Escalation of the killing consciousness
In the last 10 odd years, the level of and propensity for illegally and brutally taking human life has increased astronomically. We do not need proof from official statistics. We do not need the Births and Deaths Records Office to confirm this. Flashes in the media, both social and mainstream, point in one direction: man has inexorably lost respect for the sanctity of human life in a most despicable manner. Humans are killed off the earth like deleted characters in the computer. In a sense, the notion of ‘delete’ at the touch of a button has become a metaphor for how valueless life has become to Man. How did we descend into the cesspit of such an appalling, insane depravity even at the so-called zenith of human civilization? To kill, kill and kill? Life which we did not, and cannot create?
It is true that in his primitive stage, man believed, and some still do in the 21st Century, that human sacrifice is the greatest offering that can be rendered to deity. Father Arinze has recorded the functions of sacrifice, including human, in African societies. Animals were the best choice. In African folklore, the chicken got the prize for the favourite after she told all the animals on their way to a meeting summoned by the king of animals she would abide by the collective decision. It turned out that because she was absent, all the animals voted for chicken to be used for appeasement in most rituals. According to George Frazer in the 10th Century, King Aun of Sweden had sacrificed all but one of his 10 sons in order to prolong his life. He was stopped by the community because he had become so weak and could not govern anymore. He died shortly after because he could not sacrifice his last son. In all primitive cultures therefore human sacrifice had always been part of society. However, the idea of sacrifice was for a reason – communal survival in the primitive world. I am unable to dwell more on this because of space. Suffice it to observe that these days lives are simply wasted for pleasure.
Kidnappers kill their victims. Robbers routinely do so too. Human beings simply and routinely disappear from commercial buses. Stories of ritual killings swell the rumour mill. Drones suddenly appear in the sky and kill both father and son, or man and wife or whole families. Policemen routinely kill unarmed defenceless citizens. White police officers kill African-Americans at the drop of a hat, protected by an established racist justice system. Fanatics kill hundreds or thousands in the name of Allah. The damned scoundrels of Boko Haram, ISIS, Al Shabbab and their fellow gangsters in blood spilling, simply revel in wasting lives. Western thrillers are incomplete unless human beings are viciously and callously killed with sophisticated guns. Sick minds set out with the terrible objective of mass killing in Europe, Africa, America and Asia. The picture of the three-year old Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy of Kurdish ethnic background, lying lifeless on the beach after escaping the savage war in the Middle East managed to prick the conscience of the world to the wanton destruction that has become symptomatic of the Syria conflict. But more deaths have continued in the ‘desperate journeys’. People are killed while worshipping God. A moron, fiend of the vilest level, slit the throat of a Catholic priest right on the altar in France, proclaiming Allah is great in the process. People are killed in their sleep. Killed in movie houses; killed in club houses; in the market place. An aircraft carrying over 200 hundred passengers suddenly disappears into thin air; other passenger jets are brought down by ‘rebels’. Children are gunned down in schools, in retaliation to the perceived misdeeds of their parents. Yet none of us can create a human life!
When I first ruminated on the trajectory for this essay, my preliminary thoughts dwelt on how sophisticated certain parts of the world have become. The death penalty has been abolished in most European countries and parts of the so-called new world. The notorious but vulgarly popular Lagos Bar Beach Show of the 1970s has been stopped. Apart from the argument that the death penalty never served as a deterrent, there was the view that innocent persons had been executed through a manipulated or flawed judicial process. To be sure, the death for death, eye for eye, notion of justice goes back in time. The Mosaic Law, for example, sanctioned eye for eye, just as the Law book for Muslims made room for vendetta as justice. However, whereas Christian laws of vengeance were reformed with the coming of Jesus Christ, we cannot definitely say the same for Islam. It is this loophole that Islamist extremists and criminals have exploited in terrorizing the world.
Some mentally sick people have also taken lives brutally. A pilot who is sick and tired of life plunges a plane into the deep sea. Hundreds of lives lost, many more traumatized for life. Some pick up machine guns and kill tens of people. Copycats then replicate the action. In our clime, when there is mass destruction of lives, the State carries on with no organized and humane response to human loss. The State seems to say ‘bury your dead and get on with your life’. Elsewhere, there would be a halt, a pause, and society would take stock and collectively mourn the dead. Years after, there would be a remembrance in memory of the dead. As for those directly involved in tragic events, the pain goes on and on, and the exigencies of life soon compel them to count themselves lucky for being alive and forget the dead. Indeed, some pastors even console the living by saying that a time will come when there would be nobody to bury dead bodies.
It would seem a contradiction in reasoning to argue that the ‘delete’ mentality has found warm embrace in the arms of pseudo-religion. For, quite a number of the deleted persons have been knocked off in the name of some religion, faith, or ritual. Which God orders a man to take the life of an innocent man, woman or child, screaming ‘God is great’ in the process? For such a thought to take hold so fatally in some beings, there is an increase in the level of intolerance of the other man’s viewpoint. Or which God asked a pastor to bury corpses in the foundation of the church building in order to attract ‘customers’?
Worldwide, we must recognize this failing on the part of humans, the temporary inhabitants of the globe: too many lives are being lost to unnecessary violence. The UN and other agencies must pay attention to this. There are different projects going on at the UN level drawing attention to the plight of domestic violence. There is a campaign to save the earth from exploitation and abuse. Let us also mount campaigns and develop action programmes to reinforce the sanctity of life. The media used to be circumspect in reporting violence. Incidents of violence reported in the media should not be presented as quasi-heroic narratives. The breaking-news phenomenon where scoundrels slitting throats or shooting dead innocent persons are reported like thrillers should be moderated. Social media has not been of any help in the respect for the sanctity of life. Indeed social media in a sense has come to symbolize lack of respect for anything decent. Pictures and pictorial reports of violence only reinforce and support the culture of violent deaths. If we do not teach others and reinforce the sanctity of life, ours will also be permanently threatened.
• Professor Hope Eghagha is Head, Department of English, University of Lagos
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