You’ve probably seen the video of racist-tram-woman ranting at “non-English” people on a tram in South London; it went viral yesterday, culminating in the woman’s arrest. The arrest was predictably followed by moronic screams about attacks on free speech or authoritarianism. But the woman’s behaviour was clearly within the definition of hate speech, and was clearly upsetting to those she chose as targets. It also came close to inciting a violent response. It was a textbook example of why hate laws exist.
People who have never experienced such an attack may have difficulty understanding how it feels to be on the receiving end. As I’ve mentioned before, I have experience of being a “visible minority”, to use the politically correct terminology. At my London school, I was among a white minority of around 10%. Through my adult life, largely because of choices I’ve made, I’m often in a minority of one among black people. And black crowds are no more enlightened in their treatment of minorities than white crowds are.
I experienced something very similar to yesterday’s incident, a few years ago on the Subway in Brooklyn. I was the only white person on my train carriage; this didn’t strike me as weird or frightening, as I’m used to being in that position. Nothing happened until I caught the eye of a man staring at me; my natural response was to nod in greeting, to which his reaction was to scream at me: Who the fuck you looking at, you White Bastard? My initial response was rage, then a mixture of fear and embarrassment. In London, I’d know how to respond, but in New York, I didn’t know where I stood. Unlike the other passengers in the South London tram incident, nobody on that train stood up for me. Every coward or racist on that carriage found something else to stare at. If there’s a shred of comfort from the London video, it is that people stood up to the racist bully; London 1, New York 0.
There’s no such thing as “reverse racism”; it’s a myth. Racism is racism, and it’s always moronic. The idea (that I’ve heard from liberals at times) that racism directed at white people is somehow more excusable due to the actions of other white people towards other black people at other times is ludicrous. Because some other white people were/are guilty of “oppressing” some other black people somewhere else doesn’t make my skin colour a valid target of hatred.
I’ve experienced racism many times – usually in subtle forms. Walking with a black woman in London, New York or Accra I have been met with confrontational stares from passing men. My only option as a man on the receiving end is to puff out my chest and stare back. To look down, to back down increases the risk of an attack escalating. This can become tiring; it drains you, makes you angry, makes you start to misjudge people’s attention and see racism where there isn’t any. Those black and Asian people on the London tram have all faced racial aggression before – probably not so overt, but nonetheless, it’s hardly a novel experience for any of them to know that a person dislikes them for their skin colour or accent. I fully understand the reaction of the young black man who rose to respond; but was glad that he was persuaded to sit down again.
People have the right to ride a tram or walk the streets without facing aggression. The moronic woman broke hate laws and it’s right that she was arrested. A failure to react condones the behaviour; at a time when racism and nationalism are on the rise, failing to deal with hate crimes will inevitably result in the crimes multiplying and becoming more serious.
The same applies to hate speech everywhere; for example, South Africa too is experiencing increased racial tension, not just against the white minority but against foreign blacks too. South African minorities need hate laws to be enforced every bit as much as (or perhaps even more than) minorities in the UK need protecting. So do minorities in Rwanda, where hate laws (for obvious reasons) are ruthlessly enforced. Racism is a universal problem, affecting minorities of every race, tribe, religion and colour. To protest that arresting the tram moron was an attack on free speech is simply moronic.
I try to maintain a global perspective in my moron-watching, but that’s difficult: just trying to keep track of moronic activity in Europe and the US is hard enough. However, Africa is a continent that has always held great fascination for me, and I’ve enjoyed travelling to a number of countries there. Sub-Saharan Africa is a wonderful place to travel. Sadly, the Western media is interested in reporting little other than famine and war in Africa, ignoring most of the other 99% of happenings there. The BBC used to produce an excellent radio programme/podcast called This Week In Africa, which gave a good, weekly overview of African events – sadly that was lost to the UK government’s moronic austerity measures.
Focusing on African morons may make some liberals uneasy; because African heritage is deeply entwined with racial issues in the West, many will miss the obvious: Africa itself isn’t a racial issue. Furthermore, the politically-correct version of African history tries to explain away every failing of Africa by blaming colonialism. Colonialism did represent resource-theft on a huge scale, and the colonial “scramble for Africa” carve-up by European powers created long-term political headaches that still rumble on; yet the colonial era (approx 1880s to 1960s) was also an unprecedented time of development for the continent, during which the population increased around sixfold and the continent’s great cities of today were born. The “it’s all our fault” school of Western liberal thought is a fine piece of subtle racism; while white supremacists like to say everything good in Africa is a foreign import, liberals say everything bad is. In reality, Africa is capable of both success and failure without our help. Africa is rich in many resources, but perhaps one of its most abundant resources is bad leadership; if moronic and crazy leaders were tradeable currency, Africa could be the wealthiest continent on Earth.
