By Ahmed Aydeed
Stereotypes are normally deployed for the purpose of grouping people on basis of different socio-cultural categories such as ethnicity, religion and gender amongst others. They help us reduce complex concepts and issues into simple categories for efficient referencing. Despite their negative undertones, stereotypes are at time adopted or used by the very same group or persons they are used to refer to.
These is not to say that stereotypes or frames are essentially positive tools as many a time they have been employed with devastating outcomes. The slave trade, colonialism, Nazi pogroms, the Tutsi massacre amongst others are extreme examples of sad human episodes where stereotyping a group of people went too far.
Use of specific stereotypes fluctuates depending on the changes in attitudes. For instance overt racist or anti-Semitic stereotypes are currently not tolerated in mainstream media and polite society. However, since September 2011, and the consequent war on terror, Islam and Muslims became a fair game. The speed with which negative frames and stereotypes are developed and used in reference to any Muslim person, organization or country is mind-boggling.
The word Mullah can have a completely different meaning in the Arabic and Pashtu lexicon but its use particularly in western media, refers to a backward warlike tribal leader reminiscent of the infamous Mullah Omar of the Taliban. It solicits the imagery of tribal leader of a backward dry and desolate community living on the peripheral edges of modern world and who existence is based on deep hatred and jealousy of the western progress.
Here in Kenya, the media has been using the title of Grand Mullah in reference to a senior counsel, Mr. Ahmed Nasir. A casual examination of the commentary section after any article that mentions the senior counsel reveals the exact effect of the title. In a bitter twitter exchange with the Speaker, J.B. Muturi interestingly, the speaker used the words “dumb bandit”. The parallel with “mullah” is telling.
Mr. Ahmed Nasir is coming from Mandera County where “banditry”, Al-Shabab terrorism and general insecurity have had a dire consequence. Mandera is also in the semi-arid northeast and borders Somalia where Al Shabab holds a large swathe of that country in terror. Given the proximity of the County and instance of Al Shabab incursions, Mandera is the Tora Bora of Kenya and by its extension; her finest son can be fairly framed as the Grand Mullah.
But if Mandera’s terrain and security status fits with the “Mullah” imagery, how can a senior counsel with impeccable legal record and respectable business portfolio fits with the illiteracy and anti-western attributes of the Afghani Mullah frame?
Here is where the frivolous case on his pupillage comes to play. For a stereotype to be accepted, its proponents have to denigrate the target, deny them their achievement, their humanity. This is achieved by ridiculing, refusing and contradicting victim’s positive attributes, accomplishments. If they are beautiful you argue their beauty is fake or illusionary. First came the controversy about Ahmed’s pupillage, then apparent concerted campaign by his nemesis to malign him on the basis of the characters and cases he has defended. If you add the manufactured war he supposedly had with some of his colleagues in the legal fraternity and the celebration that greets any missteps he makes in his career the picture becomes slowly clearer. If one was to rely on what is written about him then Ahmed Nasir is a pretender with no qualifications, a defender of thieves and crooks and no friend in the legal establishment.
What about his personality and lifestyle? Are there telling parallels between him and the Afghani Mullah? The Mullahs of Tora Bora are renowned for living in abject poverty. They shun excessive materialism and practice a puritanical Sunnism that literally seeks to remake the simplicity of the lives of the Holy prophet of Islam (pbuh) and his companions. The supposed ‘Grand Mullah’ of Kenya on the other hand, cannot be further from this ascetic life. Mullah Omar and his lot will be offended to the extreme if one of their co-religionist was to boast in public about ownership of expensive accessory like Ksh. 870,000 watch bought in Hong Kong or Kshs. 14 million Mercedes Benz AMG G63. To them these are vulgarities that are beyond description.
Another aspect that the Grand Mullah and the real Mullahs part ways is on personality. In their effort to emulate the Holy Prophet (puh), they strive to develop humility, simplicity and disdain for publicity. Excessive self-promoting publicity and image or semblance of arrogance and self importance is shunned. In the case of the Grand Mullah, rightly or wrongly, the perception that he is arrogant is almost universal. His choice of words is far from humble or constructive. He has a tendency to rub people in the wrong way even when his intentions are noble. The manner with which he handled himself while at JSC came across as condescending and earned him no friends. As law of physics law on force and pressure provides, he gets what he gives in the bucket load as evidenced in his disastrous performance at LSK elections.
What Mr. Ahmed is lacking is the sophistication to differentiate court battles and politics. The later goes beyond the narrow court tactics where decimation of the opposing side assures one of victory. Politics goes beyond technical scores or mastery of legal case laws and vanquishing opposing sides. In politics there are no permanent victories or case resting but rather long odious process where one has, at times, pinch their noses and bend with the wind of the times.
As mentioned above, his choice of clients has not been without concern. The contradiction between his public stand against graft and his representation of some of the infamous cases on corruption is luminously clear. This is yet another aspect that makes the title of Grand Mullah a classic contradiction of terms and thus logically untenable. The Mullah will never rub shoulders with public embezzlers; they would rather cut their hands off. But as a senior counsel who took oath to defend the constitution, Ahmed Nasir is bound to defend characters that the mob may at time be crying for their blood.
Mr. Ahmed Nasir can be anything anyone wants him to be as that is the prerogative of the individual who seek to categorize him. He also has his own take on who he is mullah or not. But the title of Grand Mullah is simply stereotypical and hidden islamophobia. Ahmed on his part needs a serious self reflection. The title of Grand Mullah should have made him pose and ask more deeply on its connotations, his public interactions with the issues of the day.
It is my humble opinion as a fully baked Moi University graduate that he is now past that age of being a rambunctious defence counsel throwing punches at everyone and everywhere. It is time he take stock of his experience, visibility and success and apply wisdom is advancing reforms and the rule of law. And as Boniface Mwangi and others have suggested, take some few pro bono.
The writer is a Namanga based Political Commentator and a Nep Journal contributor.