Maybe Hitchens Is Right and God Isn't So Great

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 10:32 PM EST

Only yesterday I blogged about the American Christian right ordering (white) Europeans to have more babies, repeal liberal divorce, same sex marriage, and abortion laws lest the Muslim hordes over run them. Mere coincidence, the overlap with their theocratic preferences.

Today, we happen upon yet another example — since we were running low — of the dangerous centrality to male privilege of retaining control over women's bodies, and more importantly, their choices, so as to hold onto power. Fascinating, the lengths to which religious fervor and hegemony go to perpetuate and expand themselves despite the teachings of its holy books; Muslims and Christians in Africa (Nigeria here) are slaughtering each other in the name of religion. Well, it's either that or they're killing each other over the right to exercise immoral power over the designated Other and religion is a good a way as any to identify your inferior. God forbid they should try peaceful co-existence or maybe just focus on their own spiritual uplift. One would think that living up to either the Messiah's or the Prophet's requirements might keep one a little too busy to be looking for qc'ing others.

What's most fascinating, however, is how the battle over who gets stuck on the business end of apartheid — Christians have control now and keep the Muslims second class citizens — quickly became about who has access to which women. Let's just say that's not up to the women in question. No doubt, though, the lure of fighting the designated infidel by withholding their wombs, and their all important love, will prove seductive to many of the Christian women called on to do their duty (i.e. love only your neighbor Christian neighbors). The others will just keep bringing it back home to the Christian Papa to stay alive. Odd, how 'women's work' is only worth noticing when in danger of being performed for someone else.

As the Muslims, galvanized by the 1980s Iranian revolution and who tend to be successful merchants, inter-married with "their" women, the Christian overlords had to step in to set the women straight. Turns out that the "ladies" they're so desperate to keep as to engage in gruesome rampages, "are stupid and attracted to money....Believing that the Muslims were trying to wipe out Christians by converting them through marriage...[the elders] decided to punish the women. "If a woman gets caught with a Muslim man," Sunday said, "she must be forcibly brought back." Rhymes with "harsh interrogation techniques." "Gets caught" not "chooses."

This is bad. Very bad. It's the cover and it's the Atlantic, so it's a hefty, illuminating and worrying read. You shouldn't miss it. Here's the intro:

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From the Atlantic:

It was an ordinary soccer pitch: sparse tufts of grass and reddish soil surrounded by cinder-block homes. The two candidates stood on opposite sides of the field as the people of Yelwa, a town of 30,000 in central Nigeria, lined up behind them one May morning in 2002 to vote. Whoever had more supporters would lead the town's council. And whoever led the council would control the certificates of indigeneship: the papers certifying that Yelwa was their home, and that they had a right there to land, jobs, and scholarships. Between the iron goalposts milled ethnic Jarawa, principally Muslim merchants and herders; next to them were the Tarok and Goemai, predominantly farmers and Christians. For several years, their hereditary tribal chief, a Christian, had refused certificates of indigeneship to Muslims no matter how long they'd lived in Yelwa. Without the certificates, the Muslims were second-class citizens.

As the two groups waited in the heat to be counted, the meeting's tone soured. "You could feel the tension in the air," Abdullahi Abdullahi, a 55-year-old Muslim lawyer and community leader, said later. A tall, thin man with a space between his two front teeth and shoulders hunched around his ears in perpetual apology, he was helping to direct the crowd that day. No one knows what happened first. Someone shouted arna -- "infidel" -- at the Christians. Someone spat the word jihadi at the Muslims. Someone picked up a stone. "That was the day ethnicity disappeared entirely, and the conflict became just about religion," Abdullahi said. Chaos broke out, as young people on each side began to throw rocks. The candidates ran for their lives, and mobs set fire to the surrounding houses.

After that episode, the Christians issued an edict that no Christian girl could be seen with a Muslim boy. "We had a problem of intermarriage," Pastor Sunday Wuyep, a church leader in Yelwa, told me on the first of two visits I made in 2006 and 2007. "Just because our ladies are stupid and attracted to money," he sighed. Economics lay at the heart of the enmity between the two groups: as merchants and herders, the Muslim Jarawa were much wealthier than the Christian Tarok and Goemai. But Pastor Sunday, like many others of his faith, felt that Muslims were trying to wipe out Christians by converting them through marriage. "It's scriptural, this fight," he said. So he and the other elders decided to punish the women. "If a woman gets caught with a Muslim man," Sunday said, "she must be forcibly brought back." The decree turned out to be a call to vigilante violence as patrols of young men, both Christian and Muslim, took to the streets. What eventually transpired, in the name of religion, was a kind of Clockwork Orange.

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