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06 November 2013

The Clash of Civilizations: Africa And The Arab World

Feature Article of Friday, 18 October 2013
Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis

The Clash of Civilizations: Africa And The Arab World

Let’s get to work:

A Yoruba friend, a Moslem, once told us Moslems who successfully manage to get through the inquisitional gridlock of Judgment Day will speak only Arabic with Allah. His native tongue, Yoruba, he also told us, shall not be spoken in heaven. “After all, Yoruba is not a language of the heavens!” he added. Allah didn’t create Yoruba! Call it the colonization of the African mind!

We recently got wind that an aspiring Ghanaian presidential candidate wants to go to Europe to seek the “face of God” whether or not to join a certain party’s 2016 flag-bearership. What is this “face of God” that can’t be seen or discovered in Ghana, in Africa? Our aspiring presidential candidates and presidential incumbents go to places as far away as the so-called Middle East to pray at the Wailing Wall and Ka’ba. Can’t we build millions of Wailing Walls and Ka’bas right here in Ghana, in Africa? Well, that’s a personal choice. Oh Africa, what have you done wrong?

Expectedly, what the great agamous God of Africa has to say in all these, the psychological and cultural dislocations of Africa, is yet to be made public by our traditional priests? Indeed, we’re interested in knowing more about the cultural spiritology of Africa from the perspective of our God. For instance, we will like to know how the great God of Africa feels about why the Jewish God prefers the Jew to the Moslem, the Christian, the “pagan” African, and the God of Africa; why the Christian God prefers the Christian to the Moslem, the God of Africa, the Jew, and the “pagan” African; why the Moslem God Allah prefers the Moslem to the Christian, the “pagan” African, the Jew, and the God of Africa; and why all three religions reject the “pagan” African and the God of Africa!

If everybody else rejects and disowns us, why don’t we learn to embrace ourselves, accept each other in the warmth of each other’s arms? Remarkably, the European calls the “black man” nigger and the Arab “abd” or “Haratin.” We call each other “tribe.” Yet the foundational scaffolding of both the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the Arab Trans-Saharan Slave Trade was erected on Talmudic exegesis, to wit, the Curse of Blackness, the ideological harbinger of black enslavement.

The idea that the intellectual culture of Africa benefited from Islamization is woefully inadequate. Interestingly, in Black Egypt the Arab or Arabized Moslems happened upon a wealth of ancient Egyptian knowledge, thousands of years old, in 7th Century A.D.E. This store of knowledge had been Black Africa’s since the beginning of historical time, then later appropriated and expanded upon by the Greeks, and, subsequently, by Muslimized Arabs. Some scholars like Kwame Anthony Appiah have implied that the superiority of Islamic culture to traditional African culture and values may have driven the psycho-cultural speediness with which Africa embraced Islam in the first place. How disingenuous! There was no Greek Miracle!

This question of Arabized appropriation of ancient African intellectual and cultural ideas is hardly the subject matter of Islamic epistemology, historical sociology, and historiography! Even the Egyptian Marxist scholar, Amin Samir, conveniently avoids the question in his book “Eurocentrism.” However, Ivan Van Sertima, Josef Ben-Jochannan, Cheikh Anta Diop, and Molefi Kete Asante, et al, have addressed the conscious intellectual avoidance of the question. Also, the British orientalist and archaeologist Stanley Lane-Pool takes up the question in “The Moors in Spain.”

It’s also important at this juncture to separate Black Arabians, the original inhabitants of Arabia, from Semitized Arabians (See Sertima’s “Golden Age of the Moor,” “African Presence in Early Asia”; Diop’s “African Origins of Civilizations: Myth or Reality” and “Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology”; Herodotus “The Histories”; and Martin Bernal’s triumvirate volumes “Black Athena”). “Arab people’re a pan-ethnicity of peoples of various ancestral origins, religious backgrounds and historic identities, who identify as Arabs on one or more linguistic, cultural, political, genealogical grounds. People who identify as Arabs often have a multiplicity of identities…However, because of the classification of whiteness which is sensitive to consanguinity, religion, politics and culture, some Arabs are non-white politically and socially while being white physically…The first written historical occurrence of the term “Arab” occurs in an Assyrian inscription of 853 B.C.E…” writes Alik Shahadah in “The History of Arab Slavery in Africa.”

