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Genocide and the open wound of our moral conscience

Obadiah Mailafia  I congratulate Vanguard newspapers for devoting several pages last week to interrogating the ongoing genocide in South...

Obadiah Mailafia 
I congratulate Vanguard newspapers for devoting several pages last week to interrogating the ongoing genocide in Southern Kaduna. They have become the moral conscience of our nation. Elderly women have come out naked to protest the killings of their husbands and children. In our culture, when women do that, it is a curse on the land and those culpable will pay dearly for their evil.

The Kaduna State government seems to have shown by its body language and utterances that it is indifferent to the killings going on in the state. What we have is probably the worst administration in the annals of civil government in our country. A spokesman also declared that the killings were merely a “revenge”.

What we face is nothing short of an undeclared war against the Nigerian people. Do not be deceived: When they finish with the Middle Belt, they will move farther South. This Global Jihad is being sponsored by rogue regimes as far afield as Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The Problem of Evil in moral philosophy is as old as Aristotle. The greatest thinkers down the ages agree that there is such a thing as pure evil. It is part of the mystery of iniquity. The political philosopher Isaiah Berlin described it as “the crooked timber of humanity”. It is, sadly, an existential part of the human condition itself.

Adolf Hitler, who killed six million Jews in the concentration camps, was evil. Joseph Stalin was evil. So were Pol Pot, Idi Amin and Emperor Bokassa. Apartheid South Africa was an evil and wicked regime. The greatest thinkers agree that evil must be resisted. The question is: how? The biggest debate has been between those who believe in nonviolence on one hand, and those who insist on violence, on the other.

The greatest advocate for nonviolence in the 20th century was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi (1869—1948). Gandhi was born a Hindu from the coastal region of Gujurati. He qualified as a barrister from London’s Inner Temple. He moved to South Africa to practice as an advocate. There, he encountered the kind of racism he had never come across before. It steeled his resolve to fight for his people. Gandhi organised the Indians in peaceful protests and civil disobedience. He later moved back to India to lead the struggle against British colonial rule.

Gandhi taught that evil must be resisted through the ancient Hindu practices of ahimsa (soul force) and Satyagraha (firm pursuit of truth).  In pursuit of these ideals, he disciplined himself through prayer, fasting and meditation. He lived the simple life of the rishis and ascetics of ancient India.

He took solemn vows never to use violence and never to take a human life under any circumstances. He became a great spiritual and moral force that single-handedly overturned an empire. At the eve of independence on January 30, 1948, Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic who believed that, at the eve of independence, the Mahatma was giving away too many concessions to the Indian Muslims.

Gandhi was to inspire an entire generation of anti-colonial nationalists, including Albert Luthuli of South Africa, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria.  His greatest disciple was African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr (1929–1968).

King was born into a Black middle-class family of Baptist preachers in Atlanta, Georgia. A bright student, he graduated at the famous Morehouse College in Atlanta with a degree in sociology at the rather precocious age of 19 before earning a doctorate in Moral Theology at Boston University.

King’s nonviolent approach was opposed by radicals such as Malcolm X and Black Panthers such as Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and Stokely Carmichael who insisted on violent action. His famous March on Washington and his “I Have a Dream” touched the conscience of the world.

On April 4, 1968, he was martyred in Memphis, Tennessee. The sad story just emerged recently that he was still breathing when he was rushed to the emergency ward of a Memphis hospital. The surgeon on duty ordered everybody out. He was said to have used a piece of cloth to suffocate him. A Black nurse overheard him saying: “This nigger must die”.

For every nonviolent activist, there are more than a dozen believers in violence.  There is the case of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906—1945), scion of an aristocratic Berlin family. His father was the leading professor of Medicine and Psychiatry in Germany.

He took the precocious decision to become a theologian and pastor as a teenager in a family of non-church going intellectuals. One of his brothers was an outstanding physicist and collaborator with Albert Einstein. Bonhoeffer had two doctorate degrees before he was 25.

Bonhoeffer had a post-doctoral fellowship at Union Theological Seminary, New York. His best friend at the time was an African-American student by the name of Frank Fisher. Together, they used to fellowship in the Black churches of Harlem, New York’s famous black suburb. Bonhoeffer was so moved by the liturgy and the soulful Black music that he confessed he became for the first time a converted Christian.

When Hitler and the Nazis came to power in 1933, the young theologian was among the first to see through the evil. He spoke on a radio programme, condemning the idea of the Furhrerprinzip as a dangerous and godless ideology. As Germany veered increasingly into totalitarian fascism and war, Dietrich Bonhoeffer vowed to stop them.

He declared that if a madman were driving a truck without brakes down the street, it is our moral duty to stop him. By his early thirties, he was already a world-renowned theologian and pastor. He took the decision to join German military intelligence as a cover to undertake missions of undermining the regime from within.

He was involved in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler, for which he was arrested and court-martialed. He was hanged in the gallows at Flossenburg concentration camp on April 9, 1945. He was only 39.

Theologian, pastor, moral philosopher, activist and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the towering figures of the 20th century. There was a time he had dabbled with nonviolence and had even planned to visit Gandhi in his ashram in India. In the end, he obviously parted ways with Gandhi. He declared that: “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself”.

Many of our great heroes took up arms during the anti-colonial struggle: Ahmed Ben Bella and Aimé Césaire in Algeria; Nelson Mandela in South Africa; Agostinho Neto in Angola; Samora Machel in Mozambique; Amilcar Cabral in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania invaded Uganda to rid the benighted people of the murderous Idi Amin.

In Latin America, a whole tradition of liberation theology has emerged, centering on Catholic priests such as Camilo Torres Restrepo of Colombia (1929–1966) and Ernesto Cardenal of Nicaragua (1925—2020).  There are, of course, secular saints like Ernesto Che Guevera de la Serna (1928—1967).

The sad truth is that both those who choose either violence or nonviolence always die anyway. Every man must follow his own conscience. If you can see innocent children and women being slaughtered and it means nothing to you, that is also a moral choice that you have made. I leave the last word to the martyr Bonhoeffer: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”


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