BY Festus Adedayo
A little over a week ago, on a Qatar Airways flight journeying to Doha, city of the current World Cup fiesta, I saw a film which clearly depicts the raging back-and-forth arguments between the Arab World and the West. A Betty Kathungu-Furet film, The Medicine Man is a Kenyan Swahili movie subtitled in English. It has as one of its major themes, the danger of orthodoxy and the barrier that a stagnated belief constitutes to human progress.
Lead character, Ben Muriithi, a medical doctor working in the State Hospital in Nairobi, hails from a family line of traditional healers as his great-great grandfather, great grandfather, grandfather and even father were respected traditional healers. He returns to his Embu village and to his Njoka family on research into herbal and alternate medicine, only to find out that Gicovi, his cousin and herbalist, has been given permission by the Njoka family to continue in the family herbal healing line, at his own expense, the direct descendant of these herbal greats.
Gicovi has, over the years, totally conquered the minds of Embu people with traditional African medical healing remedy. Spiced with witchcraft and sorcery, due to their quick returns of cash in Kenya, Gicovi’s healing, in most instances, is incapable of bringing succor to the health challenges of the people. With Gicovi’s ailing son, Eli used by Dr. Muriithi to demonstrate the power of the white man’s healing power, the medical doctor fights, tooth and nail, with the help of his lady nurse friend, Weruma and Nguo, the stammerer – who kept neutralizing Gicovi with his tantrums – and the buy-in of Beth, Gicovi’s wife, to conquer this traditional medicine’s long orthodox hold on the minds of the people. His bid to rescue his people from dying of treatable diseases and the conflict in his deployment of same traditional herbal treatment in the process reflects hypocrisy and a non-acceptance of tolerance, understanding and hybridization as basis of a modern world.
The FIFA World Cup is unarguably the hugest sport event of the world. Over three and a half billion people were said to have watched its previous tournament on television, a figure that approximates about half of the entire world population. Since Qatar announced that it would not open shebeens for alcohol consumption during the football fiesta, this Arab country had become a subject of lacerating attacks, most especially from the West. Qatar went a step further in its “affront” to announce that, in the Arab world, LGBTQIA+, an abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and more, was an anathema which the World Cup will not justify on its land. LGBTQIA+ has gained ascendancy in the western world to describe the borderless spectrum of human freedom which guarantees a person freedom to assert their sexual orientation or gender identity.
As the football fiesta went on at feverish pitch, news came of some dressing styles which the Qatari authorities outlawed. Without equivocation, Qatar banned its wearers from entering the stadia. A widely circulated footage of Three Lions supporters who were turned back from a stadium earlier had enjoyed widespread circulation online. The Irish Sun then carried the story of how Qatar banned England fans dressed as Saint George from World Cup stadiums, citing fears over “weapons and armour”. The costumes are traditional apparels that pay homage to England’s patron saint, the Christian knight Saint George. Some of the fans also dressed in “Crusaders” outfit. Crusading warriors, who are costumed in red and white heraldry of the Knights Templar, remind historically conscious people of their attempt to seize control of Jerusalem during the Middle Ages.
The basic argument by Qatari is that their western critics were basically hypocritical. While their most pervasive defence is that, while the West is diffident in its pursuit of the values that undergird its societies, it should allow Arabs the right to their basic values too. One respondent argued that in the Arab world, if a guest comes on a visit to a household, the guest is guided by the rules of the household, beginning from the rules of gourmet, what the host offers on the table and is bound to respect the host’s family and home values. If, per adventure, the guest finds these abhorrent, they are at liberty to leave.
“Qatari and Islam culture are against LGBTQ and you must respect that,” a Qatari began “You must also stop demands to be served pork in Qatar restaurants. Every individual is bounded (by) the law of any country where they are travelling as visitors or students; either it is Qatar or any other country. If Europeans want foreigners to obey their law, then (they) also need to obey the laws of other countr(ies) they are visiting.”
