Culture, History, Politics, Quote of the Day

The House of Delusion

Dateline, The English Midlands, January 2002:  Even as I write this last chapter, a thirty-five year old mother of five has been put under sentence of death by stoning in Sokoto, because two years after she was divorced by her husband, she gave birth to a baby daughter.  Had she sought to remarry, she would have been allowed to do so after four months and ten days, having undergone the obligatory iddah,[1] or reflection period the duration of several menstrual cycles in order to make certain she was not carrying her former husband’s child.

Since, however, she did not seek remarriage, the Islamic Court that tried her held her to be guilty of adultery by having had intercourse with a man other than the husband who had divorced her. Any thoughts of similarly prosecuting the father of the child were quickly dismissed, because (as is required to proceed with such a thing under Islamic law) there were not four witnesses to the act of intercourse.

In the case of the woman, once the baby was born, no further evidence was deemed necessary.

Unless, therefore, she can convince the Shariya Court that the child she bore was the result of a deferred pregnancy (that is, the child had been carried in her womb since before her divorce and was, in fact, the result of intercourse with her former husband while they were still married,[2]) or unless the judgement itself is otherwise  overturned, then she might well be stoned–sat down naked in a hole, with her hands bound together in her lap, buried in soil up almost up to her chest, and then pelted, first with small and then with larger, stones until she is dead.

How could Northern Nigeria, once the Jewel in the Crown of the African Empire, have come to such a pass? When Sir Abubakar the Sultan, or Yahaya, Emir of Gwandu or Sir Usman Nagogo of Katsina, or indeed any other of the fifteen First-Class Chiefs (all of whom presided over their own courts with powers of life and death) were parties to the administration of justice, such a gross, medieval, travesty of it could never have been imagined.

Nor would the Sardauna, the author of Nigeria’s Declaration of Religious Toleration and strong supporter of the education and emancipation of women, have countenanced it either.

I was a newly-minted (and very young!) Assistant District Officer when Yahaya of Gwandu told me the following story.  I do not know if it is actual or apocryphal, but it has always struck me as an illustration of a just and merciful ruler’s application of the spirit of the law at the same time that he executes its letter, and one which illustrates how a Chief endowed with Siyasa powers might use them to adjudicate a case

Once upon a time, two families had a feud. An old man from one of the families sat down in the shade of a date palm, up which a boy from the other family had already climbed to get a few dates.

Before he could gather the dates, however, the lad fell head-first out of the palm tree right onto the old man who was sitting in its shade, and broke the old man’s neck. He died, but the boy himself was uninjured.

The old man’s family immediately demanded that the boy, too, should be put to death as required by Islamic law, and the case came before the Emir for trial.

Having heard the evidence, the Emir concurred that without any doubt, the boy had killed the old man.

However, he urged the old man’s family, to accept ‘diya’ (often miscalled “blood money” but more accurately meaning “just compensation”) which the boy and his family had offered from the very beginning.

But, because of the feud between the families, the old man’s relatives had rejected diya, and did so again!!

The Emir considered, then gave his judgement: “The Holy Koran states that a life may be claimed for a life taken and this cannot be denied.

The boy must therefore die, unless diya is accepted by the dead man’s family and, in this case, it has been refused.

However, the Shariya also gives to me, as judge, the power to determine how such a death is to be inflicted on the offender.

This is how the boy shall die. He is to be taken to that same palm tree where he killed the old man, there to be tied in a sitting position, in its shade, exactly on the same spot and at the same hour as his victim was there when he was killed. Then the nearest male relative of the dead man shall climb the palm tree (or be carried up it if necessary) and shall then fall (or be thrown) head-first from a height onto the bound boy below. In sha Allahu, (if the great God so wills it) the boy will die.”

Here, Yahaya of Gwandu paused for effect, and then added:

“Of course, the diya that had twice been offered and refused was at once accepted by the dead man’s family and the boy went free!”