During an international conference dubbed “Decolonizing Our Universities,” held in Penang, Malaysia, 2011, the question of Arab colonization and enslavement of Africans came up. “Apparently we’ve been focusing too much on one colonizer, meaning, the bad guys who came from Europe…I think there was an earlier colonizer, the Arab Muslims. I think we’ve to decolonize from the influences of these two colonizers,” said one of the participating scholars. “Right now you may understand the situation in the Sudan,” says Dr. Asante in response.

Dr. Asante continues: “Actually next week, on the ninth, South Sudan would be becoming an independent country. The big debate among African intellectuals that I see on the internet is the great fear that you’d have Arab colonization of Africa. But of course Ali Marzrui, a good colleague and friend of mine, once said to me: ‘How long do you have to be in a country for it to be your country or how long do you have to be on a continent for it to be your continent…You’re perfectly correct that when people write about, for example, the enslavement of Africans they’ve to consider the Arab Slave Trade along with the European Slave Trade, because two slave trades came out of Africa, one to the East and of course one to the West. Having said all of these, though, I think that the notion of decolonization that has really affected Africa most immediately has been the European situation because it’s been much more, I believe, against the interest of African people and much more brutal…I guess one cannot compare one brutality against the other…”

“Libya calls itself Arab Jamahiriya,” began Dr. Shadrack Gutto of South Africa, a “Decolonizing Our Universities” conferee, “it’s Arab socialist…Is it Arab or is it African Arab? These are very fundamental political and knowledge areas of construction. Why does Libya call itself ‘Libya Socialist Arab Jamahiriya’? Just to say sometimes Kaddafi vies his Arab side and sometimes he’s the ‘King of Africa.’ So, we’ve his contestation of identity in Africa. And I think it is one area our scholarship needs to look very carefully.”

The notional archeology of Dr. Gutto’s observation on the situational crisis of “African identity” vis-à-vis the genetic and cultural Arabization of Africa has been taken up by other scholars as well as by ordinary commentators. “This is the case with two African nations, Sudan and Mauritania,” writes Dr. Asante in “Genocide in Sudan,” adding: “In those countries there’s established a dichotomy between Arab and African, between Islam and African Religions. This division is sharpened by appeals to biology, to physical looks, though many times I have been unable to distinguish the so-called Arab from the African.”

Wole Soyinka writes: “Often indistinguishable in complexion, bound together by the same religion, the violators view themselves as beings of a slave-owning pedigree, a distinction that takes its authority from none other than the consistently obscured, evaded, or deodorized history of pre-European (Arab) slave commerce on the African continent (“Of Africa,” page 65).

Harvard University’s Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s late ‘90s televised PBS series, “Wonders of the African World,” showcased families of Black Africans from Zanzibar claiming exclusive Arab ancestry! “The Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness,” Marcus Garvey once said. Gates should have reminded the “black” Zanzibarbarians of Garvey’s maxim. But he didn’t. Unfortunately, Gates himself has serious problems with his identity, what, in other words, some scholars refer to as Du Boisian “double consciousness.”

In fact, Gates sees himself as “Black Irish.” “On March 9, 2010, Gates claimed on the Oprah Winfrey Show that he and Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer in the Cambridge incident, share a common ancestor, an ancestral Irish king, Niall of the Nine Hostages (Wikipedia).” As he was wont to do, he avoided talking about his Yoruba ancestry. We’ve always wondered what his Cambridge University thesis adviser Wole Soyinka, himself a Yoruba, has to say about this!

“I am going to stop calling you a white man and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man,” Morgan Freeman tells 60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace (Wikipedia). Yet Oprah was happy when Gates revealed to her that she was part Kpelle (Liberia), part Bamikeke (Cameroon) and part Nkoya (Zambia); on the other hand, Quincy Jones, one of America’s, in fact, of the world’s, greatest music prodigies is of Tikar (Cameroon) ethnicity! The entire world knows how proverbially musical the Tikars are! Call it the indurability of creative African genetics!

