Beauty and brutality

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 November, 2002, 12:00am

The attempt to hold the annual Miss World contest in Nigeria has moved beyond fiasco to the brutal.

Rioting across the country's northern cities has brought a death toll of more than 200. More than 1,100 people are reported injured and some 11,000 have fled burning houses. The contestants themselves - shaken but still smiling for the cameras - have fled to stage their show in London, a far more logical choice of venue.

Robin Jolly, the father of Hong Kong's entrant Victoria Jolly, said he thought the Miss World organisers had been 'a bit naive'. With the benefit of hindsight, his assessment could not be more correct. The deadly saga is in fact a lesson in the dangers of good intentions.

It would be foolish to think the contest itself was the reason for the violence; instead it provided a catalyst to light a fuse of racial and religious tension long simmering in Africa's most populous country.

Nigeria is about 50 per cent Muslim and 40 per cent Christian, a legacy in part of British colonialism. The civilian government has struggled to keep order after long and hard years of military rule.

In its desert-like northern states, Islamic fundamentalism has been on the rise, with some areas imposing a hardline version of Islamic law. The regime in Abuja, the capital, has been reluctant to intervene.

Some have argued that staging the event would have struck a blow for freedom, and that those using it as an excuse to commit sectarian violence cannot be allowed to get their way. Others have suggested that it is Nigeria that should adapt.

The sheer gravity of the death toll puts those to rest. It all seems so unnecessary.

The sad fact is that the world is still not the village that the more glib proponents of globalisation sometimes pretend it is.

Complex and highly-nuanced cultural sensitivities remain, particularly in regions of the world not blessed by the revolution in technology and information. That remains true for parts of our own region.

Communication flows, it should be remembered, two ways and a dangerous ignorance has obviously widely prevailed about the realities in Nigeria.