The exchange of brickbats has also afforded Qatari the opportunity of drilling down into the unflattering history of colonialism. References are made to “France who stole the wealth of Africa” and “America who made one million Iraqi suffer of hunger.” These are done in the bid to underscore the perceived hypocrisy behind the West’s frown at attempts to flout Arabian customs and tradition in Qatar. Fortunately, both the Middle East and the West are two big exporters of their cultures to the rest of the world. While Arabian culture and Islam are daily exported to the West, the West is also involved in a self-cancelling evangelism of its Christian religion, English language and culture to the East and the rest part of the earth. Thus, to many, these squabbles are mere attempts to evangelize their individual national interests.
The intolerance in Qatar signposts our world and has become the reality of our socio-political relationship in Nigeria. While we are liberty to remember the cruelty and injustices of the past, let us remember that the modern world will need mutual tolerance. The Yoruba, in their tolerance wisdom, will say alejo ojo meta ko soro gba, meaning that a guest whose stay with you is finite shouldn’t constitute a problem. What that means is that, as sacrifice to the god of tolerance, you must give and take, for the mutual comfort of the guest and host. This is why Qataris are at fault for not enduring the excesses of their guests within the period of the football festival, except if hosting the biggest sporting event in the world was to retaliate the several decades of “western hypocrisy.” Nobody has asked Qataris to give up their loath of pork, LGBTQ+s, alcohol, beliefs and thoughts but it should have been tolerant enough to let these be during the World Cup event. The world would be a greater place for all of us if we learn to live in acceptance of our variations.
To show that we all carry scars of guilt, even as we judge others, issues are being made of matters that arose since 12 years ago when this small Gulf country got the bid to host the world. One pertinent one is the 1000s migrant workers who died in the process of Qatar building the stadia and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup. Many of them were said to have lost their lives as a result of the sordid system of labour importation into Qatar known as Kafala, many of them from neighbouring Nepal. Kafala is mired in allegations of abuse, exploitation of the vulnerability of the workers by Qatar construction companies, poor and unsafe working conditions, which led to their deaths, alleged in thousands. What that means is that the blood of the world was shed for the Qatar gloat of hosting this biggest sporting event. The country has reportedly spent over $200 billion dollars on construction of World Cup stadia and ancillary infrastructure, most of which it sourced abroad due to the absence of native construction workers. In the process, it had to ship in massive workers who travelled to Qatar.
The West that came into Qatar with intent at showcasing its cultural hegemony, self-flaunt as mascot of everything good and self-appointed spokesperson for humanity was also liable to charge of cultural imperialism. We must all learn to respect people and their different and differing cultures. If you find yourself in Rome, so goes the ancient aphorism, you must do as Romans do. Qataris are also guilty of the charge of whataboutism. How can you deny the world of its freedom and then justify this shrinking of the world’s freedom into your tiny enclosure during the pendency of World Cup fiesta? And when you are asked why this, you slither into responding to these global accusations by making a counteraccusation and raising a different issue.
For us as Nigerians, there are a number of lessons to learn from the spat between Qatar and the west which transcend alcohol, LGTB or pork consumption. One is that, for the most expensive budget ever by any country committed by this tiny Arab country to host the World Cup, Qatar has come out with an unenviable record of being the fastest host to crash out of the fiesta. With its ouster, Qatar will perhaps learn to focus more on organization of the game than its fixation on the culture war it is waging with the west. It is interesting that though money can buy World Cup hosting rights, it however cannot purchase victory on the field where skills and ability talk, while money walks out. The second lesson for us is that Qatar, a tiny country of about 2.9million, stood against the giants of the world, unbent, while Nigeria still flaunts its over 200 million population as symbol of brunt. What or when is a big country?
I was confronted by a very queer spectacle last week. In pursuit of our obsession with playing the game of squash, my friend, Tayo Koleosho and I went for a very exerting squash session in Columbia. Outside of the court was this Asian woman barking out instructions to her 14-year-old boy who was being coached by one of America’s top squash players. She was livid each time the boy erred and many times, stormed into the court to tell the boy how he should play. I was told she paid a princely sum to register the boy for hourly squash sessions. Outside were positioned two cameras to record the boy’s progress and apparently, for the boy to watch thereafter and see his drawbacks.
