. Let me explain.
There is a story of vines that have a life of their own. It was said that in a certain Mayan ruin, these vines would screech and vibrate like ringing phones, luring the innocent tourist into the forest of vines. In the forest of vines, the tourist is unable to move again because the vines have wrapped itself around that tourist’s body. And if the tourist were to escape the forest of vines, below the ruin there are armed Mayans, who will not let any person touched by the vines to escape. It is, therefore, a question of the carnivorous vines or the murderous Mayans.
The absence of freedom, then, is the absence of the creative option. It is a demeaning choicelessness. This terrorist group will create a dystopia, a state of nature, first, and then they will give us no choice but to follow their dogma. They will kill hundreds of people in the wake of their dystopic agenda, each bombing increasing in the intensity of its barbarism and the extent of its carnage. All of that killing leads to the moment when freedom (of thought, religion, and speech) is exchanged for life.
Let us suppose we can attempt an understanding of their technique.
They cloak their evil with religious nomenclature: Jama’atu Ahlissunah Liddawati Wal-Jihad, complete with hidden intent. And then they begin a letter with high-sounding Islamic language: “ASSALAMU ALAIKUM WARAHATULAHI WABRAKATUH. Glory be to Allah and may the peace and blessing of Allah be upon the seal prophet (SAW).” An unobservant reader/faithful will be carried away — religion often thrives on blind opium and passion. No matter how cloaked evil is, it will be unmasked, no matter if it is an Inquisition or Sharia.
Then, they declare a non-existent war. They purport that the government is a kufur system serving the Christian Association of Nigeria and the United Nations. A war is not fought without a declaration of enmity, and senseless wars equally follow this pattern. [When we are in Lagos we know that the Area Boy needs no sensible excuse to begin an assault.] It is a universal law for everyone who is evil’s marksman — strike without reason, the task defies rationality; that your action is inhuman means that it is below human contemplation, it will always shock.
And after they have defined themselves and their enemies, and have declared war, they propose a solution that places us between carnivorous vines and murderous Mayans. They say something like: “We want to make it clear that the country called Nigeria belongs to Allah; same thing Kano and we are SERVANT OF ALLAH. Therefore our members should allow to stay where ever they wish. WE DID NOT TOUCH YOU, THEREFORE OUR MEMBERS (MUSLIMS) SHOULD NOT BE TOUCHED.”
I agree that the killing of Mohammed Yusuf in 2009 without trial was a flagrant abuse of the Nigerian criminal justice system, a woeful failure that brings our democratic ideals and human rights values to question. But suppose we have paid for that sin, suppose Boko Haram has taken their pound of flesh, suppose we did not mind that when they took the pound of flesh blood spilled and it was a pound and a half, suppose their terrorist attacks in Maiduguri was retributive, is there a reason why they are still existing?
Of course, it is a case of an eye for an eye and everyone goes blind. In this case, they are taking away all the eyes, so that only theirs remain, and they become the Thought Police, the all-seeing Big Brother, the ones whose prerogative it is to say that Nigeria belongs to Allah. I believe they want us to be shamefaced by that fallacy. Of course they know we know that Nigeria does not belong to Allah, and they know we know that the Allah they refer to is an imagined and puppeteered Allah.
Consider the implication of Nigeria ‘belonging’ to ‘Allah.’
They choose that word carefully. Nigeria. It was not the ‘North’ or Kano or Maiduguri or Bauchi. Nigeria suggests the range of their ambition, the distance they intend to cover. Such language is deliberate. Such ambition is systematically realized. Every bombing is a means to an end, a skirmish in a bigger battle. They are covering grounds under our gaze.
If Nigeria belongs to their Allah it means our freedom will be to the extent they grant, It means we will work and walk within the infinite silence they prescribe. It suggests we will lose our secular ideals, our pluralistic tendencies, and the ancillary pillars of scepticism and tolerance that we now celebrate. It supposes that our wholeness will be reduced to their singularity, their myopic ways of seeing, their Hilterite perception, and their subway for travel.
Yes, Boko Haram is a political group. Political, obviously, because to take over Nigeria you need more than bombs. And they know this. Our President has said they have infiltrated our government. Since it will take more than the killing of the innocent to infinitely silence us, they need our souls, our core, our socio-political essence.
We should not fear those who can destroy the body alone, but those who can equally destroy the soul. The mistake would be to fear only the destruction of the body, to be shocked only at the terrorism that takes the lives of scores of our fellows. That is the terrorism of the body. [And I do not suppose that it is less frightening, or any less defeating and sacrilegious.] But we must ponder on/consider the terrorism of the mind — the one that holds a bomb in one hand and a Koran in another. The terrorism that inhibits freedom, restricts religion to Allah, and Nigeria to Sharia. That is the terror on our heels. That is the systematic occupation of our creativity by infidels and mongrels.
Infinite silence is the idea of being a dead man on vacation.
To mandate every Igbo person to leave the North and to bomb a church on Christmas day is an indication of that systematic occupation of our freedom. They are pushing us to a place where we realize that it is only adherence or death. But we must not fail to understand that adherence is an infinite silence — to agree with them that Nigeria belongs to Allah is the adherence I am scared of. I suppose they will bomb and bomb until we ask for dialogue, and then they will give us a messiah, their leader, Mohammed Yusuf’s incarnate. This messiah will read to us our Declaration of Dependence. They will restructure our legal system to accommodate the idea that enlaces Sharia and violence.
Infinite silence is like saying awon iyen ti f’ile b’ora. Like saying, as in Teju Cole’s literal interpretation, those ones have taken earth as a robe. Or they have covered their flesh with earth. Infinite silence presupposes that our flesh is covered with an earthly stillness, that although we are alive in this earth we are covered.
I think it is imminently expedient for us to contemplate the distinction between what we are fighting against and what it is we are fighting for. Make no mistake, indeed there is a distinction. I am concerned that we might get carried away by the need to deal with these mongrels that we forget they have a well-conceived plan of action and are equipping themselves to deal with us further. As such, our plan of action cannot be summary in nature. Our counterattack must contemplate their long-term ambition. To succeed in this war is to come to terms with our goal — that what we are fighting is not a war against terrorism, but a war for freedom. And this freedom is:
Freedom to choose who our country belongs to. Freedom not to be servants of a puppeteered Allah. Freedom to live in any part of our country. Freedom to speak about God in the manner we believe is right, and not to be scared someone is more right than we are. And freedom to collectively punish anyone who stands in the way of liberty.
If anything must be done, it must be done urgently. A person determined to unfree us, unperson us, will intend to hit us until we are dizzy and in a stupor. Then, seeing we are weak, that person will cash on our weakness and present us with an option. That option will be Mohammed Yusuf’s replacement as a religious/political messiah. That option will be the suspension of body terrorism, the bombings and the carnages, and the incorporation of the Thought Police.
So the pressing task is to refuse this occupation of our freedom and democracy. Our government must not secure us any longer with quavering lips. The ‘security vote’ must cease to be spent on motorcades but on our security personnel. The agreement with the American government must not be one with long-term goals. It is now that we have. Tomorrow’s freedom is an infinite silence.
There are so many silences to be broken, Audre Lorde says. There is the present silence and the infinite silence. The present silence is like living in a climate of fear. If we deal only with the present silence, we might be taking unproductive actions because we do not conceive that there is a looming infinite silence. If our immediate response is to speak with quavering lips, not dealing decisively with this menace, if we do not seek those infiltrators in our government, we are preparing for an infinite silence.
And the most fatal thing that can happen to a person is being infinitely silenced, infinitely uncreative, covered, like a dead person on vacation.