The whole world is watching... us. When they look at what is going on in America, what do they see?
Recently they have seen a nation convulsed in anguish over the death of a lion in Zimbabwe. As you know, an American dentist went to Africa and hunted down a lion named Cecil.
Nature-loving Americans, led by PETA, have called for the dentist’s head. Dedicated as it is to the ethical treatment of animals, PETA turns out not to care about the ethical treatment of human beings. But, you knew that already.
Now, a man who grew up in Zimbabwe speaks out to us from the pages of the New York Times. Goodwell Nzou is doing biochemical research at an American university. One day he raised his eyes from his gene studies and heard America’s elites ululating over the death of a lion.
Nzou tells us how it all looks to him, a native of the nation in question:
When I turned on the news and discovered that the messages were about a lion killed by an American dentist, the village boy inside me instinctively cheered: One lion fewer to menace families like mine.
My excitement was doused when I realized that the lion killer was being painted as the villain. I faced the starkest cultural contradiction I’d experienced during my five years studying in the United States.
Did all those Americans signing petitions understand that lions actually kill people? That all the talk about Cecil being “beloved” or a “local favorite” was media hype? Did Jimmy Kimmel choke up because Cecil was murdered or because he confused him with Simba from “The Lion King”?
In my village in Zimbabwe, surrounded by wildlife conservation areas, no lion has ever been beloved, or granted an affectionate nickname. They are objects of terror.
More than that, Nzou recognizes in the American reaction a form of totemism, a primitive social organization where certain animals and plants are considered to be the symbolic heads of certain social groups. If you belong to the group that has the snake as a totem, you will not be allowed to eat snake meat. But this does not mean that you cannot kill an occasional snake.
In America, of course, right-thinking people believe that they have gone beyond monotheism and have arrived at atheism. In truth, their atheism is really a disguised form of polytheism and pagan idolatry.
Nzou explains it well:
For Zimbabweans, wild animals have near-mystical significance. We belong to clans, and each clan claims an animal totem as its mythological ancestor. Mine is Nzou, elephant, and by tradition, I can’t eat elephant meat; it would be akin to eating a relative’s flesh. But our respect for these animals has never kept us from hunting them or allowing them to be hunted. (I’m familiar with dangerous animals; I lost my right leg to a snakebite when I was 11.)
The American tendency to romanticize animals that have been given actual names and to jump onto a hashtag train has turned an ordinary situation — there were 800 lions legally killed over a decade by well-heeled foreigners who shelled out serious money to prove their prowess — into what seems to my Zimbabwean eyes an absurdist circus.
“An absurdist circus” … a nice turn of phrase that explains how some of our antics look to the world beyond our shores.
Or better, Nzou continues:
We Zimbabweans are left shaking our heads, wondering why Americans care more about African animals than about African people.
Don’t tell us what to do with our animals when you allowed your own mountain lions to be hunted to near extinction in the eastern United States. Don’t bemoan the clear-cutting of our forests when you turned yours into concrete jungles.
And please, don’t offer me condolences about Cecil unless you’re also willing to offer me condolences for villagers killed or left hungry by his brethren, by political violence, or by hunger.
Kudos to the New York Times for publishing the column.