#BringBackOurGirls

Published May 10, 2014

YOU don’t have to be living abroad to get a sense of the white-hot anger people around the world are feeling towards Boko Haram, the Nigerian equivalent of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban.

Just go to Twitter and watch the stream of abuse directed at the kidnappers of nearly 300 girls in the remote Nigerian town of Chibok. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls is so active that you can barely read a post before another hurtles along.

But in Pakistan, we are so busy contemplating our collective navel that the event has barely registered. Apart from an eloquent op-ed comment from Mahir Ali, and a Dawn editorial demanding condemnation of this brutal act by the Muslim world, I have not found much else. Our private TV channels are too busy bashing each other, or discussing the crisis of the day, to bother their viewers with distant tragedies.

But preoccupied as we are by local events, even we should understand that there is a world outside, and there are events that lay a certain moral responsibility on all of us. Malala Yousafzai is a case in point: millions of Pakistanis keep asking why people around the world have been making such a fuss about her.

In a country where the innocent suffer violence every day, perhaps this is a legitimate question. But Malala has attained her iconic position because she has come to stand for the right of girls to get an education. Similarly, the plight of hundreds of young Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped — with many probably sold as sex slaves — has horrified the world.

One sign of the anger and the wish to do something is the American and British offer to dispatch teams to Nigeria to help the government trace the kidnap victims. There are reports that intelligence officers have already reached Nigeria. Other countries, including China, have also offered to help.

Apart from the hatred of Muslim extremists towards modern education, Nigeria and Pakistan have other similarities. Our tribal areas and Nigeria’s dense forests in its porous north-eastern border near Cameroon offer insurgents perfect cover, while also being very difficult terrain for regular forces to operate in.

What has been puzzling and infuriating in equal measure has been the casual approach taken by President Goodluck Jonathan. It has taken his government three weeks to announce a reward for information about the kidnapped girls’ whereabouts.

Ironically, the same day saw a 12-hour Boko Haram attack on a market town near the Cameroon border that left over 300 dead. This audacious assault is yet another reminder of the reign of terror this criminal gang has unleashed across large swathes of Nigeria.

Currently, the country’s capital of Abuja is hosting the World Economic Forum. Recently, Nigeria was hailed as being Africa’s biggest economy. So Nigerians ask, with some justification, why the state is unable to protect them: last year, the country spent $6 billion on defence.

Certainly, poor governance and massive corruption have contributed to the failure of the state in its largely Muslim northern provinces. Here, Boko Haram has carried out the most brazen attacks with scarcely any serious challenge from the Nigerian defence forces.

Now that Western security teams will be assisting Nigeria in search and rescue operations, I have little doubt many liberals will join Islamist groups in a chorus to condemn Obama and Cameron for their interference in a sovereign country’s affairs. In all this, Muslim states have not uttered a squeak, mostly for fear of upsetting their own extremists.

But by their silence, as the recent Dawn editorial rightly noted, they risk being viewed as giving ‘tacit approval’ to the crimes Boko Haram is committing in the name of Islam. We constantly repeat the mantra of Islam being a religion of peace. But an increasing number of non-Muslims disagree.

Whether we like it or not — and most of us don’t — the grim reality is that Muslim extremist groups have killed and maimed across the world, shouting Allah-o-Akbar. Some of these are waging war for their rights, and just happen to be Muslim. But others are using the cover of Islam to satisfy their bloodlust and to grab power.

These elements have tainted the reputation of Islam, and yet the Muslim ummah has remained a silent spectator. Small wonder that increasingly, non-Muslims are becoming convinced that the problem is with Islam itself, and not with a few Muslims.

In our misplaced desire not to criticise groups that fight under the banner of Islam, we refuse to examine closely the cause they say they are fighting for. Boko Haram, led by a madman who wants to sell the girls he has kidnapped, is surely not worth defending, and must be condemned in the most forthright language.

irfan.husain@gmail.com

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