Most of my life, man and boy, has been spent shuffling around between libraries and classrooms, optimistically hunting down scraps and titbits to add to the rambling neural labyrinths somewhere inside my head. I’m not being vain or superior, the fact is, we all do it, to a greater or lesser extent. Not the shuffling part, let me be clear, but the finding out part. It’s relatively uncomplicated to amass facts, Dickensianly unconnected, and preen oneself at cocktail parties because one can pronounce the capital city of Burkina Faso correctly. It’s a little bit more difficult to actually think for oneself, which is, after all, the holy grail of the educator. If my students simply outgrow me, I’ve done my job and led them forth with enough mental apparatus to make a difference in the world.
|My alma mater 1964-1969|
I was taught English literature by a master of his craft. English public schools throw up such people from time to time and one is indeed fortunate if such a one crosses one’s path. He taught us, we gormless, pustular clods, to recognise type and similarity in a story. One term we were doing Lear. He asked us whether the story reminded us of anything. We sat in stupefied silence. He blew gently through his pipe and asked whether any of us had been read to as children. Hands went up, shiftily. He then asked, with sarcasm both weighty and painful whether any of us had, perhaps, come across a story about two bitchy sisters and their kind sibling who was bullied and humiliated just for being good, the story of Cinderella. Ah. When studying ‘The Clerk’s Tale’, Chaucer’s story was easily transposed into ‘A Winter’s Tale’ where tormented wives suffered unreasonable treatment at their husbands’ hands.
I was, of course, privileged beyond peradventure. Which is, I suppose, why I find myself outraged to the point of foaming homicide when a collection of rag-tag, brutal peasants in a town in northern Nigeria take it upon themselves not just to deny young girls the chance to think for themselves but have the unconscionable savagery to attempt to blame their perverted, vomitous behaviour on a tattered piece of fiction masquerading as religious literature and the halfwitted ramblings of its ignorant interpreters. These girls have become spoils of war and may even now be locked down in some disgustingly filthy hovel where their captors feel themselves entitled to use them for whatever obscene and grotesque purpose their shrivelled intellects can devise.
I do not normally find myself wishing ill upon any of my fellow-travellers on this planet. But, the head of this pernicious organisation, twitching manically and mumbling into the camera, is of a very different stripe as he threatens to sell the captive girls at the market. The video clip should be watched, disturbing as it undoubtedly is, so that the whole world sees what happens to people who have been overtaken by a dangerous religious mania. It should most especially be watched by those who seem to imagine themselves guiltless since they are only paying for the continued existence of this appalling, diabolical sect.
I am short on charity for the leader of Boko Haram, despite clear evidence of his mental unravelling. He stands for every twisted inversion of everything I have spent my life promoting and were he to be captured, and were I in charge of his sentencing, I would ensure that he lived long and had ample opportunity to listen to the howling voices in his head. Without interruption from his fellows. For an awfully long time.