Friday, January 20, 2012

Bombs, Berserk Vendors, and Getting a Grip

About a dozen centuries after the Lindisfarne incident, Europeans decided to try the European Union as an alternative to more traditional forums for international debate: like World Wars I and II. Change happens: and folks can learn.

But change isn't easy.

Bombs and Berserk Street Vendors

What got me started today was the trouble in Kano, Nigeria. An outfit called Boko Haram says it set off the bombs. They're probably right.

According to the BBC, Boko Haram is an "Islamist" group that doesn't like Western culture. So far, they'd fit right in with some of America's more determinedly earnest serious thinkers: not that either the folks in Boko Haram or refugees from the '60s are likely to see it that way.

Dealing with Trousers, Miniskirts, and Other Threats

I've noticed that quite a few folks don't particularly like change. What sets Boko Haram and a bunch of hotheaded vendors in Malawi apart is how they deal with a world that isn't just like the one their grandfathers told them about. There's more going on in Nigeria than epic culture shock, and I'll get back to that.
"Nigeria's militant Islamist group Boko Haram - which has caused havoc in Africa's most populous country through a wave of bombings - is fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state.

"Its followers are said to be influenced by the Koranic phrase which says: 'Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors'.

"Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it 'haram', or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society.

"This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education...."
(BBC)
Meanwhile, several countries over, some other folks lashed out at the post-Magna-Carta world:
"Malawian women protested Friday to demand an end to attacks on those who were stripped naked on the streets for wearing pants, leggings and miniskirts, instead of dresses.

"Street vendors accused women of defying cultural norms and attacked them this week in Lilongwe and Blantyre, two of the nation's largest cosmopolitan centers.

" 'They beat them up and stripped them naked, claiming they did not follow the tradition,' said Seodi White, a rights activist and protest organizer...."
(CNN)
I suppose I could claim that these two incidents 'proves' that:
  1. Africans are crazy
  2. It's America's fault
  3. Men are pigs
  4. Squirrels are plotting to take over the world
Of those options, I pick 'none of the above:' although numbers one through four have a very tiny amount of truth in them. Here's what I mean:

People are Crazy

Logic and emotion don't play well together. It has to do with the way the human brain is wired, and I've been over that before. (December 23, 2008) I'm not making excuses: but I think the folks running Boko Haram and that bunch of street vendors are under a lot of stress. That may help explain why they're acting in what I think is a self-destructive way.

It's America's Fault

No, I don't think so. Any more than it's the architect's fault when someone gets drunk and crashes into a building the architect designed.

But women in Malawi wouldn't get in trouble for wearing miniskirts if:
  • Hammurabi and others hadn't started writing down laws
    • In stone
      • Literally
  • Ways to make a democracy work hadn't been thrashed out by ancient
  • King John hadn't signed the Magna Carta
  • An odd lot of revolutionaries hadn't made thirteen colonies into one of the world's leading producers of sitcoms and soybeans
So, in a way, what happened in Malawi and Nigeria is the fault of folks who haven't been accepting the status quo for going on 38 centuries now. In a way.

Men are Pigs

It's been a long time since I've heard "male chauvinist pig," except in context of recent American history. I am not a born-again feminist, and think that blaming all men for what ails the world makes about as much sense as blaming the commies, capitalists, or squirrels.

On the other hand, the incident in Malawi was very likely set off by some of the local 'good old boys' whose world is changing. Fast.

About two thirds of adults in Malawi are literate: 76% of the men, just under half of the women. (CIA World FactBook) I don't set quite as much stock in getting a college degree as some folks do: but I think being able to read and write are vital skills.

Or, looking at it from another angle, folks who have control of a society might not want the folks whose lives they're running to be able to read. Particularly these days, when that pesky Internet is causing so much trouble.

I've discussed SOPA in another blog, and that's not entirely another topic. Briefly, I think SOPA and PIPA are very bad ideas. But then, I'm one of those rank outsiders, and I rather like freedom of expression:Moving on.

Africa: Looking Past the Bombings

Africa as a big continent. There's a lot going on there, besides the occasional terrorist activity and dubiously-fair election.

Soccer's 28th Africa Cup of Nations

I'm not a huge sports fan, but I understand how important games like soccer, basketball, and cribbage can be in a culture. Cribbage?! Never mind.

I also think that, although 'world peace through rugby matches' won't work by itself, there's value in getting folks from different countries together - and letting them notice that they each go crazy over the same games.

it's a start.

I sincerely hope that nobody gets killed during this year's Africa Cup of Nations. The folks who organize and participate in that massive get-together have had quite enough trouble, I think:
"African ambition: Tiny nations host football feast"
Chris Murphy, CNN (January 20, 2012)

"This weekend's kick-off at the 28th Africa Cup of Nations launches a three-week explosion of color and noise in the soccer-crazy continent....

"...the 2010 installment in Angola was overshadowed by a machine gun attack on the Togo team bus that left three people dead and organizers -- the Confederation of African Football (CAF) -- having to defend the decision to stage it there...."

Drought, Famine, Death

Folks in Texas have been suffering a drought. I'm concerned about them: but I'm more concerned about folks in east Africa with the same problem.

It's not that I don't like Texas: but Texans aren't faced with a drought and rebuilding nations and cultures after centuries of colonial mismanagement. Here's what brought that to mind:
"East Africa drought update"
Vatican Radio, via NEWS.VA (January 19, 2012)

"What is the current situation like for those living in the Horn of Africa and east Africa where last year some 13 million people were threatened by famine as a result of drought and conflict? The humanitarian crisis there has mostly slipped off the radar of the international community compared to the height of the crisis last summer. The good news, however, is that the number of people at risk of outright famine has been dramatically reduced thanks to last year’s massive aid programme mounted by the U.N. and relief agencies.