Siyasa, though strictly meaning ‘clemency’ also means ‘discretion’ in as much that it gives to a ruler, as of right, the power to vary, or even to override, the law’s precise application.

But what happens to a people when a secular authority, say a military coup d’état, or an over-zealous ‘democratization’ (e.g. Milton Obote in Uganda) deprives a traditional ruler of his right to exercise Siyasa powers, simply by excising him from the judicial process altogether?

In 1944 Felix Éboué , in his General Circular on Native Policy, wrote:

There is no best Chief, there is just a Chief. There is a Chief designated by custom; he must be recognised. If we replace him arbitrarily, we divide the authority into two parts; the official authority and the real one. The Chief is not interchangeable; when we depose him, public opinion does not confirm it; the Chief pre-exists. This pre-existence frequently remains unknown to us. The occulte [i.e. “concealed”] power persists because it is the traditional power” (emphasis added).

But what if that traditional power–the concept of chieftaincy–were to to be entirely eliminated–Obote again, and now Northern Nigeria–at a stroke? Where hitherto it has played so vital and acceptable a role? Who then would be the arbiter?` Who then would exercise Siyasa? A remote and disinterested federal government? A mad mullah? A cloistered ayatollah? Some upstart fundamentalist demagogue? Or a blood-thirsty terrorist bent on vengeance?

These thoughts are not without their application to attempts by outsiders to ‘incubate democracy’ in the Third World:

A distinguished American Professor, Louis Hartz of Harvard University, once wrote a book–The Founding of New Societies–in which he argued that for a new democracy to take root and flourish in a colony, there had to be a sizable fragment of the “old” polity imported alongside it, from which it could develop, and that when it did develop, the colonies often outstripped their mother countries, in ways either supportive or oppositional, depending on parts of their heritage they embraced, and those they rejected.

His thesis is persuasive. However, it does not even begin to encompass engineered transplantations, ones in which not only is the ‘soil-ball’ (the “fragment” of the old polity) conspicuous by its absence, but the very roots of the fragile plant have deliberately been pulled up and scrubbed clean, then dropped into a hole in the ground and covered with sterile dirt by alien gardeners unaware of  (possibly contraindicating) local conditions, and perhaps even with some visiting Harold Macmillan-sort treading it in for show and good measure.  Next, the little seedling is copiously watered with the bounty, and sometimes the blood of the providential and supportive benefactor as that nation’s mandarins, safe in the hallowed halls of their own governing body somewhere across the globe, wait in glorious anticipation for the flowers of democracy to burst into full bloom overnight.

The house of delusions is cheap to build but drafty to live in, and ready at any instant to fall–A.E. Houseman


[2] This aspect of the case, the “sleeping embryo theory,” an aspect of Islamic law which considers the possibility that a pregnancy can last up to seven years and can therefore form such a defense, is discussed in this Voice of America Analysis:

My father wrote the above four short months after the September 11 attacks.  As usual, I’ve elided some of his more florid, prolix, and exclamatory prose, and added a few links and parenthetical explanations, but that’s all.

I spent almost the entire first quarter-century of my life living either in a British colony of Nigeria, in that nation once it had achieved its independence from Great Britain, or in the United States, while Dad enjoyed (and as with most things in life he did enjoy it) a career teaching African history and language at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.  Until he retired and went back with my mother and siblings to the UK in 1978, we maintained close ties to Dad’s beloved Nigeria, and he was well-informed and always worth listening to, up until his death in 2007.

The African Institute at Duquesne University dissolved not long after Dad went back to England.  It was, I think, a victim of an increasingly strident movement to “de-colonialize” the curriculum even at at that early time, and of its dependence on government, corporate and foundation funding–which dried up as such establishments fell out of favor–and because Duquesne, like many similar institutions had neither the means nor the will to maintain it.

