Cablegate: Nigeria "Engaging Islam in Nigeria: The Two -
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ABUJA 001330
STATE FOR IIP/SC AND IPI, IIP/T/ES, AF/PDPA IIP/G/AF,
INFO AF, AF/RSA, AF/W, NEA/PPD
LAGOS FOR PAS
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO PREL SCUL OIIP NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA "ENGAGING ISLAM IN NIGERIA: THE TWO -
DAY KANO CONFERENCE" - - an analysis
1. (SBU) Summary: In late January an unprecedented
forum initiated by the Emir of Kano brought together
Embassy officials, American scholars, and Moslem
leaders from northern Nigeria to explore perceptions
of the US and Islam, U.S. Middle East Policy, the
Global War on Terrorism, and economic development in
Northern Nigeria. The conference was a frank exchange
that revealed a wide gap in perspective between the
American and Nigerian attendees. Many of the
Nigerians espoused "clash of culture" and conspiracy
theories, with the United States being Islam's main
antagonist. The bedrock of their indictment was
perceived U.S. bias in the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. This perception colored every aspect of
their view of U.S. policy from Afghanistan to West
Africa. While no minds were changed during the
meeting, the dialogue helped to loosen positions
somewhat and also served to show our concern about how
we are perceived in Northern Nigeria. The dialogue
has led to requests for more conferences. End
2. (SBU) The impetus for this conference was the April
2002 visit to the U.S. by the Emir of Kano who was
greatly concerned about the negative image of Nigeria.
During the conference's preparatory stages the focus
shifted. Instead of focusing on American perceptions
of Nigeria, we decided to seek the Emir's agreement to
change the focus of the conference to how Northern
Nigeria sees the United States. This adjustment would
allow us to advance a key USG and Mission objective --
engaging Muslim opinion-makers on their home turf. The
Emir and his lieutenants agreed to this reorientation
and offered to host the conference in Kano for U.S.
and Nigerian policymakers and opinion leaders.
Clash of Cultures
3. (SBU) Giving the initial presentation of the
conference, Dr. Ibrahim Suleiman of Ahmadu Bello
University set the tone for an energetic exchange by
claiming that a clash of cultures was inevitable. He
argued that Islam has been a wholly beneficial
development in West Africa while Christianity,
modernity and globalization were negative influences.
He asserted that the United State had implicitly
declared war on Islam. Throughout the conference,
Suleiman and others cited President Bush's description
of the Global War on Terrorism as a "crusade," as
evidence that America was warring against their
4. (SBU) Embassy staff debunked the notion of a war on
Islam as well as the thesis that western values and
globalization were inimical to the "African
Personality." Dr. Godlas also attempted to refute
Suleiman's position. Speaking as an American Muslim
and a religious scholar, he stated that American
"modernism" and Islam have many common themes; thus a
cultural collision was avoidable but necessitated
better understanding and a willingness to transcend
Middle East Policy
5. (SBU) Middle East Policy: Throughout the session,
the Nigerian interlocutors pointed to the Israeli-
Palestinian question as the litmus test of U.S. view
toward their religion. As long as the U.S. was seen as
uncritically supportive of Israel, the U.S. would have
problems in the Moslem world. Additionally, they
claimed that Islamic countries could not "trust" the
United States. They complained the U.S. once
supported Iraq but was now its mortal enemy. One
person went as far as accusing the U.S. of preparing
to attack Saudi Arabia because it disagreed with U.S.
6. (SBU) Nabeel Khoury gave a solid presentation
outlining the Administration's "Roadmap for Peace in
Middle Eastern." While the Nigerians commended U.S.
support for a Palestinian state, they criticized our
insistence on a new Palestinian leadership. They also
voiced skepticism about whether we would use our
assistance as leverage to pressure Isreal to be more
Global War on Terrorism
7. (SBU) Most participants deplored terrorism and
condemned the September 11 attacks. However, they
viewed the U.S. war on terrorism -- symbolized by
military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq -- as
anti-Islamic. Some said North Korea represented more
of a threat but was being handled with kid gloves
because it was not Islamic and was a nuclear state. A
few claimed that the Global War on Terrorism was a
ruse to spur the U.S. economy by attacking Islamic
states with oil reserves.
