On August 27, Amina Lawal, a 32-year-old Nigerian single mother, sat in an Islamic sharia court in Katsina state in northern Nigeria and nursed her two-year-old daughter, Wasila. Wasila had been born over nine months after Amina was divorced and, in Nigeria's Islamic courts, this is taken to be prima facie evidence that Amina committed adultery.
If her appeal of this conviction is denied, she will be buried up to her chest, and the surrounding throng will throw stones at her until she is dead. The stones used must not be so small that they will inflict no damage, nor so large that they will kill her too quickly. She must die slowly and painfully in front of the crowd.
Of course, in any adultery case, there must also be a man involved, and Amina testified that she had not willingly committed adultery but had been raped. However, to convict a man of rape, Nigeria's sharia courts usually require that there be four male Muslim witnesses. Though the courts are not yet clear on this, it may be (following precedent in other Islamist jurisdictions such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, and Pakistan) that up to eight male non-Muslim witnesses, or 16 female non-Muslim witnesses, would also suffice for the conviction of a male Muslim. However, since Nigerian adulterers and rapists — like those in other parts of the world — do not usually perform in front of crowds, the man has been acquitted, and Amina and her daughter stand alone.
She is one of five women who have been so charged, though none has yet been executed. Thanks to the international attention their cases attracted, other luckless women have had their sentences deferred, or dismissed on technical grounds. In Amina's case, the appeals court has deferred judgment until September 25.
Yet, terrible as is Amina's plight, her situation is but a symptom of a larger problem afflicting Nigeria and other African nations. Nigeria — along with Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa — is subject to major campaigns by radical Islamists to spread their ideology. The country is, as was repeatedly emphasized by Osama bin Laden, an explicit target for Islamic extremists, often funded by the Saudis. When extreme sharia was introduced in Nigeria in 1999, Saudi, Pakistani, and Palestinian representatives gathered to express their support.
When radical Islam gains a foothold, stonings, amputations, and religious executions follow. But the effects are even wider than these barbarities. In such regimes, questioning the government is effectively equated with questioning God. Since extremists maintain that their laws and rulers are authorized directly by God without any human mediation, any political opposition is, by definition, blasphemy, and thus punishable by death.
Thus the victory of radical Islam, even when it is won peacefully, necessarily leads to the defeat of democracy, of any republican virtues, and of any human rights.
Nigeria is important to America because it lies at the heart of the fastest-growing oil region in the world. Its offshore regions lie at the center of American exploration. Its eastern neighbor, Cameroon, hosts a massive oil pipeline from its northern neighbor, Chad.
Nigeria is also at the heart of U.S. political hopes for West Africa. Its troops are meant eventually to supplant American Marines in Liberia and to maintain peace among its other neighbors, such as Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. But if Nigeria succumbs to radical Islam or, more likely, becomes a chaotic and failed state, it will effectively become the regional center for the export of an anti-democratic and anti-American ideology. Since its introduction three years ago, 10,000 people have died in Nigeria under the rule of sharia law.
Amina Lawal's fate is rightfully important to human-rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, but it should also be a warning sign to conservative realists. It both marks and measures the growth of an ideology antithetical to genuine freedom.
Hard-headed international-relations theorists regard Africa as largely irrelevant to America's interests, and the possibility of Nigerian international terrorism seems remote. But the possibility of now-rampant Filipino and Indonesian terrorism also looked remote a few years ago.
In fact, the example of other countries in the Middle East, in Africa, and in Asia suggests a good empirical guide, one rooted in the very nature of their regimes:
Where women get stoned for adultery, anti-Americanism and terrorism will appear. If we fail to oppose radical Islam in Africa now, our overstretched troops may well have to do so a few years from now.