March 5, 2008

Quote(s) of the Day 03.05.08

...At the time of the massacre, Archbishop Peter Akinola was the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria... When asked if those wearing name tags that read “Christian Association of Nigeria” had been sent to the Muslim part of Yelwa, the archbishop grinned. “No comment,” he said...
— Eliza Griswold in The Atlantic Monthly, (hat tip to Fr Jake) may smile, and smile, and be a villain.
— Wm. Shakespeare, Hamlet I.v


Anonymous said...

"So, if we are to err (as err we do), let us adopt the prudent practice of risking letting the guilty go free rather than making the innocent suffer."

Toby, I hold no brief for your Bishop Akinola. From what I know of him I am pleased that he is troubling your communion rather than mine.

Nevertheless, I am not sure that the man is necessarily a villan. I don't know. He may be. Perhaps he should be investigated. But on the basis of a grin and a "no comment"?

I only note that in a situation where violent retaliation is not unknown, "no comment" may be the best response. And, of course, anytime there is an ongoing investigation of any serious incident, "no comment" is the most common response from those looking into the matter. He was not, after all, asked whether he was involved in the incident, but whether anyone from his organization was involved. If he had honest suspicions, but thought it prudent not to make what would undoubtedly be taken as inside accusations, what other response might have been possible?

Again I know nothing about the man other than what I see on the blogs. He is plainly very much hated for his position on homosexuality and his instigation of schism. But I would think that you would be hesitant to judge the man a mass murderer based on a "no comment."

--rick allen

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

Excellent juxtaposition!

He covers up his evil intent behind the bishop's mitre.

Tobias Haller said...

Thank you for the reflection, Rick.

Two things: first, in using my own quotation are you implying I am making some innocent suffer in this regard? Do you know that Akinola is innocent? How am I making him suffer? As far as I can see, he has gone free, at least until this matter gets to some appropriate tribunal and his guilt or innocence is established.

I don't know for certain if he is guilty in this instance or not; but I do know that a grin and "no comment" is not an acceptable response to a suggestion that one has supported a massacre. I find it amazing to see you assert that it is perhaps "the best response." It is, in fact, all the creepier because, as you know, "silence implies consent," and in the world of political double-speak "no comment" usually means "yes I am aware of this and do not condemn it." As you may recall, this was Sir Thomas More's point, much good it did him.

In this case it is the response itself which reveals the real character of villainy -- whether he had anything to do with the massacre or not! If he didn't, surely the better answer would have been, "I had nothing to do with it and I heartily condemn it as the atrocity it is!" But, "No comment"? No, Rick, that will not do.

Jane R said...

Archishop Oscar Romero never said "no comment" when the people of his land were being murdered.

Weiwen Ng said...


it is very difficult to prove wrongdoing on Peter's part from Eliza Griswold's report. Did she record his comments accurately? Peter's communications director has asserted elsewhere that his comments were taken out of context.

we think of him as someone who cares not about human rights. what if we are wrong? Peter also asserted that he has been making overtures to Muslim Nigerians to promote understanding and reduce conflict.

Personally, I think that the absolutely most generous possible interpretation was that he didn't know of the massacre, and about the planning that went into the massacre, although he could have found out. A step down, in other words, from willful ignorance. I regard this scenario as unlikely. However, aren't we as Christians called to be as generous as possible? Even to those we regard as our enemies? Should we not ask for more proof?

Our friend Rowan excluded Nolbert Kunonga of Harare from Lambeth, on fairly credible assertions of brutality. Perhaps we should ask Rowan to ask Peter some hard questions before we rush to judgment. I don't think we have evidence against Peter that's as credible as the evidence against Nolbert.

Tobias Haller said...

I agree the evidence at this point is wanting, and hope something may be gathered along those lines. But Archbishop Akinola has shown a pattern of behavior in this regard: remember his veiled warning about it not only being Muslim youth who might exact summary mob justice. That was seen by some as a "green light" even if he didn't intend it that way.

It is always hard to know intent -- but that's why a grin and "no comment" is so inadequate. He could have condemned the massacre.

I think part of the problem is his personal need to be seen as a "Big Man" and he's seen other "Big Men" say "no comment" and so adopts this pose. This would be the most "innocent" interpretation I would give to the incident. I hope that's only it, for his sake too.

Country Parson said...

The guy is an egomaniac, and dangerous, but I keep coming back to the fact that he is Nigerian, not American. We will never fully understand him until we can put ourselves into the soul of a Nigerian, and more particularly, into whatever tribe he belongs to. Or, as the movie version of Paton put it: "Rommel, you son of a bitch, I read your book." As for Schofield, et al., I'll leave understanding them up to the Menningers.

Tobias Haller said...

CP, the cultural/tribal issue is important, and I was alluding to it in my words about the "Big Man" --- Akinola is a member of the Yoruba. There are a few folks from that community in my parish, though the majority of the Nigerians are Igbo. back in Nigeria, they are often at each other's throats. Here in the US, at least in my parish they seem to have embodied an uneasy truce. I even performed a your Yoruba/Ibo wedding last year; which many on both sides saw as a prophetic almost Romeo/Juliet event.