8. (SBU) All the Nigerians claimed that using military
means to combat terrorism would prove ineffective. To
get to the root of the tension, the U.S. has to become
an impartial arbiter in the Isreali-Palestinian
U.S. Foreign Policy - Morality in Question
9. (SBU) The Nigerian interlocutor contended that U.S.
foreign policy failed to live up to its democratic and
human rights underpinnings. They claimed the U.S.
supported unpopular regimes in the Middle East because
of oil. They also claimed that the U.S. policy in
Africa has been checkered by indifference and racial
10. (SBU) Ambassador Jeter asked how U.S. support for
the conflict in Bosnia could be reconciled with the
conclusion that the U.S. was anti-Islamic. He also
pointed out that Nigerian Moslems often criticized the
U.S. but were reluctant to upbraid Islamic states.
For instance, they were silent on Sudanese government
mistreatment of southern Sudanese Christians. The
Nigerians argued that the Sudan was a "political"
battle over land and resources, not a religious war.
They were told that the same description could also be
applied to the Israeli-Palestinian feud.
--Nigerian Participants presented their perceptions of
the U.S. Unfortunately, a current of anti-Semitism ran
through many comments.
--The Jewish lobby has undue influence on USG policy,
including Middle East policy. In the United States no
candidate for any national, state or local officer can
be elected without the support of the all-powerful
Jewish lobby, said one participant.
--Jews were responsible for the September 11 terrorist
attacks; Jews were told to stay at home on that day.
--September 11 attacks were responsible for the Jos
unrest (though that unrest took place on September 7).
Next Steps and Comments
12. (SBU) There are two ways to view the conference.
One is pessimistic; the other is hopeful. The gulf
between American and Nigerian Muslim perspectives of
the world is vast. The Nigerian participants
generally represented the mainstream thought in the
Northern Nigerian community. Unfortunately, they
shared a strong inclination for believing the worst
about America. Theirs was a selective interpretation
of history - they tended to give extra significance to
things they felt showed America's anti-Islamic bias.
Thus, the inordinate focus on President Bush's use of
the word "crusade." At times, this propensity served
to materially distance their understanding of U.S.
actions and intentions. For example, most believed
the U.S. sided with the French and British during the
1956 Suez crisis. Conversely, they gave short to
shrift to action that showed the United States has
13. (SBU) Their collective analysis of the United
States lacked sufficient objectivity. Their views
were the product of a long term diet of anti-American
disseminations and discussions. They want to believe
the United States is an adversary. Having such a
powerful adversary provided a convenient excuse for
many of the ills in their society. At another level,
having a strong enemy also helps to validate their
sense of self-worth. (We must be a potent force or
else the U.S. would not bother). In short, having an
omnipotent adversary fits nicely into their political
and religious cosmology and helps explain negative
socio-economic trends in Northern Nigeria. However,
this somber interpretation is not insuperable. Behind
the rhetoric is a certain respect for America and what
it stands for. Whether they say it or not, they wish
Nigeria could be more like America than it is. Thus,
there is certain ambivalence in their view of the U.S.
They mistrust but do not hate us. They want to be
like us and want to like us but we must first show
that we like them.
14. (SBU) Consequently, we can use this begrudging
admiration of the United States to help influence
perceptions in a more positive way. There are two
major steps that can be taken. Our active engagement
in resolving Israeli-Palestinian crises is sine qua
non. While the road map to peace was greeted coolly
by the Nigerians, they will warm if progress is noted.
Second, we need to be more active in Northern Nigeria.
We need to elevate our official presence and
developmental assistance particular in agriculture and
education. The more we have a benign material effect
in their daily lives, the more we undermine
perceptions of U.S. indifference.
15 (SBU) In the final analysis, the conference was a
productive opportunity to exchange views on key
foreign policy issues as well as to discuss
perceptions of each other. The meeting did not change
minds, but it engendered better understanding on some
issues. Equally important, the conference was well
received. Participants have requested future
conferences on Sharia in Nigeria, the bilateral
relationship, and West Africa regional issues. In
March, U.S. speakers Dr. Gwendolyn Mikell also invited
the Ciroma of Kano to Washington to speak to the
Council on Foreign Relations and to Chicago to speak
to the Third World Scholars Conference.
Governor of Katsina has agreed to any offer of a
similar conference in Katsina.
16 (U) This cable was delayed in transmission.