As Thanksgiving approaches, let me add this to the list of things for which I am grateful: I do not live in a predominantly Muslim country.
And another thing: I'm grateful that I probably will not get hacked to death by machete-wielding youths for saying so. At least not today.
Newspaper columnists in other realms, notably in predominantly Muslim countries, can't mouth off with the impunity we enjoy and take for granted in this country, as one Nigerian columnist recently learned.
Isioma Daniel, who writes for ThisDay, an independent daily in Lagos, was commenting on the Miss World beauty pageant, which some ironically inclined pageant planner had located in Nigeria, where certain segments of the population think women should remain fully clothed except perhaps when they're being flogged or stoned to death by Muslim clerics.
See? You're used to me talking this way. I live in the United States, where I get to say whatever's on my mind. You do, too. People might take issue with my point of view, disagree or write me ugly e-mails, which I collect and read aloud at dinner parties, just so you know. But by and large, even the loonies go about their day without giving me much thought.
Not so in parts of Nigeria, particularly the northern 12 states where Sharia law -based on an extreme interpretation of Islam -is still practiced (read: stonings, amputations, floggings, that sort of thing).
Daniel was responding specifically to the complaints of Muslim clerics that it is immoral to spend money on scantily clad beauty queens. I can't get motivated to argue too strenuously against the clerics on the practical issues. I agree that money is wasted on scantily clad women, but fundamentally, I don't care.
Morally, I'm more concerned about floggings, stonings and amputations, such as the slated 2004 execution by stoning of Amina Lawal, a 31-year-old woman guilty of giving birth out of wedlock. Last year, the Sharia enforcers flogged a 17-year-old girl for giving birth after she was raped by three men.
Besides, if women want to parade around in bathing suits and wear crowns and fake eyelashes, have at it.
But what Daniel said was too much for many Muslims. To the question: What would Muhammad have to say about these risque practices among the strange womenfolk descending on Nigeria, Daniel wrote: "In all honesty he would have probably chosen a wife from one of them."
Those are killin' words, apparently. Such that thousands of Muslim youths grabbed their knives, machetes and flame-throwers and hit the streets.
Soon the Christians responded and together the mobs burned and looted stores, attacked motorists, stampeded and hacked their way through the streets of Kaduna and Abuja. They also burned the Kaduna office of ThisDay, after which the newspaper issued an apology. Several bystanders were reportedly burned to death -bringing the numbers to more than 100 people killed, 500 injured and 4,500 left homeless.
Wisely, if too late, pageant sponsors have moved their aspiring beauty queens to London, dashing hopes that Nigeria would become a tourist mecca as a result of the pageant. The finale is scheduled for Dec. 7, and I, for one, intend to watch for the first time in the history of Miss World pageantry. I've got to see what all the commotion is about, and I intend to file a full, possibly insulting, and truthful report. Just because I can.
Daniel, meanwhile, has learned an important lesson necessary to survival in countries where radical Islam suffocates and, if necessary, stones to death anyone exercising free speech, thought or individual liberty: Never, never, never state the obvious.
What's obvious is that Muhammad probably (ital) would (end ital) have loved the pageant, though in the privacy of his own tent, and probably would have picked a new wife from among the bevy. Or taken her on as a concubine. Or enslaved her, which is cheaper. As a matter of record, Muhammad -for all his I'm sure wonderful qualities -had something like 16 wives, in addition to concubines and slaves.
It is at least plausible that he might have found one of the Miss World lovelies worthy of his harem.
Which is to say, Daniel wasn't exactly fabricating material, but she (ital) was (end ital) opining, which is permissible where we live. For this I am -as we all should be -deeply grateful.