Back to “Decolonizing Our Universities”: “The Arab Muslims after entering Africa didn’t create “backward” or “underdeveloped” Africa, but created a university called Al-Azhar…The Westerners actually accept that Egyptians had philosophy; it’s not that they said there was no philosophy. But they said that the Greeks…Aristotle said that Thales was able to actually extract all the philosophies, like all the diversities of philosophies, and turned it into a unity. Do African philosophers think there existed a unity of philosophy, a single type of philosophy in Africa?”, one of the participants, an Arab or Iranian Muslim, asked, apparently uncomfortable with nagging conference questions bordering on the Arab TransSaharan Slave Trade.

Fortunately, historical Africa, like historical Europe and Asia and pre-Columbian America, had few scattered “literate” societies: Ancient Black Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia, to name three, had “literate” enclaves before the advent of Arabs and Europeans in Africa. “You are correct regarding Al-Azhar University in Cairo,” Dr. Asante said in direct response to Islamic colonization of Africa, “but I always say to people that Cairo’s a relatively new city in Egypt…Because you’re talking about a city founded in 641, this era. And the civilization of Egypt goes back thousands of years before that. Then you go back to the great Temple Schools, the so-called Mystery Schools, such as the school at Apwa Set, which is what’s now Karnak, a city called Luxor, which in ancient times was called Waset. In that city, in Waset, people came from the so-called known world to study at Waset, at the feet of the priests. There’re so many places where education took place in Egypt before the coming of the Al-Azhar University.”

Apparently Arabs, like Westerners, are not comfortable with questions related to the horrific legacies of slavery. The West employs the ideological device of “civilizing mission” as justification for slavery and colonialism. The legacy of slavery is why the Ahmadi scholar Abubakr Ben Ishmeal Salahuddin conveniently circumvents the question and instead focuses his distorted scholarship on the “good” Arab Muslims and Islam, in general, did to and for Africa. The extent of Africa’s involvement and Africa’s culpability in both trades are controversial matters!

Digression: To those who think black presence in North Africa, historical (and contemporary), was due mainly to slavery must think twice. “Many years ago, Qaddafi told a large gathering, which included Libyans and revolutionaries from many parts of the world, that the Black Africans were the true owners of Libya long before the Arab incursion into North Africa, and that Libyans need to acknowledge and pay tribute to their ancient African roots. He ended by saying, as is proclaimed in his Green Book, that ‘the Black race shall prevail throughout the world.’ This is not what many Libyans wanted to hear. As with all fair-skinned Arabs, prejudice against Black Africans is endemic,” writes Glenn Ford, editor of “Black Agenda Report,” in “Libya, Getting it Right: A Revolutionary Pan-African Perspective.”

Finally, let’s self-assign ourselves six more questions for cogitation before calling it quits: How do we know for sure whether the Joseph Konys and the Al-Shababs are genuinely speaking for God and Allah, respectively, whoever that God or Allah claims to be? Is the God of Christianity and of Judaism the same God as the Allah of Islam? Are the God of Christianity, of Judaism, and the Allah of Islam the same God Traditional African Religion identifies with? What does comparative religion have to say about these questions?

Why does the same God we all supposedly worship favor one group of people, view, geography, religious book, or ideology over another’s? Why is African henotheism so despised by Biblical Judaism and Christianity and by Koranic Islamism? Why does God endow humanity with racial and ethnic diversity but imposes a rigid theocracy of intolerance on humanity as far as his/her, God’s, adulation is concerned? Does comparative religion mean anything to the deities of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army and Somali’s Al-Shabab?

Let the social and political talk on “terrorism” in Ghana and Africa begin with historical and contemporary truths. Ponder upon our words! Moreover, let’s end our conversation with the following:

“Africa must come to terms with her past. Only this will enable her to establish an honest and mutually respectful relationship with the outside world enabling all parties in this dismal history to inaugurate a new era of interaction. To this end, we must establish the total truth on slavery—both the TransSaharan and the TransAtlantic; the partition of the continent; colonization; even the secretive dumping of toxic wastes on the African continent, and call attention to the deleterious effects of these experiences on Africa’s present” (Wole Soyinka, “Of Africa,” Millennium Commission Report, 2001).

We shall return…

1 comment:

  1. Thanks again for great and wonderful information. There are only a few African countries with their indigenous name, why do they continue to hold onto names given to African countries by the invaders?