Shame Day: The Boko Haram Kidnappings (and the reasons I postponed reporting it)

I’m currently living with my in-laws. At our house John and I almost never watch the news, but living with them means that most evenings I take in at least an hour or two of current events. For weeks I’ve been listening to CNN run flight simulations to try and guess where the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went. I’ve also seen hours of footage from the South Korean ferry accident, including the gut-wrenching clips of the young kids saying goodbye to their parents. Despite all of that it was only recently that I heard the first report of the group of girls kidnapped in Nigeria.

It’s possible that I just wasn’t watching at the right time, or that it wasn’t featured on Western news stations over the past few weeks because of attempts by the Nigerian government to downplay the situation. I’m definitely not saying that the case hasn’t been reported at all, since African and international media were reporting on this case long before we were over here.

While it may have just been coincidence that the story had less air time than some other heavily featured stories, TIME magazine claims that

“the media enabled the government to sweep the whole thing under the rug by ignoring the story for weeks. The kidnapping was mentioned for the first time on American nightly news on May 1, more than two weeks after the girls were taken.”

They go on to argue that this is because we “overreport stories that affect our foreign policy (especially in India, China and the Middle East) and underreport stories that have less geopolitical relevance.”

While that sounds like a disappointingly realistic claim, I can’t speak for all the media giants out there. I can, however, speak for myself. There are primarily two reasons why I was afraid to write about this case with the fervent anger that it deserves.

1) I don’t want to appear Islamophobic

Islamophobia is a topic Gordon has already discusses several times on the blog. It’s easy for media giants to paint all Muslims with the same brush the moment something bad happens. Our friends over at Fox are already experts at it.

As you can see in the video above, when any sort of attack takes place involving Muslims media sources like Fox start asking why moderate Muslims aren’t decrying these kind of attacks. They then conveniently ignore the consolidation of Muslim groups openly condemning terrorist activities.

Fundamentalism is frightening in any form. The Western world was brought face to face with this issue after the 9/11 attacks, but it wasn’t the first time religious fundamentalism had resulted in terrorist activity. There have been painful examples of Fundamentalist Christian terrorist attacks taking place in the States for years before 2011. In the past it has been easy for the media to ignore these uncomfortable examples of terrorism from the far right. Now, as a liberal, I find it tempting to ignore the reality of Muslim extremism that is present in Nigeria.

That makes me a coward. I hate to add more fire to the flames of hatred towards Islam, but these girls deserve to be more than just another uncomfortable example of Muslim terrorism.

2) I don’t want it to seem like I’m presenting Africa as the seat of unrest and corruption

Paternalism is often our first reaction when it comes to any sort of injustice in Africa. I’ve already shared my personal struggle in overcoming this condescending attitude while volunteering in Niger. When this kind of tragedy takes place in an African country, it is tempting to hope it gets fixed quickly before it drags their reputation back down to “3rd world”. 

The CNN article, “What’s at stake in war against girls’ kidnappers?“, argues that Nigeria’s reputation has been growing over the past few years, and that this kind of violence will detract from it:

Befitting its status as a fast-growing oil exporter, for Nigeria this week was to be a coming out party of sorts, as it hosts the 24th World Economic Forum on Africa. More than a thousand academic, business, civil society and political leaders are supposed to gather in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, beginning on Wednesday, to discuss ‘inclusive growth and job creation.’

Conflicting with this image of an emerging regional economic powerhouse, just two days before the start of the World Economic Forum meeting, Nigeria is in the international headlines for all the wrong reasons: Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, a militant Islamist organization, released a video on Monday claiming responsibility for kidnapping more than 270 schoolgirls in northern Nigeria last month.”

As someone who hopes to see the West move from its general sentiment of paternalism towards more of a back-seat show of solidarity, it’s frustrating to see Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan slow in his move towards any rescue attempt. This, in addition to his wife’s reaction to a visit from representatives of the distraught families, makes the Nigerian government appear fairly impotent. It’s not very surprising then, when the U.S. began to talk of stepping in. But I’m tired of writing about the West as some sort of rescue force when so many of the issues taking place in Africa result from unfair Western practices.

The history of African-Western and Islamic-Western relations makes this story somewhat difficult to discuss, but it doesn’t make it any less important. I think in my effort to wade through the insinuations of the kidnappings I forgot the most important part. Nearly 300 girls were taken away from their families to be sold into a horrific form of slavery.

This is not a clash of cultures where we need to carefully evaluate where to throw our support.

This is not a religious debate where each party will carefully think through their opinion.

This is injustice. When I strove to be politically correct about this kind of issue I undercut the seriousness of what is happening.

Besides, at this point isn’t the most important thing finding a way to stop it.

You can show your support for the above-listed Nigerian girls with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on Twitter.

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