• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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The Man on horseback and the better angels of our nature

The Man on horseback and the better angels of our nature

The military are a fighting machine. They are trained to use kinetic force to suppress or degrade an enemy. When one hears of spiritual warfare, therefore, it sounds very much like a contradiction in terms. I have since been made to understand that this is not the purpose of these seminar series. Rather, the army hierarchy, in their wisdom, aim it to be a means of changing the religious narrative while battling the insurgents that have brought so much grief to our country.

The great Austrian strategist Carl von Clausewitz defined war as “the continuation of politics by other means”. Warfare is primarily anchored on the utility of force. But woe betide the army that relies on force alone. In our day and age, media and technology are also vital tools in the waging of war.

The Arab Spring that toppled the old tyrannies in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt was based on deployment of social media technology. Whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay. Like the Luddites of old, we cannot wish it away. And we cannot suppress it as they do in a totalitarian country like China.

According to the Encyclopaedia of War, of the 1,763 known conflicts of modern times, 123 (6.98 percent) were caused by religion. At its best, religion has served to enhance the better angels of our human nature. At its worst, it turns men into beasts. In 1915, the Ottoman Turks slaughtered overnight more than 1.5 million of their Armenian Christian neighbours. It is a bag of shame that Turkey will carry forever. When Adolf Hitler set upon the systematic liquidation of Jews and other “undesirables”, he demanded to know, “Who remembers the Armenians?”

Those who teach that Western education is “haram” need to be reminded that the Holy Qur’an enjoins Muslims to go as far as China in search of knowledge. They also need to be reminded that in medieval times Muslim sages were far ahead of their European counterparts in such fields as medicine, astronomy, chemistry, philosophy and mathematics

Both Christianity and Islam have been guilty of intolerance. Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Shintoism have historically been more tolerant of other faiths. Unfortunately, fanaticism has become our common disease. Jewish fanatics have often gone on killing sprees among the defenceless Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. Hindu fanatics have done nasty things to their Muslim neighbours in India. Buddhist monks – of all people – have treated Rohingya Muslims with exceptional brutality in Myanmar.

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The rise of populism in the New Europe – in Hungary, Poland, Italy, France and Germany – is due to fears about a new “Islamic peril”. In July 2011, Anders Behring Breivik took a submachine gun and went on a killing spree, killing 69 camping youths on the Norwegian island of Utoya. He said he needed to jolt his people from their benighted slumber in the face of an imminent Muslim invasion.

The destruction of the Twin Towers in New York in September 2001 was the high-water mark. What we know as “Islamic fundamentalism” today goes back to 1930s, when the Egyptian intellectual and activist Hassan Al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood as a vehicle to actualise his dream of a new Islamic Caliphate. Contemporary Salafism goes as far back as the medieval mystic and philosopher, Ibn Taymiyyah, who preached a virulent theology that brooked no dialogue whatsoever with non-Muslims. The serial defeats of the Arabs by Israel from 1948 to 1968 and 1973 led to what is termed “al-Nakba” (the great disaster). The Iranian Revolution of 1979 added impetus to the new Islamist reawakening.

The rise of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda was premised on the need to build a strong Islamic army to enforce Sharia and to revive the global Islamic Caliphate. The Mujaheddin victory over Soviet Empire in Afghanistan gave them renewed confidence that there was no power on earth they could not defeat if they put their minds to it.

Boko Haram, al-Shabbab, the Islamic State in West Africa and other sundry warriors, all share this zeal to create an Islamic state by force of arms. More than 60,000 have died from insurgency in Nigeria, with more than 3 million in IDP camps. The material devastation is one thing; the erosion of social capital and the complete breakdown in trust is yet another.

I believe that the violent narratives that threaten to destroy our country today are aided and abetted by local politicians, in collaboration with the sinister machinations of foreign powers. There have been illegal shipments of arms from Turkey. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are implicated in our current troubles; in addition to Western powers that desire the dismemberment of our country for realpolitik and geostrategic reasons.

Our military, have sacrificed so much to keep our country together. We have lost many young men in battle. I doff my hat for you! Most of you were never trained for asymmetric warfare. We hear complaints about shortages in arms and logistics. Government and civil society must do more to support our armed forces that are working often under difficult conditions.

Changing the narrative is, of course, imperative. The devils want us to believe there can only be perpetual war between Muslims and Christians. I believe we are all children of Abraham. In medieval Spain, Christians, Jews and Muslims flourished together in Alhambra, al-Andalus and Cordoba. Today, Muslims and Christians live peacefully in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Those who teach that Western education is “haram” need to be reminded that the Holy Qur’an enjoins Muslims to go as far as China in search of knowledge. They also need to be reminded that in medieval times Muslim sages were far ahead of their European counterparts in such fields as medicine, astronomy, chemistry, philosophy and mathematics.

Albert Einstein once noted that God does not play dice with the universe. Nigeria is God’s great thought experiment. Ours is a high and noble destiny. But we cannot realise that destiny until we reinvent our country as a free and prosperous democracy. A city set on a hill. We must love one another or die!

(Being summarised text of a keynote address at the second army seminar on spiritual warfare, held at the army resource centre, Abuja, Thursday 3rd December, 2020).