In chilling contrast to the lyrical verse and candy-sweet images that millions of American families are preparing to enjoy on the 100th anniversary of Mother’s Day, May 11, the families of almost 300 abducted school girls in Nigeria are struggling to maintain sanity while praying for an end to the ordeal.
The students reportedly were abducted from the Government Secondary Girl School in Chibok, northeast Nigeria, on April 15 (some reports say April 14). On May 4, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan issued an appeal to the international community for assistance finding and returning the students, who range in age from 16 to 18. President Jonathan stated, “This is a trying time for this country... it is painful," and promised parents that he would not allow the kidnapping to go unsolved.
Video in which the extremist leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, surfaced May 5. In the video, Shekau boasted that he intended to sell some of the girls into slavery and force others into marriage. On May 6, additional reports began to emerge that another eight girls, aged 12 to 15, had been abducted from a village near Boko Haram’s suspected stronghold.
Social media, blaring the hash tags #BringBackOurGirls and #StolenDreams, helped to increase international outrage over the mass kidnapping itself. However, outrage has also intensified over the failure thus far to recover such a large number of young women. Since the original kidnapping, some 50 of the students managed to escape while approximately 220 remain captive.
Terror and Guerrilla Decontextualization
That the mass abduction is criminally heinous and spiritually tragic is something not even a marginally-informed person would deny. It should not, however, be described as an accurate expression of Islam. When the terrorist labels it as such, he is doing nothing more than utilizing guerrilla decontextualization to replace the spiritual goals of the religion with an individual lust for power and a deadly disregard for human life.
When commenters on social media refer to the tragedy as “Islamic” they are doing the same. The act is no more true to the faith than a White American racist’s murder of an African American is true the practice of democracy. In both cases, what is expressed more than anything else is the warped psychology of an individual or group which, without the cloak of religious or political or social idealism, would be viewed as a form of violent psychosis in urgent need or treatment.
The Wikipedia profile of Shekau describes him as “an intellectual and theologian who studied Islam ‘under a traditional cleric.’" The gun-wielding individual declaring he intended to sell young women into slavery because the Holy Quran says he should sell in the marketplace is hardly adhering to either the principle tenets of the religion or the universally observed principles of human rights.
What partly makes Shekau’s threat to sell the students into slavery so disturbing is that in 2014 human trafficking still exists and there is in fact a so-called “market” that will allow him to do exactly as he has said. The market is as real in Nigeria and neighboring countries as it was and is in the United States of America and other nations. Some reports state a number of the students have already been “sold.”
Angelique Kidjo on Power and Gender in Africa
Among the signs carried by women and men protesting the mass kidnapping in Nigeria are those describing the abducted young women as “Nigeria’s future leaders.” Fear of that possibility––adult women exercising real power––seems to be a major part of the problem for members of Boko Haram. In an interview on CNN, world music superstar and Grammy Award-winning artist Angelique Kidjo put it this way:
“The issue here is that girls in Africa are considered as property that can be sold and transferred to another man. Education is a threat to Boko Haram and other groups that think that women who are educated are going to go away from the power. And it’s true that when you educate a young girl in Africa you cut off violence, sexual abuse, and you increase the GDP of the country.”
More on Mother’s Day and the Kidnapped Daughters of Nigeria