The West may have to intervene to #BringBackOurGirls

Published: May 12, 2014
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I do not think the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag campaign will actually be a successful one, until the awareness it has created is translated into a rescue effort to bring back those girls. PHOTO: REUTERS

The social media campaign to bring back over 200 school girls, kidnapped by Nigeria’s Boko Haram, has helped draw a lot of global attention to the activities of this vicious organisation. The campaign has help put some pressure on world leaders to act and assist Nigeria in the fight against this militant group.

The United States, the United Kingdom and France have offered to help. However, the prospect of western intervention on this matter is generating a lot of debate. There are concerns that such an intervention could turn Nigeria into another Afghanistan.

The issue here is this: what is the alternative to intervening to assist Nigeria to bring these girls safely back to their families? If intervening is not the solution, then what is?

I mean, what is the essence of tweeting and using social media to mobilise everyone globally, if the campaign is to not get the world to help Nigeria resolve this matter? I do not think the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag campaign will actually be a successful one, until the awareness it has created is translated into a rescue effort to bring back those girls.

It is very easy to sit in our comfortable rooms, in countries far away from Nigeria, and argue against the effects of western intervention in this matter, on the grounds that such an intervention would legitimise America’s military expansionist agenda in Africa. But here is the point; we are not sitting in Nigeria, we are not going through this misery.

Can we, for once, just try and put ourselves in the shoes of the victims of this violence?

Parents, whose children have been kidnapped, want their babies back. Families and communities that are constantly attacked by Boko Haram militants want an end to the mindless abduction and blood shed. They want the perpetrators to be brought to justice. Nigeria obviously needs military and intelligence support to deal with the situation at the moment. Those who are opposed to western intervention should propose a viable alternative to end this nightmare in Nigeria.

If international assistance is provided to countries when they are hit by natural disasters, or when countries experience aviation mishaps, as was seen in the case of the missing Malaysia Airline flight MH370, why should countries – western or eastern – not extend help to Nigeria and ensure that these girls are brought back to their families?

Nigeria is grappling with a humanitarian crisis with an international dimension. Why should they not be helped?

The government is fighting a transnational terrorist group that recruits members from neighbouring countries. Boko Haram has already carried out trans-border raids and kidnappings. It has also attacked the UN building in Abuja. If it gets the opportunity, Boko Haram will start attacking embassies of western countries or business interests in Nigeria as well, as the militant outfits al Shabaab does in Kenya.

The menace of Boko Haram is not just a Nigerian problem. This terrorist group poses a serious threat to peace and security in the region and beyond.

The Boko Haram is not just a military issue. It is an ideological issue. We need to fight their ideology. For now, Nigeria needs help to rescue the girls and put in place effective counter terrorism initiatives. But in the long run, the country needs to adopt measures to address the root of the problem – the religious and ideological roots that support and help this menace grow.

The name ‘Boko Haram’ means ‘western education is forbidden’ in the local Hausa language. This speaks volumes about the ideological leaning of this organisation. The group is opposed to ‘western education’ and secular governments. It is an offshoot of the ‘anti-western’, jihadist, theocratic ideology that prevails in many parts of northern Nigeria, hence its agitation for the establishment of an Islamic state.

Boko Haram is a radical fall out of a quest for Sharia law and Islamic theocracy by Muslim majority states in the country. Like al Shabaab, Islamic extremism is Boko Haram’s ideological power base for mobilisation of support and for recruitment of members. The abduction of those 200 plus school girls is a radical demonstration of its extremist perception of women and its opposition to secular ideals of gender equality, dignity and human rights.

Secularists, feminists and human rights campaigners should explore ways of counteracting the indoctrination, ‘dogmatisation’ and brainwashing of young Muslims in mosques and Islamic schools across northern Nigeria. It is at these ‘praying’ and ‘learning’ centres that clerics radicalise young Muslims and turn them into merchants of death and destruction.

Human rights campaigners should liaise with secular groups and institutions to promote educational reform and inculcate the values of critical thinking, separation of mosque and state, tolerance of other religions and world views, free and open society and universal human rights.

Leo Igwe

Leo Igwe

A researcher at Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (religious studies), University of Bayreuth in Germany.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.