Africans themselves generally have a clear view about where their problems originate: after all, they are the ones who are daily extorted of money by the police, who face discrimination based on which ethnic group they belong to, who struggle to make a living at the roadside while their politicians drive past in fleets of expensive SUVs, who see their countries’ resources skimmed off into Swiss bank accounts. A Sierra Leonean businessman I met was refreshingly straightforward about his country’s problems: “Our leaders are a bunch of illiterate savages”.
The African story isn’t just the gloomy tale of war and famine that’s dripped out through our media. Despite a handful of countries that can truly be said to be “basket cases”, the average African economy is growing at a very healthy pace. Schooling is becoming ever-more standard, and literacy is growing fast. The lack of good communications across the continent has been rapidly solved by the arrival of mobile telephony, with mobile phone ownership approaching levels seen in developed countries. Africa’s final hurdle is to improve its governance. African countries will no doubt soon experience their own civil rights era; with more educated and demanding populations than ever before, we can expect, within a few years, to see black Africa rise up in pursuit of better leadership, as we’ve seen in North African and Arab countries this year.
So here is a brief tribute to a few of Africa’s moron leaders – those people who by theft, suppression of free speech or just downright idiocy, are slowing Africa’s emergence into the developed world.
Robert Mugabe is the perfect example of a revolutionary hero who turned out not to be such a great national leader once the revolution was won. Mugabe served over 10 years in prison during the struggle against white minority rule. In power since the formation of Zimbabwe in 1980, Mugabe quickly revealed his moron credentials by attacking his opponents and committing mass-murder against a tribal minority, the Matebele. Gradually, Zimbabwean opposition was crushed. Mugabe then set out on a populist land-grab from white farmers, handing land to his friends and supporters, with the result that harvests failed and a once-prosperous country fell into poverty. Indeed, hunger is a favourite weapon used by Mugabe against his enemies. Despite being electorally defeated, Mugabe refuses to let go of power, and will remain until death (he’s 87), or until his ZANU-PF cronies finally find the guts to depose him.
Traditional “medicine” and superstitions are rife in Africa, and this extends even to the ruling classes. Nelson Mandela’s successor in South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, allowed himself to be convinced that AIDS wasn’t related to the HIV virus, and acted to prevent antiretrovirals from being made widely available, despite South Africa having the world’s worst AIDS epidemic. After several years, Mbeki’s stance was overruled, and antiretrovirals were made available, but only after an estimated 365,000 people had died due to his ignorance. Mbeki’s successor Jacob Zuma showed himself to be no more enlightened about AIDS when, standing trial for rape, he revealed he’d had unprotected sex with a woman he knew to be HIV positive, and had showered afterwards to “protect himself”.
Resentment between African tribes has often been hugely exacerbated by the hasty drawing of post-independence borders as European colonial rulers left and African leaders replaced them. Every African country is ethnically divided to some extent, and leaders (elected or not) will often represent their own group rather than the national interest. It’s hardly surprising then that African leaders tend to use power to discriminate against rival tribes, which in turn heightens tensions and makes conflict and genocide more likely. This happened most starkly in 1994 in Rwanda, where the minority Tutsi ruling group was suddenly turned upon by resentful Hutus, resulting in the loss of around 800,000 lives.
In Kenya, the 2008 elections collapsed into ethnic violence between the dominant Kikuyu tribe and others; political leaders on both sides were accused of stoking the violence for political gain.
Sierra Leone has racist laws on the statute that prevent any non-native from being born a Sierra Leonean citizen, however many generations his family may have lived in the country.
Africa’s most multiracial country, but also a fragile one, is South Africa; a Cameroonian man recently told me of his difficult experience working in South Africa, saying that black South Africans were the most racist people he’d ever encountered, especially against other black people. South Africa’s ANC leaders have generally been careful to tackle racism, seeing the danger it could cause to such a diverse country, but recently a leading ANC figure, Julius Malema, was convicted of hate speech after leading the singing in public of a song that advocated “killing Boers”. So far, South Africa is largely peaceful and politically stable, with the ANC easily winning every election. But with growing anger against ANC corruption, and the rise of an opposition party led by a white woman, watch out for more race-baiting coming from the ANC as its monopoly on power becomes weaker.
Africa is perhaps the worst place to be gay. While homophobia is widespread pretty much everywhere on earth, African laws against homosexuality tend to be the most draconian, and the most enthusiastically implemented. Liberals often try to blame this on the West, pointing out that many of these laws originate from the colonial era, and that African homophobes are enthusiastically supported by American Christians, but that’s a subtle piece of liberal racism which assumes Africans wouldn’t know how to be homophobic by themselves. The laws may descend from colonial times, but then so do almost all sub-Saharan African legal systems. African homophobia is homegrown. Europe has now abandoned its homophobic legislation, but African nations (with the laudable exception of South Africa) seem to show no enthusiasm in doing likewise.
If one country can sum up the greatest hopes and worst fears for Africa’s future, it’s Nigeria. A large, federal nation of 36 states and 155m people, it has oil reserves that bring huge revenue flows into the country. Unfortunately, much of that is embezzled within the corrupt political system, and rapidly exits the country again. Nigeria has the wealth to build good education, healthcare and electricity infrastructures for its people; but has largely failed to do so. By rights, given its mineral wealth and human resources, Nigeria should be ready for a place in the G20; but that is a distant dream.
