Friday Sermon: Of Fear, Ignorance and Truth

By Babatunde Jose

They will reject the truth and chase after myths. 2 Timothy 4:4

Abd al-Rahmān ibn ‘Awf said: “I heard the Messenger of Allāh (PBUH) say: “If you hear that (the plague) is in a land, do not go there, and if it breaks out in a land where you are, do not leave, fleeing from it.”

There is fear in the land: Fear of the raging and rampaging virus, its lethality and duration. All is not well with us, children are out of school and we know not when they will go back; jobs are already on the line and many are billed to join the already long unemployment queue when this is over; fathers are groaning and mothers are wriggling their hand for they know not where the next meal cometh from; the rich are crying as they are marooned, no more business travels or holidays, while some are stranded abroad; life is increasingly becoming cheap, nasty and brutish; like the sword of Damocles, Koro, Coronavirus, COVID-19, that dreaded virus is daily increasing its strength in our country and there is fear that it would soon pick up speed and gain the strength of a gale force wind; then it would be a great humanitarian disaster of calamitous proportion. So far we have been lucky and still counting the victims in hundred; but it started this way in other climes: February 21, Italy had only 21 cases which became 86,480 by March 27, 2020; United States also had 16 cases on February 21 and it climbed to 100,037 by March 27 and rose to 419,975 0n April 8, 2020.  These are countries that possess better healthcare facilities than us: And they do not have the sort of slums that are common in Africa: There are no Makokos, Tembisa, Rainbow Towns, Ajegunles and Ijeguns. Here, there are too many vulnerable communities that elicit fear in case the Pandemic make its catastrophic landfall. The dreaded Pandemic is no respecter of age, sex or position; neither does it exhibit racial or ethnic bias. It has visited prime ministers, ministers and plenipotentiary extraordinaire. It therefore elicits fear.

There is growing apprehension that the government’s effort in asking people to stay at home might not produce the desired effect as most people are observing the lockdown in the breech. This is particularly true of the communities in the urban conurbation and old tenements where the ubiquitous ‘face me I face you’ dwellings are common. Ordinarily, these are places where space is at a premium and only the strong survive. But most importantly, most live on a day by day basis. No daily work, no food on the table. Koro either kills them or they die of starvation. Words are oozing out from such places that they feel being punished by being lockdown for a disease they know nothing about and which was imported by the affluent who travel all over the world. This is where ignorance becomes a disease in itself.

The disease of ignorance of Covid-19 is not only among the poor, unenlightened and rural dwellers, it is worse among many of our elite who are supposed to be the beacon of education for the masses. It is particularly worrisome when an Oxford educated young man, former minister and legal practitioner (it’s doubtful if he is in practice) comes out openly to say that the Coronavirus is a machination of the Illuminati or such nonsense; hallmark of conspiracy theory about world domination. Whatever such books the fellow must have been reading and believing has lain to waste all the expensive education his parents gave him. If Covid-19 is product of conspiracy of man and Satan, what would they make of SARS2 and other viruses that have plagued man in recent past? If our former minister were alone, we could have discounted his ranting but when supposedly ministers of God preach the same type of unreason, then there is danger ahead.