I remember it fondly; its always rather dilapidated offices as it got moved all over the university, even in those days something of a “red-headed stepchild.” I remember the small, but immensely talented and well-qualified faculty, a mixture of laity and religious, who came from perhaps a dozen countries with a depth and breadth of experience from all walks of life and who knew Africa like the backs of their hands, from the Sahara to the South, and from Kilimanjaro to Casablanca.

The program offered a both Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in African studies and a Master’s degree in two African languages (Swahili and Hausa) and was well-regarded and quite rigorous.  The usual inference was the the students had a career interest in Africa, whether working in-country or outside it, and the curriculum was individualized and geared to their specific areas of study, and/or their likely destination. Graduates came from, and dispersed to, all points of the compass, and into all fields of work, in the private sector, in the government (overt and covert), to the military, and in the church.  The Institute had a “family” feel to it, and many stayed in touch with their mentors for years and decades after graduation.

I can hardly find any mention of it on the Internet today.  It seems to have been deprecated, if not actually scrubbed.

Then, in 2012, with tremendous fanfare, Duquesne University announced the opening of The Center for African Studies, which, the university website proudly proclaims:

The Center for African Studies works toward diversity and inclusion through education. A focus on intercultural experiences, and a global perspective, allows us to encourage an environment of understanding and acceptance across Duquesne’s campus. Through course development, events, and programming we urge members of the Duquesne community to explore cultures and people different from themselves. The Center hopes events like Africa Week (a week-long series of events focusing on the food, music, and diversity of the African continent) and programs like the Mandela Washington Fellowship (a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State which brings 25 young African leaders to Duquesne’s campus for 6 weeks over the summer) promote a culturally diverse and inclusive campus.

Sheesh.  Well, that last thing sounds as if it might be worth looking into, and I bet the food during Africa Week is nice. (Perhaps they even serve jollof rice!)  Other than that, I think I’d best just follow Thumper’s father’s advice.

I wrote to the the university in 2012 when the new Center opened. (I’m an alumna, my stepdaughter is an alumna, my stepson was an alumnus, my father taught there for 15 years, and Mr. She was an alumnus and taught there for upwards of forty) so it might not have been unreasonable to expect at least a kind response.)  I suggested that, somewhere in the celebrations that opened the new Center, it would be proper to acknowledge the University’s history with Africa and African Studies. (The full name of the University is “Duquesne University of the Holy Ghost,” and the Spiritan (Holy Ghost) fathers’ principal mission, other that of education at their university in this county has always been missionary outreach to Africa.)  I suggested that perhaps they might at least mention the previous African Institute, which ran successfully from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s and which matriculated hundreds of graduates, some of whom reached the highest, and most important and influential, levels in their chosen careers.

Crickets, natch.

I think the university is ashamed of that old African Institute, the sort of ethic it espoused, and the the sort of education it provided.

I wonder if such an education is possible anywhere in the United States today.  I’d have thought, until very recently, that several of the service branches probably did very well in some of their officer and special forces training.  But having seen the cringingly woke performance of General “Thoroughly Modern” Milley a few weeks ago, as he emoted over the shame of his “white rage,” if any such programs still exist, I shouldn’t think they’re long for this world.  And I have no idea where those inarticulate boobs from the State Department and the rest of those incompetent fools–all the way up to the President of the United States–who’ve been appearing on my television screen for the last few days got what passes for their education, or in what illiterate, meaningless, irrelevant,  but–I’m sure–politically, culturally, and ethnically correct field they are certificated. (There’s one speaking at the moment.  She’s doing a little better.  She doesn’t seem to have any new information, but at least she sounds angry, rather than merely impotent.)

The house of delusions is cheap to build but drafty to live in, and ready at any instant to fall.

Sometimes, actually, the house of delusions is quite expensive in terms of both blood and treasure on all sides.  One thing we can be sure of however, just as day follows night, is that we know who’ll feel the draft and who, when the house does come tumbling down, will pay the price.

And we know who won’t.

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