A figure that best illustrates Nigeria’s problems is the salary paid to its politicians. Incredibly, while three-quarters of the population lives on less than $2 per day, Nigeria’s elected representatives earn around $1,500,000 per year (no, that’s not a typo: I really said $1.5m), and are the world’s highest paid politicians. By contrast, US politicians earn around one-sixth that amount. This huge reward for winning elections helps explain the corrupt and violent mess that is Nigerian politics – and the perks of political life go far beyond the salary.
Nigeria’s economy is growing and the country is becoming more wealthy. But unless its wealth is shared among the population, the nation risks falling back into bloodshed. No country can have a stable existence with the world’s worst poverty sitting alongside enormous wealth. And the oil won’t last forever; if the proceeds are not invested wisely, Nigeria could see catastrophe as production goes into decline. If Nigeria destabilises, the entire West African region, and beyond, would be flooded with refugees and collapse into chaos. Probably more than any other country, Nigeria is key to Africa’s future.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, a rising power, and a land of huge complexity, its population comprising around 250 ethnic groups. The country has huge oil reserves and an economy growing at Chinese-type speed; at its current rate of development, Nigeria stands to become a global power within decades. In surveys, Nigeria generally ranks as the world’s most religious country, with its population roughly evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Religion in Nigeria is one of its fastest-growing industries and is hugely competitive, especially in the wealthier Christian-dominated south. Nigeria’s demographics and history make for the evolution of bizarre new strains of Christianity; despite the country’s growing wealth, inequality is extreme, and most Nigerians still live in poverty. Education has yet to reach the majority – only about 30% of Nigerians receive secondary education; and despite the dominance of non-African religions, most people still hold on to traditional beliefs in juju (black magic) and witchcraft.
Additional to the home market, Nigeria’s large and wealthy diaspora are also targets of the religion biz, with large international church networks blossoming.
These factors make for a population that’s deeply susceptible to superstitious beliefs, and a large number of religious preachers who are willing to exploit the ignorant for huge financial rewards. The religion business is so lucrative that Forbes maintain a rich-list list of the wealthiest Nigerian pastors.
Nigeria’s pastors preach a kind of anti-Christianity known as Prosperity Theology, which promises not just eternal salvation but wealth on Earth too; this is (understandably) hugely popular, despite contradicting the traditional Christian idea of wealth and inequality being evils. The sight of the rich extracting money from those who can’t afford it is ugly enough, but much darker practises also take place. Given the cost of medicine to ordinary Nigerians, and the belief in juju, many preachers offer cures for cash. This practise was most recently revealed to be taking place in London, where three AIDS sufferers in the congregation of one of Nigeria’s wealthiest pastors, TB Joshua, are reported to have died after stopping their HIV treatments.
And it gets worse: three years ago, a documentary called Nigeria’s Witch Children was shown on UK Channel 4. This revealed horrendous and widespread abuse of children labelled as witches. While this happened because of traditional superstition, it was stirred up on a large scale by wealthy pastors who were selling “exorcisms” to their poor victims.
We’re used to thinking of missionaries as Europeans who go to preach in Africa. Now the flow is reversing – the Nigerian pastors are coming!
O is for Omnipresence
Once upon a time, God was a physical being who lived somewhere. In a primitive, tribal world where few people strayed far from their home village, that made sense; people could believe that a god or gods could be found on an island they’d never visit, across a sea they’d never cross, or up a mountain they’d never climb. Primitive gods aren’t fluffy, undetectable things like those of today; they have substance, appearance and location, and can be called upon at will to prove their existence. Moses, for example, was able to climb Mount Sinai (alone) to meet God and collect the tablets containing the ten commandments.
As people began travelling further afield, God became more elusive. The atheist rapper Greydon Square (who you should seek out if you enjoy intelligent hip-hop) said the following in the track Mission Statement on his album, The CPT Theorem:
I love how the gods used to live in the mountains, and when we moved to the mountains and never found them, then they went and moved to the sky, then we moved to the sky, but we didn’t find them there, and you’re wondering why.
… thus summarising the religious problem nicely. God is always to be found just beyond our reach. The heavens were once “up there” in the sky. But when mankind insisted on inventing flying machines and space rockets, heaven, like God, became an abstract, elusive thing. So if God is no longer somewhere, he must be everywhere – how else could he hear our prayers, check that we go to church or see us sin?
Omnipresence is only a temporary refuge for God. Having evolved from a physical being who intervenes in our affairs to a wispy cloud-thing who generally leaves us alone, he becomes a soft target for scientific reasoning, which grows stronger all the time. Of course, the power is still in the hands of the believers. All they need do to prove their case is provide evidence of God’s existence – and presumably they have some hidden away somewhere, ready to reveal at the right moment.