But there is an Igbo saying about Yorubans, which an Igbo clergy of associate at my parish told me in reference to Akinola, after noting what little respect there is for him in Nigeria as a whole. "If an Igbo tells you he's going to kill you --- watch out. If a Yoruba tells you he's going to kill you, you have little to worry about." In short, Akinola is regarded at least by some as a venal windbag. So, as I said in my previous note, the "no comment" may have been nothing more than an exercise in self-importance. For his sake, I hope that's all it was.

Anonymous said...

"I keep coming back to the fact that he is Nigerian, not American."

I'm not sure what difference this makes. NIgerian and American Christians are surely called to live the same Christianity.

Perhaps more to the point, Nigeria is not America--it is a country with very tense and violent relations between Christian and Muslim, and between the ethnic and tribal groups that have embraced those faiths. In judging culpability we have to consider the narrow options open to those who seek peace. Bluster and bluffing can probably be justified in those circumstances.

On the other hand, if Akinola truly sent killers out to murder the innocent, there is no justification for that wherever he was. I think we agree on that (though that raises uncomfortable questions for "shock and awe" in Baghdad).

But whether we should judge him innocent or guilty of that was the original question, and my points were that (1) under a previous post, it was asserted, and I agreed, that we generally should err on the side of judging others innocent, and (2) it is a failure of imagination to think that there are no circumstances in which "no comment" might not be the safest response in a volatile situation.

--rick allen

Tobias Haller said...

Your comment here seems not to take any account of what has been said above in the discussion.

My original post's implication was that smiling and saying "no comment" is not an indication of innocence, but it was not a declaration of guilt. Akinola has neither been judged guilty, nor is he suffering anything if he is innocent. Your citation of my earlier post is irrelevant to this discussion, which is not about guilt or innocence, but the rather colossal venality of a man who wields power irresponsibly. As with his earlier statement about "we can't control our people" such comments as this one can fuel the fire rather than extinguish it.

As to the powers of imagination, I have offered several alternatives to explain what might have been at work behind Akinola's statement. I find your suggestion that he was trying to calm the situation to be the least likely explanation, if only because it has not been taken that way by anyone I know of as an effort to decrease the volatility of the situation, including other Nigerians who probably know the situation much better than either you or I. There may well be a reason for Akinola's having been voted our as head of C.A.N. in 2007, and even refused the office of VP. They may well have recognized that bluster and bluffing is not the best answer to a volatile situation in their own country.

I do not know if Akinola had anything to do with the slaughter of Muslims in Yelwa. I do know that "no comment" is not an appropriate response -- in this precise situation. (There may well be times it is appropriate in a volatile situation; but definitely not in this one.)

Anonymous said...

We know as much about AB. Akinola's involvement with slaughter in Nigeria as we know about your own, Tobias. That a "no comment" and a "grin" are the predicate for a Fr. Jake to suggest he had such involvement is scurrilous and the very essence of irresponsibility. Gee - I never heard you denounce NAMBLA. That surely must mean you support its agenda. Is that how we learn to live with one another - by assuming the most horrible things imaginable about the other without one shred of evidence?

Tobias Haller said...


There is a huge difference between asking a person who is the president of an organization if he had a role in horrific actions taken by members of that organization responding, "No comment" and your hypothetical suggestion that I am somehow involved in the same situation. How you make that leap is a mystery to me, since even though I'm not a member of CAN I've condemned the massacre -- which is more than Akinola has done!

And if you want to talk "scurrilous" your analogy with NAMBLA certainly qualifies, as well as being a bad analogy. If you were to ask if I condemn it, I would say, Yes I do. I wouldn't say, "No comment." But then, again, unlike NAMBLA, with which I've never had nor would have any connection, Akinola was the President of CAN at the time of the massacre committed by its members. Gee, even presidential candidates take responsibility for mistakes made by their staffs; so it's hardly outrageous to expect the same from the president of a self-styled "Christian" organization.

I simply find it astonishing that you cannot see the inadequacy of "no comment" in response to this situation. Akinola's failure to condemn the outrage may not mean he is guilty -- I haven't said it does -- but it certainly does nothing to suggest his innocence. Moreover, his failure to condemn an outrage perpetrated by an organization he heads is in itself a moral failing. He may not have given the order -- in fact he probably didn't -- but his failure to condemn the act is reprehensible in itself, whatever his motivation.

Erika Baker said...

"The guy is an egomaniac, and dangerous, but I keep coming back to the fact that he is Nigerian, not American. We will never fully understand him until we can put ourselves into the soul of a Nigerian,"

My dear brother and friend Davis Mac-Iyalla is also Nigerian. I do fully understand and love him, and in many hours of conversation have begun to understand his soul a little, just as he understands mine.

We all share a common humanity, and as Christians we share a common language of love.

By their fruits.... only ever by their fruits.

Tobias Haller said...

Well said, Erika. "No comment" is a barren tree; it bears no fruit. It may not implicate, but it does not exculpate. It hangs in the air like the grin of a malevolent Cheshire Cat, neither taking nor rejecting responsibility.