At this point, the kidnapped girls in Nigeria are officially “A News Story,” which means that CNN is even breaking into its coverage of missing airliners to get into the big details. Of course, it helps when the details are on video:
(CNN) — The girls sit quietly on the ground, dressed in traditional Islamic garb, barely moving, clearly scared.
“Praise be to Allah, the lord of the world,” they chant.
The video, released by French news agency Agence France-Presse, purports to show about 100 of the 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram fighters nearly a month ago. It’s the first time they’ve been seen since their abduction April 14.
This doesn’t mean, however, that everyone is completely comfortable with the clearly religious foundations of this hellish story.
In the print version of this CNN report, for example, the editors waited for 12 paragraphs to offer background on why it mattered that the girls — in the heavily Islamic Northern half of Nigeria — were wearing hijabs and chanting Islamic prayers.
In separate shots filmed against a green backdrop, the man who claims to be Shekau says the girls — who come from a Christian stronghold — have converted to Islam.
So the girls have been kidnapped, forced to convert to another faith and face threats that they will be sold into forced marriages and/or slavery. How many violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are included in that equation?
Big issues. Nevertheless, that’s pretty much it in terms of the religion content in this lengthy CNN report.
Meanwhile, over at The New York Times, this moving report on the crisis features photographs showing mothers weeping in church pews for their missing daughters — but the story itself never mentions that religion played any role in why these girls were targeted. The bottom line: The girls were taken from Chibok Government Girls Secondary School and the vast majority were Christians and the others were Muslims who were willing to attend a non-Islamic school with Christians, a violation of Boko Haram’s vision of true Islam.
Still, some mainstream reporters are realizing that religion has something to do with this story and that Boko Haram’s reign of terror in this corner of northern Nigeria is, in fact, a story.
Why? Why now?
What finally pushed to button that made this a real, live journalism story? You know, as opposed to a “conservative news” story reported on sites dedicated to religious liberty and human rights? Was it the First Lady and that picture with the #bringbackourgirls hashtag?
Here is a provocative statement of the central journalistic question here by a friend of mine, author and columnist Lela Gilbert of The Jerusalem Post, in this case writing a commentary piece for at Fox News.
Initially, the Nigerian story was circulated almost entirely by social media, where it was increasingly Liked, Shared and Tweeted. Before long, the hashtag #bringbackourgirls appealed globally for help.
And now at last, major news agencies have begun to write about it. But why did it take so long?
Would the abduction have been more compelling to Western readers if 200 blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls had been abducted? Wouldn’t there have been myriad heartrending stories about their families, their photos, their hopes and dreams?
In fact, a group of bright, young African students may well be sold into sexual slavery or worse. And that’s only part of a larger nightmare scenario in their homeland. Thousands of Nigerian Christians have been slaughtered in recent years by Boko Haram, and thousands more have fled. Victims have been burned alive in their churches, murdered in their homes and massacred in the streets of the villages.
It has become a gruesomely familiar story.
Familiar in Nigeria, but not here. The timing is most interesting for this new wave of coverage.
Journalists, if you are interested in the history of this crisis let me point you toward this resource — factsnigeriaviolence.org — which is linked to the Jubilee Campaign, focusing on global religious liberty issues. The website covers the last four years of violence in this region, event by event, with facts from public records and links to relevant press reports and websites.
There are more links to press coverage these days. Please allow me to say: Thank God.