Youthful Martyrdom and Heroic Criminality: Aggression and the Formation of Youth Groups in Northern Nigeria
Conerly Casey, Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles
Research Grant, 2000, 2001
In northern Nigeria there is a phenomenon of youth groups who, through communal ideologies and acts, both suffered and meted out physical and metaphysical forms of violence. I paid careful attention to: 1) ideologies of martyrdom, the forms of personal and shared suffering youths reported, and who they blamed for their suffering; 2) changing notions of personhood, respect, civility, social justice and revenge; 3) how and why youth groups solidified around common identities, and the identification of enemies; and 4) traditional and transnational influences upon youths’ integrations into religious political communities.
My plan had been to work with ‘yan farauta (traditional hunting bands), ‘yan tauri (youths protected through herbal, ritual medicine against weapons), and ‘yan daba (urban neighborhood gang members).
Such conflations, and the violence that accompanied them, were fomented by religious metaphysics of fear, discipline, growing anti-American sentiment, and the political use of identity within Nigeria.
However, during my stay, twelve states in northern Nigeria declared Shari’ah Law as their State Law, redefining the legal bounds of civility and criminality, enforced by newly formed youth groups of Hisbah. I took the relations of ‘yan daba and Hisbah as a central concern since, in Kano State, these groups enacted violence to force the immediate implementation of Shari’ah Law. ‘Yan daba and Hisbah conflated Islamic identity, security, and morality, projecting images and acts of terror, seen and unseen, as simultaneous weapons and justifications for their use. Such conflations, and the violence that accompanied them, were fomented by religious metaphysics of fear, discipline, growing anti-American sentiment, and the political use of identity within Nigeria. The conflations also affected youths’ personal identifications with Islam, and their felt exclusions at local and global levels.
In Kano State, visual experience in everyday life—the beards of Muslim orthodoxy, the baggy jeans and chains of ‘yan daba, and cultural adornments favored by non-Hausa Muslims and Christians—became linked to perceptual and somatic contact avoidances. Moral aesthetics and practices were strengthened by the inseparability of what is seen from what is unseen, or the world of spirits. Hisbah, while condemning aesthetics and practices that signified breaches in the demarcation between the worlds of humans and spirits, nonetheless reinforced the power of this relationship; they employed realist interpretations of Qur’anic scripture as “truth” to project visual/spiritual profiles of the “enemies” of Islam into popular consciousness. ‘Yan daba, non-Hausa Muslims, and Christians became threatening because they disallowed the re-enchantment of orthodoxy and its ability to function as collective memory and political/spiritual unity.
‘Yan daba violence, while necessary for the break with secular law in Kano State, was at the moment of violence, outside of Shari’ah Law, so that ‘yan daba (whose numbers have increased tenfold since 1991) have affectively broken with all law. Likewise, the Hisbah, or the scopic, enforcing tier of the Shari’ah Implementation Committee, declared informal Islamic “states of emergency” to justify their violence against nonconforming Muslims, Christians, and ‘yan Bori (adherents of a syncretic animist-Islamic religion); they, too, through violence have affectively placed themselves outside of Shari’ah Law.
Casey, Conerly. Identity and Difference in Today's Nigeria. In Workbook on Ethnic Conflicts. Vamik Volkan and George Irani, eds., forthcoming.