Should the West Take Action Against the Nigerian Islamists Who Are Hiding and Selling 200 Kidnapped Girls?

Of all the groups qualifying for the title “scum of the earth,” Nigeria-based Boko Haram gets my vote.

I’ve written about these cruelest of child killers and rapists before. Their strategy and focus is markedly different from their Islamist brethren. You see, Boko Haram — a name that means “Western education is sinful” — consists of violent fundies who love targeting schools, teachers, and students, in a series of loathsome acts not seen since Muslim terrorists killed almost 400 pupils and teachers in Beslan, Russia.

Education is no accidental target, the Guardian‘s Jill Filipovic reminds us:

[Boko Haram] correctly understand that education sets girls on a path to economic independence and self-reliance. Education also makes girls (and women) less dependent on men, less subservient to authority and less acquiescent to the social and religious strictures that don’t serve girls’ overall interests — educated women are more likely to refuse practices like female genital cutting, for instance, better able to resist domestic violence, and less tolerant of discrimination.

The group has been back in the news thanks to the monstrous April 14 kidnapping of 276 girls.

Frida Ghitis, writing on cnn.com, alleges that

… If it had happened anywhere else, this would be the world’s biggest story.

Members of the ultra-radical Islamist group Boko Haram grabbed the girls, most believed to be between 16 and 18, from their dormitories in the middle of the night in mid-April and took them deep into the jungle. A few dozen of the students managed to escape and tell their story. The others have vanished. (Roughly 200 girls remain missing.)

Among the captives, about 165 girls are thought to be Christian.

The latest reports from people living in the forest say Boko Haram fighters are sharing the girls, conducting mass marriages, selling them each for $12. One community elder explained the practice as “a medieval kind of slavery.”

“Sharing” doesn’t quite get to the heart of what’s happening, does it? Likewise, “marriages” is a misnomer, too.

Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, who runs a shelter for girls abducted by Joseph Kony’s LRA in Uganda, says that’s just a euphemism for systematic rape. “This is not marriage,” she says. “They are being given in sex slavery. This is human trafficking. We should call evil by its name.”

To address Ghitis’ central assertion, I don’t actually know that this story was underplayed or ignored.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald,

The girls’ abduction has triggered global outrage and prompted protests in a number of Nigerian cities, calling on the government to secure their release.

And that’s my assessment too. Thousands of news articles and videos from around the globe attest to the fact that this is not — or is no longer — an under-reported story.

The response from the world’s journalists has been slow to build, I think. Part of that is that the heinous kidnappings and rapes occurred in Africa, hardly ever the place where the Western media shine their spotlight. (That’s not an excuse, just a sad fact: the farther away an event is geographically and culturally and foreign-policy-wise, the less likely that it will be covered in the so-called First World.)

There’s also a pretty sparse news infrastructure in much of Africa, meaning that solid news coverage is problematic there, compared to places that, in a sense, compete with it, such as Malaysia (missing airplane) and South Korea (ferry disaster).

A related problem was that it’s been hard to verify what really happened during and after Boko Haram’s raid on the school in Chibok. For the first week or two after the attack, confusion reigned, while Nigerian officials proved themselves to be remarkably inept at tallying the number of girls who had been abducted — and those who had escaped.

Social media like Twitter and Facebook probably played a crucial role in rescuing the story from oblivion, belatedly helping it onto front pages and the nightly news.

Now that we have a better handle on what went down, and on how many abducted girls are still out there living in squalor and sexual slavery every minute of every day, it’s hard not to agree with Ghitis when she advocates for international action.

This is an international crisis that requires international help. Is there anything anyone can do? Most definitely. … Nigeria’s government, with a decidedly mixed record on its response to Boko Haram, will find it difficult to look away if world leaders offer assistance in finding and rescuing the kidnapped girls from Chibok, and another 25 girls also kidnapped by Boko Haram in the town of Konduga a few weeks earlier.

Part of me wants some U.S. SEAL teams dispatched to the Nigerian jungle stat.

On the other hand, I fear that that’s precisely what Boko Haram wants: to become an international flashpoint and a perverse ’cause célèbre’; and to draw powers like the United States into a local conflict just so that the Islamist fundies can advance their narrative of the West “waging war on Islam.”

Charlotte Alter, at Time, intones

[T]his tragedy is partly on us. We weren’t paying attention. We failed those girls. Let’s not do it again.

Expressing our “attention,” our outrage, and our sorrow is easy. The much harder part is knowing how to find 200 freshly-minted sex slaves and reunite them with their families.

I fervently hope there is a way.

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**UPDATE**, via CNN: Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, says in a video that the girls will be sold.

“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau says in a video, according to a CNN translation from the local Hausa language. “There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell.”

 

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.


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