The Nigerian media’s deafening silence over the recent kidnapping of Muslim children and their forced conversion to Christianity is indicative of its institutional Islamophobia, writes Suleiman Ahmed.
If you can convince a man that he has no roots, history or civilisation, then he will think of himself exactly as you have described him. He will be incapable of defining himself and will only be capable of accepting the label which you have given him — that of an uncivilised savage only fit to be a slave.
The renowned African American scholar, Dr Carter Godwin Woodson, in his book, ‘The Miseducation of the Negro’, said:
“If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks, you do not have to worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status; he will do so without being told, and if you can make a man believe that he is justly an outcast, you don’t have to order him to the back door, he will go to the back door on his own, and if there is no back door, the very nature of the man will demand that you build one”.
This was why one of the first things the European slavers did to the African captives was to change their names, religion and culture. For the only thing that separates a man from an animal or an uncivilised savage is his sense of worth, history, religion, culture and roots.
Enslaved Muslim children
History is repeating itself once again in northern Nigeria, this time, not by European slavers but by a Nigerian criminal gang who have been responsible for the abduction of at least 47 young Muslim children. These poor children are being kidnapped, forcefully converted to Christianity, their names changed, and then sold into a life of misery and slavery.
The Nigerian police have been uncovering several of these cases, and some of the children have been freed and are waiting to be reunited with their families.
One of the rescued kids is Muhammed Yau Muhammed, who was six-years-old when he was kidnapped from his home town in the city of Kano. He was sold into slavery and forcefully converted to Christianity. His abductors, Paul Onwe, and his wife, Mercy, who have now been arrested, were also responsible for the kidnapping and forceful conversion to Christianity of nine other rescued Muslim children.
The lack of media coverage of this tragic and despicable occurrence is not only shameful, but also demonstrates how deeply Islamophobic and indifferent to Muslim sufferings the Nigerian media is.
A few years ago, a Muslim teenager ran away with his Christian girlfriend from Yenagoa, a Christian dominated city in the south of Nigeria, to Kano, a Muslim dominated city in the north. The girl, out of her own free will, accepted Islam, and instead of reporting the matter as it was, – which was, at worst, that of an older male taking advantage of a much younger female, an offence punishable by law in Nigeria – the Nigerian media decided to run the news as one of “Islamisation” – one of abduction, forced marriage, and the conversion of a young, naive Christian girl to Islam.
The most irresponsible media outlets even went further to imply that it was a ploy by the Muslims to slowly “Islamise” the country through the abduction, forced marriages and conversion of their little girls. The Nigerian media ran with this toxic narrative, and subsequently an onslaught of online attacks on Islam and Muslims ensued for weeks.
In stark contrast, there has been pin drop silence from the Nigerian media about the recent kidnappings and forceful conversions of Muslim children to Christianity – had the perpetrators been Muslim, rest assured it would have dominated headlines and prime time TV.
Enslaving young children and forcing them to convert to another religion is a heinous crime with absolutely no cultural or monetary justification. Therefore, the silence and indifference of the Nigerian media is inexcusable and unequivocally condemnable.
The need for Muslim media
The Nigerian and international mainstream media is largely controlled by a well-oiled Islamophobic machine – aggressively pursuing what clearly seems like an anti-Muslim agenda.
Just like the western media, the Nigerian media exaggerates crimes perpetrated by Muslims, and under-reports, or at times chooses to completely ignore stories where the perpetrators are Christian and the victims are Muslim. The dominant media narrative around Nigerian Muslims for many years has been one of dehumanisation, one which is synonymous with violence, extremism and cultural repressiveness.
As the African proverb goes, “Until the lion learns to tell his own story, the story of the hunt will continue to glorify the hunter.” Therefore, the need for independent Muslim media outlets with an Islamic ethos, which will be committed to pursuing truth and justice is greatly needed in Nigeria – our stories and struggles need to be told through our own lens. Relying on an institutionally Islamophobic mainstream media to report fairly and accurately about Islam and Muslims has only proven to cause harm.
This is not a call for a Muslim – Christian divide, nor a North – South one. Rather, it is a call to build a bridge of balance, through reputable news reporting, that will serve as a window to the Muslim dominated north for the common people in the Christian south. It is a well-known fact that theirs is an over concentration of large media houses in south Nigeria, and very few in the north, which is inevitably resulting in an imbalance and bias in the way events are being reported.
The western media, namely the BBC and CNN controlled the narrative of the Muslims of the Middle East and North Africa until Al-Jazeera took gradually took over. Now, that balance is slowly shifting. So, calling for more northern based, Muslim controlled media outlets in Nigeria is not unreasonable – it’s well overdue. Rather, it is a noble call that will have great strategic benefits for Muslims in the north of Nigeria by countering and debunking the years of misinformation and propaganda spread in Christian-dominated south, thereby facilitating a better understanding between the two regions and the two faith communities.