Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Bishop Duncan chimes in

(update below)

Adding to a growing string of apologies (here, here, and here) for Archbishop Akinola's endorsement of the wolf-in-sheep's-clothing, anti-speech, anti-assembly legislation (pdf) before the Nigerian Federal Assembly, the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh and moderator of the Anglican Communion Network (ACN), just released a statement, available at VirtueOnline, dated today (March 15).

I'm reposting Bishop Duncan's release here, in its entirety:
Bishop Chane's comments betray a profound lack of empathy or understanding for the position that Archbishop Akinola and all Christians in Nigeria find themselves in. During the last few weeks in Nigeria, an archdeacon has been murdered and two bishops have survived assassination attempts.

All were attacked by what appear to be Islamic extremists. During the same time, Islamic violence ignited by the publishing of Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed have claimed the lives of scores of lay Christians and seen numerous churches destroyed in Nigeria.

Further, it should be noted that while the proposed law sounds harsh to American ears, the penalty for homosexual activities in those parts of Africa under Islamic Sharia law (such as the Sudan and portions of Northern Nigeria for that matter) is death. It is precisely the imposition of these much harsher Sharia laws that Archbishop Akinola and other Anglican leaders in Africa have resisted so strongly for many years with little publicity or support from the West.

It is jarring, to say the least, to see church leaders, who claim to champion the primacy of local understanding and culture, demanding that foreign sister churches give up their own local understanding and culture and be judged by an American understanding of individual rights. There is a word for the one-way imposition of values - colonialism.
This release is astonishing. First -- and I can't emphasize this enough -- the primary criticism of Akinola's endorsement of the Nigerian legislation is that it curtails basic press, speech, assembly, and religious freedoms. I have written about this ad nauseum before, so I won't go into it any further here. Suffice it to say that everyone who has thus far offered support for Akinola on this point has failed to raise the issue of civil liberties, and instead chosen to focus on the issue of gay marriage. Yet gay marriage is moot since homosexuality is already illegal. I beg someone in the conservative Anglican community to please speak to this issue.

Second, Christian-Muslim violence is not a recent problem -- it has been going on for a long time and at a much greater intensity than what happened between February 18 and 24 of this year. A buried article from September 11, 2001, by Dan Isaacs for the Daily Telegraph, London (available on LexisNexis), suggests just how bad it was only a few years ago. He says:
CLASHES between Christian and Muslim youths in Nigeria have left at least 165 dead and about 1,000 injured, the Red Cross said yesterday.

Buildings have been razed throughout the city of Jos in the centre of the country and hundreds of burnt-out cars littered the streets after three days of rioting. Thousands have fled the mobs and witnesses indicated that the numbers of dead could go much higher.

Last night, violence had subsided after heavily armed troops were deployed but the clashes were reported to have spread to the northern city of Kano, where a 5,000-strong Muslim mob was reported to have attacked and burned a church.

Phillip Macham, a Red Cross official, said the streets in Jos were still littered with bodies. "This figure [of 165 dead] includes those that were brought by the police and other organisations. We are overstretched," he added.

Terrified Jos residents described gangs setting up roadblocks and pulling people out of vehicles to kill them, and house-to-house searches by youths armed with machetes, clubs and guns. By last night, more than 6,000 people had sought refuge in the compound of the central police station.

Most of those under threat appeared to be Muslims, but many Christians have been caught up in the violence.
Violence by Nigerian Muslims against Christians is not new -- neither is violence by Christians against Muslims. Isaacs goes on:
The initial cause of the violence was a minor altercation outside a mosque after Friday prayers but there has been simmering tension for weeks.

Christians have been complaining about the appointment of a Muslim to head the state's poverty alleviation programme.

After decades of corrupt military rule which has reduced oil-rich Nigeria to penury, such jobs are seen as providing access to government funds for the supporters of those appointed.
I could be full of it, but my growing sense is that the problem of Christian-Muslim violence in Nigeria is broadly political, rather than narrowly religious, or simply "caused" by the Danish cartoons of the Prophet. At the very least, Duncan should recognize that the violence is two-sided -- for every instance of Muslims unilaterally attacking defenseless Christians, there's an example of Christians doing the same to Muslims. It is in this context that Akinola's statement to the nation, saying "may we at this stage remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation," is so callow and contentious.

Third, the West has actually been very interested in the problem of Shar'iya in Nigeria. Perhaps the bishop will recall the case of Safiya Huseini, a Muslim Nigerian woman sentenced to death by stoning by a Shar'iya court. Again, Dan Isaacs is on the case, in an article for the Observer dated December 9, 2001 (LexisNexis):
Her daughter Adama, 11 months old, is both her greatest joy and a symbol of her predicament. The judge decreed that, because Huseini had conceived a child outside marriage, she was guilty of adultery. She is divorced, but under Islamic or sharia law the crime is the same as if she were still married. The lesser charge of fornication, punishable by 100 or so lashes, applies only to virgins.

