Can we wear shoes?

On Monday evening, March 18 a bomb blast in a bus park in the Northern Nigerian city of Kano killed a large number of people. The attack was allegedly made by the Boko Haram, an extremist group whose name is a local idiom for “western education is forbidden.” Reports of the event in newspapers later that week put the death toll between 25 and 60. Besides rumours later that week that some people from the north living in the south of the country were afraid of reprisals, we have heard nothing further about the investigation into this tragic loss of life and property. The sense of insecurity and underlying worry continues.

Exactly four weeks later, on Monday April 15 three people are killed and at least 140 injured following the bombing at the Boston Marathon. By Thursday afternoon, April 18, images of two suspects are released to the public. A little later an officer is shot at MIT outside of Boston. In the early hours of Friday morning, one of the suspects is killed and the other escapes. Throughout the day on Friday, a good portion of the city of Boston is locked down for fear of the suspect and a house-to-house search follows. By the end of the day on Friday, April 19 the second suspect is apprehended and life returns to “normal.”

That same Friday – April 19 – north of the city of Maiduguri where we lived for four years in the early 90’s, a war in the town of Baga breaks out between Nigerian government forces and the Boko Haram. It is reported that 187 people were killed and 77 injured with 2,000 homes destroyed. Meanwhile today – two days later – it is reported that the Red Cross is still “making efforts to get clearance from the security agents to get in and assist the victims of the violence.”

Why produce a timeline of this nature? One reason would be to complain about the global play-by-play coverage of the week of horror in Boston vs. the scant attention paid to the ongoing suffering in Nigeria. But that is the world we live in. This is an unfair reality: what interests the USA necessarily interests the rest of the world. Nigerians are aware of it and immune to it.

I could weep over the wider wedge driven between the west/Christianity and Islam. I find it beyond frustrating that religious affiliations are “writ large” with little nuance in the story-telling giving power to stereotyping and profiling. For northern Nigerians this wedge is pounded deeper with each violent event and means life and death for members of both communities – former neighbours no longer live beside each other even if they wanted to.

For Nigerians it is only to lament: to cry for justice and the end to impunity and corruption. On Wednesday last week while everything was uncertain in Boston, I chatted with our university educated driver on my way to work. With resignation, he pointed out that the difference between Kano and Boston was the certainty that the perpetrators in Boston would be hunted, found, and “brought to book.” He had zero confidence this would happen in Nigeria surmising that higher political interests were involved and benefiting from the instability, which is a common belief. Today the provost of the institution where I teach pointed out the same disparities: within a week the perpetrators of the Boston bombings were caught and a possible attack in Canada averted all the while in Nigeria there is only more news of more unrest, violence, death, destruction, and resulting insecurity.

I am not impressed with the arrest of the Tsarnaev brothers — the death of Tamerlan, the delayed reading of the Miranda rights to Dzhokhar — but I must be honest and say that the process was disciplined by the rule of law despite great aggravation. We are also not certain how “due process” will ensue and we know that the court process is bleak comfort for victims.  Still, Nigerians can only dream.

We are here to work in Nigeria for peace and reconciliation. But here in Nigeria it feels like that journey must pass over the stony mountain of justice and through the scorching desert of truth-telling before it gets to the more cooling and soothing river of mercy, trauma healing, and (perhaps) forgiveness.

With whom do we walk on this journey? Can we wear shoes?

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3 Responses to Can we wear shoes?

  1. Ron Rempel says:

    Hmmm…. I’m pondering your question – the one about shoes. Is it a question of whether shoes – vs bare feet – are appropriate? (Surely not, given the stony, scorching terrain!) Is it a question about access to shoes? Is it a permission-asking question – permission from whom?
    Overall, a startling contrast in degree of harm and response to that harm!!

    • mlklassen says:

      Thanks for the thoughts! Excellent questions …. When writing this, I was originally thinking about what it would mean to truly identify with the journey when most walking the road “wouldn’t have shoes.” But your other questions add depth to our own pondering. MLK

  2. mlklassen says:

    I am somewhat loathe to pretend to speak on behalf of Nigerians, so an editorial in one of yesterday’s Nigeria newspapers made me feel a little better. MLK

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