In his Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) Karl Popper heralded an era of conspiracy. This mode of political thought and literary activity has flourished and budded to unprecedented proportions during the years following the Second World War, becoming richer and more imaginative, than its previous, predominantly political incarnations. These contemporary postmodern narratives are quite often imbued with extra-terrestrial and religious undertones and, like the gods of Homeric Greece, the modern-day conspirators are felt, but rest unseen, their presence more inferred than properly corroborated, and their motives always transcendent and sublime. “The gods are abandoned. But their place is filled with powerful men, or groups.”  It is this substrate which the contemporary conspiracy discourse blossoms from. Most of them can no longer be divorced from the political and spiritual. The Marxian axiomatic of the class struggle is particularly well suited to be incorporated into the conspiracy discourses, as the antagonism between the oppressors and the oppressed forms the basic binary framework around which contemporary conspiracy narratives are woven. Furthermore, the informational disorientation plaguing the western world in the post-modern era, only exacerbated with the launching of the internet (an integrally participatory medium) and the ubiquitous social media has only further destabilized the semiotic field in which the individual finds herself. The latter half of the twentieth century all the way until the present day has been rife with talk of conspiracy. From McCarthy’s ‘Red Scare’ politics, through to the assassination of JFK, up until the recent past events, like 9/ 11 or the earthquakes in Haiti; next o the official narrative there winds the alternate narrative of the conspiracy discourse. The claims of these partisan trains of thought are often chaotic, highly contentious, and improbable; and yet, they manage to garner an audience which becomes fascinated with its grandiose claims. A creeping tendency towards a paranoid, conspiracist view of global events has become somewhat of a pop phenomenon. There is therefore an immediate need for mass education and sensitization of our people on the debacle of this Koro lest they are misled by these unscrupulous ‘conspiracists’.

We have a serious problem on our hands dictated by geography and economic conditions but importantly from our so-called intelligentsia who behave not too intelligently. There have been all sorts of conspiracy theories on the social media concerning the current Pandemic, the worst of them is that linking Coronavirus to the coming 5G mobile network currently being tested all over the civilized world. Unfortunately people are so gullible into believing most information on the social media that they accept them as gospel. The latest is that people who move near the mast of 5G networks would collapse and die; Haba! Unfortunately for the harbingers of fake news, the 5G network will not be using the same type of masts that we are used to because of its peculiarities. There is too much false information being peddled on the social media concerning the Coronavirus pandemic.  This is where the government information machinery needs to be put into gear 6; even to the point of disseminating it on social media to counter a lot of the misinformation going on.

Finally there is the issue of distribution of palliatives in form of foodstuff and money to the less privileged. The miserliness of what is being distributed calls for a rethink of the whole exercise. “We should also be mindful of the social conditions in our society and the level of deprivation many have had to endure. Care should be taken to ensure that the economic pressures that necessitate the growing resistance to the lockdown do not graduate into anti-poverty uprisings which will be harder to suppress”, wrote Segun Adeniyi. There are talks that some smart officials are making brisk business with it. There is also the matter of some unscrupulous politicians making political mileage out of the exercise; like the Speaker of a State House of Assembly distributing bread with his name printed on the bread label or rice bag. Unfortunately, this is not the time or place for political shenanigan. There is danger ahead and who knows who will be available to reap the political dividend in the end.

“The fear and unfounded conspiracy theories being peddled on WhatsApp are our near and present danger, not 5G,” said Ifedayo Olarinde Aka Daddy Freeze.

Barka Juma’at and Happy Easter

PostScript: It happened two thousand and twenty years ago in Palestine when a young itinerant preacher and faith healer was dubbed a trouble maker and accused of calling himself the ‘son of God’, was summarily crucified by the Romans outside the gates of Jerusalem. That man, today is the central figure of one of the biggest religions in the world; Christianity. His name was Yeshua but he is better known as Jesus. In 325 AD The Council of Nicaea convened by Roman Emperor Constantine, decreed that Easter should be observed on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox; that was three hundred and twenty-five years after the crucifixion, resurrection and ‘accession’ to heaven and his subsequent deification.

The documentation of the new religion was completed 68 years after the Council of Nicaea, going by a letter written by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria listing the 27 books of the New Testament. The New Testament was first formally canonized during the Councils of Hippo (393) and later Council of Carthage (397).

Today as we celebrate Good Friday let us remember the Ultimate act of  Forgiveness when Jesus was hanging on the cross, bloody and bruised; humiliated, flesh ripped open as he was beaten and mocked with the crown of thorns.  Completely drained, he was finally nailed to the cross, alive.  After all of these, Jesus called out to God saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).  If there was ever a moment in history where someone deserved a “free-pass” on forgiveness, this was it.  May we all strive to forgive everyone as we pray to God to forgive us.

Happy Easter!  


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