"One of the agencies that were in the forefront of the relief operation was the Caritas Internationalis Confederation...."
If you never heard of that "Caritas" outfit, I'm not surprised. They don't get a whole lot of press coverage.

I've been more likely to post about the African drought situation in another blog:

Nigeria, Fuel Prices, and National Politics

"AFRICA/NIGERIA-The President cuts the price of petrol,
but the protest continues; the Bishops:
'we think of the nation's welfare'
"
Agenzia Fides, via NEWS.VA (January 16, 2012)

"The President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, announced today, January 16, the reduction of the price of petrol from 141 to 97 naira per litre, although it has not re-introduced the old price of 65 naira per litre before January 1, when the government suddenly decided to eliminate subsidies for fuel prices. The President's decision is intended to contain the strong popular protest, led by the powerful local unions, which have paralyzed the country for days...."
I remember "the" energy/oil crisis. Several of them, including:I don't think high fuel prices are helping folks in Nigeria stay calm: and I've mentioned how emotions and logic get along like mongoose and cobra before.

The point is that Boko Haram isn't operating in a vacuum. Folks in Nigeria are upset about high fuel prices, and other less-than-ideal aspects of their economic and political situation. My guess is that quite a few of them have legitimate complaints.

But all that angst also makes it easier for hotheads to convince some folks that the answer is to kill someone. I don't think that's a reasonable approach: but - emotion and logic, again.

Epic Culture Shock

In a way, I'm what my culture calls "lucky." My ancestors were following the edge of a continental glacier north and west, when Hammurabi and other rulers started a reform of laws that's still a work in progress. We had centuries to get used to changes that kept upsetting apple carts in the northwestern part of Eurasia. Stuff was going on elsewhere in the world, too: but I'm talking about the melanin-deficient lot I'm descended from.

Like I said, I'm lucky. I'm from a culture that's gone through a lot of change, for a long time. Quite a few individuals still go ballistic when one more set of changes comes down the road: but as a group, I think we've become a moderately accustomed to having to re-learn customs on a fairly regular basis.

Then there are folks in places like parts of the Middle East and Africa. Until decades - maybe a generation or two - ago, life hadn't changed all that much since Abram moved out of Ur and changed his name.

Then, within one lifetime, everything changed.

It's almost as if someone with a nice, steady job in Uruk, during the Ubaid period, took a wrong turn on his way home, and landed in New York City's Times Square. Or someone living in today's Brooklyn stepped off the MTA, and found herself in whatever New York City is called, around the year 6012.

Like I said, I'm not making excuses for outfits like Boko Haram. But I recognize that they're being dragged over several thousand years of change, fast. Maybe it's no wonder that some folks in that position snapped.

Related posts:
In the news:
Background:
  • "Angola"
    CIA World FactBook (page last updated January 11, 2012)
  • "Equatorial Guinea"
    CIA World FactBook (page last updated January 11, 2012)
  • "Gabon"
    CIA World FactBook (page last updated January 19, 2012)
  • "Malawi"
    CIA World FactBook (page last updated December 13, 2011)
  • "Nigeria"
    CIA World FactBook (page last updated January 4, 2012)

1 Excerpts from the news:
"Nigeria's Kano rocked by multiple explosions"
BBC News (January 20, 2012)

"The Nigerian authorities have imposed a 24-hour curfew in Kano after at least seven people were killed in co-ordinated bomb attacks in the northern Nigerian city.

"Police stations and the regional police HQ were among the targets. Gunfire was also heard in several locations.

"The militant Islamist group Boko Haram says it carried out the attacks...."
"African ambition: Tiny nations host football feast"
Chris Murphy, CNN (January 20, 2012)

"This weekend's kick-off at the 28th Africa Cup of Nations launches a three-week explosion of color and noise in the soccer-crazy continent....

"...the 2010 installment in Angola was overshadowed by a machine gun attack on the Togo team bus that left three people dead and organizers -- the Confederation of African Football (CAF) -- having to defend the decision to stage it there...."
"Malawian women protest after attacks for wearing pants, miniskirts"
Faith Karimi, CNN (January 20, 2012)

"Malawian women protested Friday to demand an end to attacks on those who were stripped naked on the streets for wearing pants, leggings and miniskirts, instead of dresses.

"Street vendors accused women of defying cultural norms and attacked them this week in Lilongwe and Blantyre, two of the nation's largest cosmopolitan centers...."
"East Africa drought update"
Vatican Radio, via NEWS.VA (January 19, 2012)

"What is the current situation like for those living in the Horn of Africa and east Africa where last year some 13 million people were threatened by famine as a result of drought and conflict? The humanitarian crisis there has mostly slipped off the radar of the international community compared to the height of the crisis last summer. The good news, however, is that the number of people at risk of outright famine has been dramatically reduced thanks to last year’s massive aid programme mounted by the U.N. and relief agencies.

"One of the agencies that were in the forefront of the relief operation was the Caritas Internationalis Confederation...."
"AFRICA/NIGERIA-The President cuts the price of petrol,
but the protest continues; the Bishops:
'we think of the nation's welfare'
"
Agenzia Fides, via NEWS.VA (January 16, 2012)

"The President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, announced today, January 16, the reduction of the price of petrol from 141 to 97 naira per litre, although it has not re-introduced the old price of 65 naira per litre before January 1, when the government suddenly decided to eliminate subsidies for fuel prices. The President's decision is intended to contain the strong popular protest, led by the powerful local unions, which have paralyzed the country for days...."

2 comments:

Brigid said...

Two for one: "except in context of recent American history. I am not a born-again feminist, and thin that blaming all men"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

Brigid,

Fixed the 'thin' thing. Thanks!

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

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