Escaping polarization

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Mirjam de Bruijn meeting Croquemort (in grey suit) and his friends. Croquemort is one of the Counter Voices she has written about in this blog.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo shakes the Western world. Such attacks lead to and are a consequence of polarization; that hurts and denies rights of freedom, claimed to be ‘our’ Western values, so highly esteemed. The polarization also stretches to wealth inequalities; it confronts us every day in the media, on the market, in the streets. As a normality it has become part of us. Difficult to escape! Difficult even to notice.

Complex situations elsewhere
Being caught ourselves in this process of polarization will hopefully lead to a better understanding and hence a different relation to similar but often more complex situations elsewhere in the world. It might (finally) open our eyes for the difficulties that Chadians, Cameroonians, Nigerians (to name just a few) face and that they are fighting against. Boko Haram and Al Qaida attacks and dominance in the Sahel multiplies existing polarization tendencies. The present day oppressive regimes of Cameroon and Chad for instance ‘use’ these threats to ‘improve’ their repression. The attempt to get a bill through Parliament allowing the arrest of any suspected individual and the closing of the borders between Cameroon and Nigeria are examples of how this works. Chad joined the French and UN in Mali to fight against terrorism, and joined CAR fights with similar explanations, and just recently they joined the Cameroonian forces to fight Boko Haram in Northern Cameroon. This might be a noble stance, and it certainly has the effect of adding to the jubilant international image of President Déby. It is also a false excuse to continue the practices of dominant clans to feed on oil money and deny access to ordinary people, who are arrested or killed while fighting for their simple well-being, under the pretext of them being a threat for the stability of the State. A recent example is the demonstration in Doba, in the south of Chad (read

Escaping logic
The Counter Voices and Voices for Thought we have presented in this blog so far are confronted today with this new polarization, built on older ones. What I admire is how they try to escape this logic in which they are brought up. For them, much more than for us, the polarization has been part of life, built in their families, villages and towns, and has become a way of thinking. Falling back in these oppositions is the easiest of languages. Fighting against them is the most difficult, as it will not be very much appreciated by both sides. However, will the Voices be able to keep to their mission in the extreme polarization that is turning increasingly into a threat to their own families and friends?

Struggling with polarization
Chadian society is divided in North and South, the civil wars have been explained in these terms. A division that is a heritage of the French colonial regime, that defined the South le Tchad utile, and the North le Tchad inutile. This simplicity has been translated into ethnic and religious oppositions. This heritage feeds into the new opposition of ‘Muslim terrorists’ against ‘the Others’, non-terrorists. To fight new divisions, old divisions have to be eradicated. Croquemort, Selma, Beral, Eli, the Cameroonian Joky and the other Counter Voices are all in their own way experiencing and fighting against such oppositions. They refuse to be part of this heritage, but for how long?

DSC_1930 smallWe all met in January during events, meetings at the bar, face-to-face conversations in N’Djamena. Discussions about Boko Haram and the polarization in their societies were inevitable. The experience of Boko Haram’s violence in the family of Salma (who live in Maiduguri), in the family of Joky (in Cameroon), the trucks with refugees from Nigeria in the streets of N’Djamena and the many discussions and debates in the newspapers made the topic part of life. On the streets, young men greet each other with the word Ebola to which the answer is either Ebola or Boko Haram.

Bridging oppositions through art
These people being the intelligentsia of Chad (or the coming one) try to reason and discuss. They had already taken their position in earlier years. Let me present the efforts of two of the Counter Voices already presented in this blog: Salma and Croquemort.
Salma is a Muslim woman, in her artistic and social work concentrating on the position of women. All her work is in a way directed towards bridging gaps: between religions, between her society in the Guera (Central Chad) and the cities, and probably especially towards bridging the polars within herself: being a Muslim woman of the Hadjeray people, whose strict rules do not allow her to be the intellectual artist that she wants to be. She has to behave according to the gender rules. She is especially moved by the stories of violence and afraid that such violence may exacerbate existing relations of violence. She will continue to bridge oppositions in her society with her photography and organization of meetings for women and youth in N’Djamena.
Croquemort, from the Southern part of Chad and raised as a Christian (but now an agnost), composed the song ‘Je suis du Nord, je suis du Sud’, registered on his new CD that was presented end of January in the Chadian press. It is a song about the division of Chad and how he, as a traveler, manoeuvres in between, repeating that it is nice to meet the other, eat and drink together, being proud to be a Chadian who has so much cultural diversity.

‘Je suis du sud, je suis de l’est, je viens du nord je viens de l’ouest
Je me sente chez moi
C’est me ballade là où je veux
A la découverte de déserts, déserter la savane rester à découvrir

Saluer les nomades sur leurs chameaux, demander de l’eau
Aller dans le centre partager un repas
Sous la reine du Guera
Entrer dans les tentes et demander l’hospitalité
Ecouter le chante du berger et boire le lait caillé
voir la jeune fille de BET

Me sente chez moi c’est slamer partout..
Découvrir l’ouest pas pour les militaires mais pour entendre le voix de muezzin
Me sentir chez moi c’est regarder le musulman et le regarder dans les yeux
Un frère un cousin et neveux

Unité unité
Un peuple
Une idée

On chantera la paix
Unité d’un peuple une idée

Listen to the entire song (8th song of the list shown).

Discussing positions
Béral, a friend of Croquemort, a writer/singer himself and part of the opposition in Parliament, questioned the cartoon issue: Would Christians react the same when their God would be mocked? Muslims became angry and he cannot understand why. God is greater than all this blasphemy. Is each individual Muslim a God, a judge of these cartoons or of football players? Béral supports the move of Chad to send soldiers to Cameroon, and hopes that they will make it. They will; I also hear a certain pride in his voice, despite himself. He is a real opponent of Déby and the regime, but this time national pride is present.

Salma, Croquemort and Béral are part of an emerging group of (relatively) young people who ‘y en marre’ (‘are fed up with it’) and want to change the world. Their fight is based on experiencing violent polarization, injustice and inequalities that were created by their governments and in endless violent actions of the State, rebels, colonial regimes, etc. The new polarization we are facing as a world is building on this and embedded in it; that is why it will be so difficult to eradicate it. More will be needed, but the start has been made by these young people’s efforts.

The recent turn in world politics, however, makes them reflect differently on the situation between groups in their own countries. It is difficult to accept that Muslims are against ‘Je suis Charlie’ manifestations. Take for example the football match between people from the North and people from the South, where T-shirts with ‘Je suis Charlie’ on them were worn. Instead of a peaceful match it became a match of hatred. People who were offended by the cartoons molested the youngsters.

More of such incidents occurred, leading these young people to reflect differently on, and discuss more fatalistic about the polarization in their society, reflecting like Béral does on what it means to be Muslim within their society and for their society.


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