Public outrage is growing against religious extremist torture laws.
Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-Chief
Last Modified: 15:20 PM EDT, 4 May 2012
POTISKUM, Nigeria – This town in Yobe state is at the epicenter of the radical Islamic group, Boko Haram‘s reign of terror. The group has perpetrated over 480 killings since the beginning of the year as they seek to bring Northern Nigeria and then the rest of the country under Sharia law. Potiskum is a city 575 kilometers (350 miles) northeast of Nigeria’s central capital, Abuja.
Sharia law is one of the harshest interpretations of the Quran and results in the brutalization of many people for crimes which would be considered misdemeanors in the West. When I was a child living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I can vividly recall when a young boy was nearly beaten to death for stealing some oranges and silverware from one of the homes in the neighborhood.
We lived on the university campus in an affluent neighborhood, and one day as I was returning home from school I approached an angry mob of people kicking and hitting a young boy who was screaming for mercy. I was so frightened, I ran home to get my mother who along with my uncle called the police and then returned with me to the scene.
The violence had escalated during my brief absence, but I was relieved when the police arrived. What happened next has remained with me nearly forty years later. The policemen asked the assembled crowd which included the housekeepers, cooks, and gardeners of our neighbors, what had occurred.
Some people shouted in Swahili, others in broken English, explaining that the young boy had stolen some oranges and silverware from one of the houses. On the ground before the accused thief lay the silverware lay scattered about and some oranges.
As a child, the only thing I focused on were the oranges and I thought that he must have been terribly hungry to have stolen them. After the crowd explained the situation, I was shocked and appalled to see one of the policeman reach to his belt. He first removed some handcuffs which he put on the young boy and I thought that was the end of it.
But to my shock and dismay, the policeman then removed his belt and began to beat the boy mercilessly. I screamed, cried and pleaded for them to stop as the boy fell to the ground and curled up in a fetal position to protect his body. The belt buckle cut open one of his eyes just as my uncle tried unsuccessfully to intervene and calm the situation.
It was to no avail so my mother quickly grabbed my hand and pulled me away from the scene back toward our house. I was crying and screaming that they were killing him, but my mother’s only concern at that time was to protect me from further psychological damage from witnessing such an abhorrent act. I never knew what happened to the boy, but my mother explained to me that under Islamic law thieves usually had their hands cut off.
So today’s story of the Nigerian thief being beaten and burned alive was viscerally reminiscent of that day long ago in East Africa. There can be no justification for the cruelty and inhumanity of what occurred to the boy from my childhood, nor the Nigerian man in the cattle market. Though the differences are stark, since the boy seemed to be hungry, whereas the Nigerian thief was definitely guilty of prior bad acts.
The thieves accosted sellers at a cattle market, shooting into the crowd with the intent of driving away the merchants and stealing their cattle and money. Cattle in Nigeria, as in other parts of Africa, are an extremely valuable commodity. They provide meat, milk, dung, and hides.
Herdsmen are often attacked by marauding thieves as they take their stock to market. If they are fortunate enough to make it to market without incident, their return journey can be just as dangerous as they carry hundreds of Naira in cash from the proceeds of their sales.
During the altercation in the market and the ensuing gun fire, at least 34 people were killed. As the thieves made their retreat, one of the gunmen was unable to escape and was left to suffer the full wrath of the enraged crowd. As is the custom in the treatment of thieves in many parts of Africa, and as witnessed by me, they began to beat the man mercilessly, then set him on fire.
This retaliation spawned more violence as the thieves returned later that night, after the market closed, and hacked cattle to death with machetes, set stalls, cars and holding pens on fire, leaving only charred ground in their wake.
A very graphic video of a crowd beating and burning another Nigerian man to death for stealing can be viewed at the link below. Normally, we embed videos to provide a richer experience and to enhance our reader’s understanding of the subject matter. However, in this case, the video is so disturbing that we are posting this link instead. (View Video Here)
Although, the primary reason stated for the death of the man in the video has been attributed to the fact that he was Gay