The polio disease was on the verge of eradication when Ibrahim Datti Ahmed, president of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria and a physician, suggested at about this time in 2003 that the vaccination program in his country was part of a Western conspiracy to render Muslim children infertile. His call for an end to the polio immunization campaign touched a nerve and spread to other Muslim religious leaders in Nigeria, causing the vaccination process to slow down and incidences of the disease to pick up.
From Nigeria, this dual phenomenon of conspiracy theory and re-appearance of the disease then expanded to Muslims internationally. (For an outline of its progress over the past ten years, see my long weblog entry.) So closely connected have Islam and polio become that the Muslim-only pilgrimage to Mecca became a major mechanism of transmitting the disease to faraway places like Indonesia.
By now, Ahmed's paranoia has sent the new wave of polio from Nigeria to Muslim populations in at least 17 other African countries and 6 Asian countries:
- Africa: Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Sudan, and Togo.
- Asia: Afghanistan, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.
Unfortuatnely, a single conspiracy-obsessed Islamist, equipped with an organization and credentials, has caused polio not to be eradicated but instead to win a new lease on life. As a result, radical Islam brought misery to another aspect of human life – and made fellow Muslims its principal victims.