I felt she was being too harsh on the boy and told my friend. Some Nigerian squash player friends also hopped into the session and thereafter, a discourse on tiger parenting, as is customary with Asian parents and especially mothers, as well as the elephant parenting, that many Nigerian patents have exemplified, came up. First, argued my friend, this Asian mother was convinced that her son would soon become a global squash icon. The cameras were meant to allow the world to see the graph of his mutation in future documentaries. This is unlike us in Africa where stars just happened on us as if they sprung from nowhere.
Second, he argued, the Tiger mom is more desirable than the model we have in Nigeria today. Don’t forget that Nigerian mothers were recently said to have constituted themselves into the association of mothers of scammers. Parents abet their wards in their asocial behaviour and some are recorded to bribe teachers and lecturers to make their wards pass school examinations. The Tiger mom is a very strict mother who gets her child to work very hard in school, and at other activities, such as music, so that they can be successful thereafter. The phrase was a coinage and description of the strict style of bringing up children that is renowned with parents in China and East Asia.
This counterpoises the Elephant mom, coined by Yale law professor Amy Chua, in her memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Explaining the terminology, it is said that elephant parents refer to ones “who believe that they need to nurture, protect, and encourage their children, especially when they’re still impressionable and very, very young.” While studies examining the two concepts show that the Tiger parenting can be harmful to children’s mental health and psychological well-being, it is what groomed many of the adults of today in positions of responsibility in Africa. Many of us still have scars of koboko and slaps from our parents while growing up. A study however submits that, in comparison to an Elephant mom which is a more supportive parenting style, adolescents of tiger parents “were more likely to feel depressed and alienated from their parents.”
In parenting, as well as other requirements of the social fabrics of a modern world, my own submission is that Africa must not discard a method that has stood it in good stead for centuries now. It is a method that is steeped in communal values. Yoruba break this down into granules by saying that oju merin lo bi’mo, igba oju lo nto, meaning that though a couple begets a child, the entire world is responsible for their siring. Following alien values of individualism of the western world that sire mechanistic offspring, Africa is neglecting communalism and Tiger parenting which produced children girded by values. It is why some mothers can be as audacious as to come out in the open to announce that they had formed an association of mothers of scammers.
On Thanksgiving Day, I visited my cousins, the Oluwalades of Akure, Ondo State, in Baltimore, Maryland. I was so excited at the communal spirit of this family. Thanksgiving being a holiday period, they yearly come together, from all parts of America, wherever they reside, in an amazing spirit of oneness that wowed me. At this meeting, Yoruba is spoken by all offspring and family members get to know one another. For me, it was an amazing spectacle.
What helps me to explain the Oluwalades in America is a book written by same Amy Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, who are both Yale university Law School professors, entitled, The Triple Heritage. The central argument in the book is that some ethnic groups starkly outperform the others due to their distinct cultural traits. These are what they call the superiority complex, sense of insecurity and impulse control factors. The Yoruba will call the first the mo omo eni ti iwo nse cultural complex – remember the son of whom you are. Like Mormons, from a religious perspective, Igbo and Yoruba exemplify this superiority complex. It is why these tribes from Nigeria are rated the most successful immigrants in America today. The social and financial anxieties of not going back to the poverty in Nigeria are reason for the second insecurity factor responsible for their successes, while the impulse control factor is the self-discipline we acquire while growing up. All these factors for success, which are fast receding, were created in us from growing up as Nigerians.
While we advocate an economic Eldorado and a prosperous Nigeria that may come at a God-knows-when, we must return to those values that will pad such Eldorado, if and when it comes. Let the Yoruba return to the values of respect for elders and communal living; the Igbo return to theirs and the Hausa too. Or else, we will, as we are fast doing now, morph into some Dracula, machines, without feeling, empathy and requisite values that can distinguish us in a fast-pacing world.