Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bishop Bill Atwood: Willful blindness vs. social media traction with the abducted Nigerian girls

Boko Haram is a group mainly in Nigeria that is linked with al Qaeda. The name means “Western Education is Forbidden,” or “Western Education is a Sin.” It is inadequate to describe them as terrorists or extremists. They are better understood by the technical psychotherapy designation as “Wingnut Wackjobs.” They view attacks on unarmed innocents as their vocational pursuit.

In the desolate far North Eastern part of Nigeria, Boko Haram has grown in influence and infamy over the last five years. It’s foothold is partly due to the harsh conditions in that part of Nigeria, partly due to the sieve-like borders with Chad and Niger, and the difficulty of bringing development projects to life that demonstrate compassion and increased quality of life. It is difficult for a militant who longs for the brighter day of 1400 AD to appreciate medical technology or economic development projects that empower people.

In the last several years they have mostly targeted Christians and Churches. Last September, they attacked a temporary police station that had been set up in Yadi Buni Town in Yobe State just to the West of Borno State. More than 160 were killed. Civilian fighters, members of a “Joint Task Force” whose focus is battling Boko Haram, were targeted, captured, and beheaded.

Shortly after that, soldiers were attacked on the Baga-Maiduguri Road in Borno State. In that ambush, fifteen soldiers were killed.

Emboldened by bloodshed, on April 15th Boko Haram members armed with AK-47s abducted almost 300 high school girls who were gathered to take exams. In the confusion, some fifty escaped, leaving some 230 still in captivity. Recent reports indicate that they are being smuggled across the borders to Chad and Cameroon.

Boko Haram leader Abubaker Shekau said (by way of a shaky home video), “”I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah.” ”There is a market for selling humans,” he continued, “Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women,” he continued.

Reports are coming in that these girls are being sold to militants in Chad and Cameroon for 2,000 Naira (about $12).

It is almost incomprehensible that a caravan of some 230 young women and a host of Kalashnikov bearing Boko Hammers could move through the desolate of Northern Nigeria and cross the borders into Chad and Cameroon without being spotted by satellites, reconnaissance aircraft, or traders.

Now, the story which has been almost completely ignored for the last two weeks is beginning to gain traction in the media. It’s not because the mainstream media have suddenly gotten either religion or conscience, it is because every day crowds of demonstrators are marching in front of media outlets and government offices carrying placards in places like Lagos, Abuja, and London that say things that read, “Our girls are not for sale,” and “Bring them home.” Twitter and Facebook and other social media sites are starting to explode with references. That is putting great pressure on the “news” outlets.

The silence about this atrocity is most remarkable from a number of fronts. First of all, Christian leaders have been slow to call for fasting and prayer. That is changing, but we are still behind the power curve! The realization that we have failed there is humbling. We need to repent and get praying.

Second, it is a stunning omission that news outlets have all but ignored it for three weeks! Very few have covered it up to this week. Now, FINALLY, stories are appearing, thanks to social media and other pressure.

The third group that has been, and remains silent, are Muslim leaders. I have not been able to find even one Islamic leader who has denounced this kidnapping, the violence, or the added horror of these young girls being sold for “marriage.” If Islamic leaders want to be perceived as leaders of a “Religion of Peace,” at some point they need to speak like it and act like it. As it is, the broad, violent strokes from those who act in the name of Allah powerfully and dramatically portray what kind of religion Islam is.

In the meantime, the girls are still missing. They are being sold off like goats and cattle into brutish, backward, poverty and oppression, where they will be stripped of learning, dignity, and likely even life itself. That descent will continue unless each of us begins to speak and act. These innocents cannot be forgotten or abandoned.

Bishop Bill Atwood is Bishop of the International Diocese of the Anglican Church in North America and a contributing author to the American Anglican Council.