Tell Us About The Nigerian Girls
200 schoolgirls have been in the news lately. Specifically, 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria. A lot of friends and relatives have been asking me what is happening, so I thought I’d put in my two cents.
Boko Haram is usually translated as “Western Education is Forbidden.” It’s a decent translation, but I think it misses some of the nuance of the word “haram.” If something is “haram,” it is unclean under religious law. (“Boko” is derived from “book,” so you can see where this is going.) This gives a much clearer understanding of what has been happening in Nigeria over the past decade.
Boko Haram targets schools and the educated classes. The organization also targets anyone who disagrees with what they believe is religiously pure (sound familiar?). This includes Sufis, mainstream Muslims, and educated people more generally, but particularly educated Muslims.
We are talking a lot about these girls because Boko Haram rarely kills girls. They kill boys, whom they see as responsible. They have generally taken girls as “brides” or told them to “go home and get married” in the past. We are talking about the girls because there is hope that they are still alive, though it would be extremely surprising if they were unscathed. We are talking about the girls because girls are particularly vulnerable in insurgency situations, no matter who the insurgents are (and some have threatened to sell the girls, which is an exceptionally distasteful prospect).
Radicalism and purification cults have been growing in West Africa in recent years. This is in part due to increased contact with other countries, but it is also related to high levels of unemployment and underemployment, a feeling that the modern world moves too quickly and is thus corrupting, and most importantly, a power vacuum that has been in place more or less since the end of the colonial era in the 1960s. Where no one is in charge, someone will step into the vacant spaces.
It is hard to know whether President Goodluck Jonathan is doing enough, or anything at all. He has been very closemouthed about this situation, perhaps because he does not want to jeopardize a rescue attempt, or perhaps because he is doing little or nothing. It is hard to know how much control he has over the developing situation. What we do know is that several countries have offered to help to find and rescue the girls. Many of you have seen petitions on this subject; it will do no harm to sign them, and it might do some good. Sadly, Boko Haram and groups like it seek attention, particularly from the press, with many of their more atrocious actions. They are trying to send a message. It may be that their message has been sent and received.