Brian Larkin, an anthropologist at Barnard College and a member of the Center for Religion and Media, writes The Revealer with this disturbing deconstruction of an NPR report by Joanne Silberner:

“The substance of the report is that we are nearing the possibility of polio eradication, with its presence limited to six countries where it remains endemic. The only country they discuss in the piece, however, is Nigeria and the ‘problem’ as it is constructed, is that Muslim leaders in the north ‘of this mostly Christian country’ accuse the vaccine of containing AIDS and/or of making people infertile (a Western plot). As a result, they have warned people against taking the vaccination.

“‘The current problem in Nigeria,’ reports Silberner, ‘started in a Northern Muslim State. Ogden [Ellen Ogden of USAID] says that people feel left out in the mostly Christian country. Muslim religious leaders started claiming, incorrectly, that the polio vaccine could transmit AIDS or cause infertility. People stopped allowing their children to be vaccinated and as a result, over 300 Nigeria children have been paralysed by it. Polio has spread to several nearby countries.’

“Calling Nigeria a predominantly Christian country is simply wrong. No one knows what the religious make-up of the country is now because there have been no censuses; in all previous censuses Muslims were in the majority. The breakdown is probably something like 40-45% Christian, 50-55% Muslim and the rest animist.

“But that’s not the real problem here. The report suggests that Nigerian Muslims are ignorant and backward, at their own expense. As a consequence they are a threat to others.

“We can take this assumption apart by asking the simple question, never asked in the piece, “Why would Muslims take this position?” There is, in fact, a long history of African suspicion of European motives in the use of health as a means of control in Africa. More to the point though, northern Nigeria was recently the site of a major meningitis outbreak. According to The Washington Post, Pfizer used the outbreak as an opportunity to test an experimental drug on Nigerian children. When they didn’t respond (in which case standard practice would be to place them on the officially accepted medication), some children were kept on the medication and allowed to die. Now the families of the dead children are suing Pfizer. A U.S. court said they can sue them in U.S. courts.

“Why is it that a Nigerian mother or father would let a child suffer by not allowing vaccination? Silberner doesn’t have to answer that question, because the answer is seemingly already known — because Muslims are backward and fanatical. But Muslims in northern Nigeria have a right to at least be suspicious of Westerners who promise medical benefits. They have very recent experience of corporations coming in to use African bodies for testing.

More information: Gamji is the best news page about northern Nigeria. The best papers in Nigeria are in the Christian south, but they tend to be anti-northern.