Bring Back Our Girls: That Happened


ColumnOn April 14th, approximately 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by Islamic extremists. It took about two weeks for most of the world to notice.

This was the lead headline on CNN’s U.S. homepage on May 6th: “276 Girls Were Kidnapped: Here’s Why it Matters.”

The fact that we live in a world where “here’s why it matters” is part of this headline is repulsive. My response to this story has been visceral.

If you allow it to, Bring Back Our Girls news will consume you and make you think the world is a terrible place.

Terrible because this happened. Terrible because for weeks hardly anyone cared. Terrible because I believe that if these girls were white, people here in the U.S. would have been armed and ready to smoke out those bad guys. Terrible because when the world finally decided these lives were worth our attention, more girls were kidnapped. Terrible because even if the collective “we” manages to save these particular girls, the story will only end until next time.

And there will be a next time until the larger issue — the quest to implement sharia — is addressed, says Raheel Raza. Raza is President of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, author of the book “Their Jihad – Not My Jihad,” and an award-winning journalist, public speaker and activist for human rights, gender equality and dignity in diversity.

#NotAllMuslimsAreTerrorists (But these guys are)

“My spirituality is the balm on my soul; it’s where I go for solace. The spiritual message of Islam, my faith, has been hijacked,” says Raza. “But in an effort to be politically correct, people are afraid to call the Boko Haram Islamic terrorists, or quick to say they are not really Muslims because they are evil. But they call themselves Muslim. We cannot decide who is and who is not Muslim. Sharia is part of Muslim ideology and we have to deal with it.”

In the long journey to stopping these kinds of attacks, Raza explains, people need to connect the dots and see the common thread. In Nigeria and Brunei, among other places that don’t make the news cycle, the connection is sharia.

“There is applying a band-aid and there’s going to the root of the disease. We have to go to the root and pull it out. The root is an ideology; it’s a state of mind and you can’t fight that with weapons and you can’t fight it from the outside. Muslims have to be the frontline warriors. Which I am. Without tarnishing my own faith, I have to fight,” says Raza.

We all have to fight because we cannot agree to live in a world where Boko Haram’s leader announces plans to sell the girls “on the market.” These girls, some as young as 9, will be sold as child brides, get raped and become the “property” of religious extremists. The going rate is about $12.

We have to fight because we cannot agree to live in a world where there is a market for 9-year-old child brides and where CNN has to explain why people should care that 300 girls were kidnapped and sold into slavery.

#IsThisHelping? (Or making things worse?)

In recent days, there has been criticism of the half-assed click-and-help approach that many of us take to feel like we’re doing something. Some argue that the social media attention may actually be making things worse.

Since this story has started to receive international attention, at least eight more girls were abducted. Then, on Wednesday, gunmen linked with Boko Haram attacked a town near the Cameroon border, killing about 125 people, according to Reuters. Witnesses say that the attackers sprayed automatic gunfire in the market, burned down houses and slit people’s throats.

That all might have happened regardless of #BringBackOurGirls, which is part of the reason I will always argue for speaking out, and part of the reason that I’ll sign a petition even though I know my signature won’t be the one that brings these girls home. Awareness is essential.

Raza says, “This is my work: Expose, educate and eradicate. What is happening right now is the first order of business — raising awareness. The crimes are being exposed. Then there has to be education about the history of these groups. These people didn’t fall from the sky. Then we have to eradicate them. We have to end these crimes against humanity. Nobody has a right to kill someone in the name of any faith. It’s a huge job, but this is my passion.”

“Yes, we get frustrated, but I do think that making this a global campaign could help the Nigerian government be held accountable. Some people write, some lobby, some post on social media. I was posting #BringBackOurGirls every day, then Jay Leno protests and suddenly this is big news,” says Raza.

Which only begins to touch on the problem of westerners trying to step in and “save” countries they don’t understand.

#TheseAreOurGirls (And they are not the only ones)

There’s concern that intervention from the west isn’t the answer, and many are left with a bad taste when thinking about western military forces coming into a country they know little about to “fix things'”— in other words to help “those people” do things our way.

But, at the moment, I think we have to focus on what could help these particular girls.

“The girls are our immediate issue,” Raza explains, “Every day that passes these girls are suffering. They are suffering … I don’t know what and I am up at night thinking about it. I am not a world leader and don’t pretend to know how, all I know is that the terrorists must be stopped. The ‘how’ is a government question, but going beyond this case and these girls, it’s a Muslim issue. First-world countries have always interfered and colonized. This is the history of the world, so why not do it at a time when there is a need? This as a human rights crisis; this is beyond politics, color, faith or ethnicity.”

Last Tuesday, President Obama called this a “terrible situation,” and said that the U.S. will send military and law enforcement advisors to Nigeria to support its efforts to find and free the girls. So it seems that the politicians are working on the how.

That’s good news, but like many people, I am struggling to feel optimistic. I am struggling not to punch things and scream.

What will it take to get to the root of the problem? Why did it take a # to get the media to start talking about this? For people to start Facebook pages, for the tweet to come from the First Lady, for multi-city rallies?

Why wasn’t the whole world looking for these girls the second they were taken? Is it because they are African? Muslim? Was it just too easy to think, “Those aren’t our girls….”

They are our girls. And they need our help.

Once this is over — when the girls are home or the media stops caring and so we think it’s over— we can help by staying informed and staying outraged:

  • Learn more about the history of sharia. Watch the documentary “Honor Diaries,” which features Raheel Raza and details a gender-apartheid taking place in honor-based societies around the world, and particularly in nations where sharia law is government-mandated.
  • Support girls going to school around Africa through the Campaign for Female Education: $40 pays for a girl’s school uniform.
  • The Global Coalition has documented a pattern of attacks on schools, teachers and students in 30 countries in the last five years — watch the video.

That Happened is Libby Lowe’s weekly column for EcoSalon analyzing media, news and pop culture through a feminist lens. Keep in touch with Libby @LibbyLowe.

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Image: Bring Back Our Girls via Facebook