The man Huseini names as the father of her child comes from the same village of Tungar Tudu in the north west of Nigeria. Yakubu Abubakar has two wives, and although he admitted to the relationship with Huseini he refused to marry her or contribute to the upkeep of the child.

Traditional family disputes such as this have been resolved in the sharia courts for decades, according to a judicial system operating within Nigeria's majority-Muslim northern states. It is only in the past two years that the harsh criminal punishments of stoning (for adultery), amputation (for theft), and lashing (for such crimes as drinking alcohol and fornication) have been introduced.

The recent extension of the laws to include harsh sharia punishments, guided more by political than religious interests, has served to exacerbate tensions between Muslims and the minority of Christians living in the north. Over two years, 4,000 people have lost their lives in clashes between the two communities.

When Huseini's case came to court, Abubakar retracted his confession, denying he had ever met Huseini, and the judge acquitted him of any charges. Under Islamic law, if a man does not make a confession in court the only way he can be convicted of adultery is for four men - not women - to have witnessed the adulterous act.
Isaacs spoke directly to Huseini, now for the Daily Telegraph (London) on March 25, 2002, the day before she was acquitted by an Islamic appeals court, writing (LexisNexis):
There has been widespread international pressure on the Nigerian government to pardon Huseini. But the federal authorities are powerless to intervene directly. The country's devolved system of government gives the majority-Muslim northern states the power to introduce their own legal codes.

This has not stopped the federal justice minister, Kanu Agapi, from trying to exert influence.

In a letter to all the governors of all northern states last week, he said strict Islamic punishments were discriminatory because they applied only to Muslims and therefore unconstitutional, and that "the federal government could not keep quiet whilst members of the international community upbraid the country for imposing these discriminatory punishments on a section of the populace".

The northern states have made it clear that they consider this statement an attack on Nigeria's Muslims and have said they intend to ignore it.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, a devout Christian, has been placed in an awkward position. Although he is clearly uncomfortable with these strict Islamic punishments, he is aware that to challenge the validity of sharia law would be seen as anti-Muslim.

In a country with a recent history of communal and religious violence, such a confrontation could have a dangerously destabilising effect.
This story was all over the Western media in the months following September 11, and it drew serious attention to the practice of Shar'iya in northern Nigeria. It was, in fact, the story that first brought my attention to the fact that harsher forms of Shar'iya are still practiced anywhere. The response to the story was strong enough to compel Betty McCollum (D-Minn) to bring a resolution before Congress to condemn death by stoning. Bishop Duncan might find this response too weak for his tastes, but it is utterly false to suggest that the West does not care about the encroachment of Shar'iya in northern Nigeria.

Furthermore, as I have argued in a previous post, the threat of Shar'iya is not sufficiently compelling to endorse discarding basic democratic institutions and processes, as this legislation would do.

Fourth, Bishop Duncan's final paragraph contains an argument that can be easily turned against him. For the moment, let's leave aside the fact that the primary objection to this legislation is not that it bans gay marriage (though that's bad enough from the point of view of many) but that it curtails speech, assembly, the press, and religious expression (i.e., it doesn't just ban gay marriage -- READ IT!!!). Duncan cries hypocrisy when his liberal colleagues squawk over Akinola's support of the legislation. He says that the same people who had before demanded local autonomy in the elevation of gay priests and bishops now claim that local Nigerian customs must bow to Western values -- he calls this "colonialism." But I must ask Bishop Duncan if he is not practicing a kind of moral relativism, declaring that what is good for us as Americans is not good for Nigerians.

In his support of Akinola's endorsement, Duncan is asking Nigerians to abandon entirely their fragile democratic institutions in the fear that a few gay Nigerians will organize meetings in protest of Nigeria's anti-sodomy law. He is supporting Akinola's "one-way imposition of values" at the cost of free speech, free assembly, free expression of religion, and a free press.

In fact, by arguing that struggles between religions require curtailment of civil liberties, Duncan is unknowingly providing the logical groundwork for the imposition of Shar'iya on all Nigerians.

UPDATE: 3/16/2006, 7:33 PM. Göran, in the comments, has pointed out something that was in the back of my head when I posted this entry but that I couldn't quite spit out at the time. Basically, he argues that if North-South Network bishops claim that ECUSA bishops are not allowed local choice with respect to their "culture, laws and circumstances," then the global communion ought to be able to censure Akinola for his endorsement of legislation that denies narrowly defined Nigerian groups basic civil rights. Ultimately, the "local custom" argument is hogwash, since it appears that it is applied only when convenient.

1 comment:

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Also, it's the other way around. +Duncan, ++Akinola, ++Jensen and the other North-South network bishops and primates have very vocally and for years denied the ECUSA precisely the right to local option according to it's culture, laws and curcumstances.

Surely, what is right for ++Akinola right is right for +Griswold?