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Heavenly city is in Lagos, with speed bumps

26 October 2018


Syrian protesters wave opposition flags during a mass demonstration against the Assad regime, last month

Syrian protesters wave opposition flags during a mass demonstration against the Assad regime, last month

READERS of a sensitive disposition may wish to skip to the next section, where normal light-hearted service will resume.

A couple of years ago, I was at a seminar on the use of encryption to protect emails and conversations from authoritarian regimes. This is, for solid mathematical reasons, completely safe. A message protected that way cannot be read by anyone who has not got the password. So the necessary programs were handed out to citizen journalists in authoritarian countries.

Someone from a human-rights organisation said quietly that the Assad regime, in Syria, had found a way to get round the laws of mathematics. If ordinary torture failed, anyone found in possession of one of these programs would see their family members raped in front of them in prison until they gave up their passwords.

This came to mind when I was sent a press release from Baroness Cox, complaining that the BBC had used anonymous sources when compiling its report on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. Why on earth would anyone in Syria possibly want to remain anonymous when criticising the regime? The press release was also, to their undying shame, signed by Michael Langrish, the former Bishop of Exeter, and by Lord Carey.


IN THE United States, Harriet Sherwood, of The Guardian, had been to Liberty University, a bastion of the religious Right founded by Jerry Falwell and now run by his son. It is no surprise to hear that it is authoritarian, and devoted to the cause of President Trump — nor that there are a few liberals huddled on the outside of the town who regard Falwell’s doctrine as “toxic Christianity”.

The paragraph that made me read twice was this: “Falwell made time in his schedule to meet The Guardian in his office overlooking the campus. Casually dressed in a pink polo shirt, he was affable, voluble and proud of his achievements at Liberty. The university had gone from ‘the brink of disaster to become the most prosperous university in the US’, he said, with $1.7bn in endowments, and gross assets of $3bn.”

Just think what that money could do if it were spent on education.


LIBERTY University has 15,000 students. That sounds impressive until you realise that a Pentecostal church in Lagos is building an entire suburb to house 12,000 people. The Economist carried the story of Redemption City. The centrepiece is, of course, a church. It is nearly a mile long.

“The new church in Redemption City is only half-built. Already this great aeroplane hangar of a building measures 1.5km by 1km. Compared with it, Tesla’s ‘gigafactory’ is a poky warehouse, and St Peter’s Basilica is a quaint parish church. Yet the church is not the most extraordinary thing about Redemption City.”

On the land around it, the church is building a suburb to house the worshippers. “In Redemption City the streets form a grid. The roads are signed, with names like Hallelujah Close and Praise Close. Some have speed bumps — things that would be wholly redundant on a normal African road. Every plot is the same size: 21.3 metres by 21.3 metres. There are few half-built houses, because the church checks that families have enough money to complete them, and sets a strict time limit. All the homes are in gated communities, numbering 15 so far.”

The settlement has its own electricity supply and its own water, too. In theory, the church mediates all house sales — and every house has a “mission room” for a church worker; but, in practice, you can find some properties on the websites of commercial estate agents.

The article goes on to say that other large Pentecostal churches are building their own suburbs around Lagos. “Pentecostal Christianity has already remade many Africans’ spiritual lives. Now it is remaking their cities.”

I wonder whether this is the 21st-century equivalent of the monastic movement. The great medieval monasteries were also complete self-contained settlements. In the case of Ely, you can still see some part of the fortifications that surrounded it. So, who, if they prosper, will be tempted to suppress them and seize their assets?


I SEARCH for something funny to end the column with, but in vain. I find I have clipped from The Times a story about Stephen Yaxley Lennon, “Tommy Robinson”, who was jailed for filming the trial of a sex-abuse gang in Huddersfield. This was supposed to show the depravity of Muslims, but, when the trial concluded, with long sentences for all involved, the ringleader turned out to be a Sikh.

Mr Lennon, meanwhile, was given an award at a conference in Bavaria, as “European patriot of the year”. In his acceptance speech, The Times records, he said: “German people for too long have lived in the guilt of Adolf Hitler. Do not live in the guilt of Angela Merkel.”

This sort of news does not often make it into the papers. It circulates, though, through a huge network of sites on YouTube, which is now the site from which most young people in the US get their news. I don’t think media criticism has begun to catch up with that phenomenon.

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