The Miami Herald, Dec. 1, 2002 (Column: Carl Hiaasen)
As we in the Western world struggle to comprehend Islamic fanaticism, along comes a boob named Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi.
He is deputy governor of Kamfara, a largely Muslim state in northern Nigeria. Last Monday he decreed that true Islamic believers should rush out and kill a writer named Isioma Daniel. She writes about fashion, which is usually not the most dangerous job in journalism. Her death-deserving offense was to pen a column suggesting that the Prophet Mohammed would approve of the Miss World Pageant, which at the time was being staged in Nigeria.
She wrote: “The Muslims thought it was immoral to bring 92 women to Nigeria to ask them to revel in vanity. What would Mohammed think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from one of them.”
That passage offended many hard-line Muslims, who thought it insulting to the prophet.
Mohammed himself is long gone and thus unable to offer his wisdom on the topic of beauty pageants, but those professing to worship him demonstrated their piety by going on a murderous spree of looting and arson. By the time it was over, 215 persons were dead — because of a magazine column about a beauty contest. The absurdity is staggering.
Americans are no strangers to moronic mob behavior — witness last week’s football rioting at Ohio State — but even for us, it’s difficult to grasp how something as inane as the Miss World Pageant could provoke slaughter as a form of protest.
The same religious zealots who complained about the immorality of a bathing-suit competition expressed no qualms about the bloodbath. In Zamfara, Mamuda Aliyu Shinkafi publicly declared that the fashion columnist should die for what she’d written.
Said he: “Like the blasphemous Indian writer Salman Rushdie, the blood of Isioma Daniel can be shed. It is binding on all Muslims wherever they are to consider the killing of the writer as a religious duty.”
Several prominent Muslims in Nigeria refused to support the impromptu fatwa, and a Nigerian government spokesman said the death order was unconstitutional and should not be carried out. Nonetheless, Daniel has gone into hiding.
In most of Western society it would be hard to imagine a circumstance that would drive a fashion writer, or any writer, underground.
If I wrote a column saying that Jesus Christ would have been a cool casting choice for The Bachelor, the worst I could anticipate would be a stack of angry mail, or getting trashed by Pat Robertson on his TV show. Some jerkwater politician might urge readers to cancel their newspaper subscriptions, but that’s not nearly as severe as a public beheading.
Nigeria is, of course, a world away. Zamfara and 11 other states are reintroducing Islamic law and administering the harshest possible interpretations.
For Nigeria’s radical Muslims, it was a proud victory over Western decadence. For everybody else in the country, it was a tragedy and a humiliation.
Salman Rushdie, whose name was contemptuously invoked by Shinkafi, remains the most famous survivor of a fatwa. Marked for death in 1989 by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, Rushdie today is writing as brilliantly and bravely as ever. Of the carnage in Nigeria and other recent inhumanities by hard-line Islamists, he asked in The New York Times:
“Where, after all, is the Muslim outrage at these events? As their ancient, deeply civilized culture of love, art and philosophical reflection is hijacked by paranoiacs, racists, liars, male supremacists, tyrants, fanatics and violence junkies, why are they not screaming?”
Perhaps the question is simplistic, but what deep and mystical explanation can there possibly be for maiming and murdering innocent people in response to a fashion column? Or a swimsuit contest?
To those on the outside looking in, the only logical conclusion is that some of these fundamentalist loons will jump at any excuse, no matter how lame, to kill in the name of Allah.
Until strong Islamic voices of peace and tolerance are heard, the gap of understanding between that world and ours will remain as vast a black hole in space.
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