Helping Nigeria’s Girls Will Require More Than Just Selfies

Helping Nigeria’s Girls Will Require More Than Just Selfies

Now that we’ve all taken our #BringBackOurGirls pictures, we can spend some time examining what the appalling tragedy in Nigeria, and the attention paid to it, explains about some 21st century realities. Doing so just might help other young women and communities, as well as our security. But first we might have to relinquish some tightly held ideas about who these girls are and what we can do for them.

Who are these girls of “ours”? They are Muslims who live in an area so poor, so neglected by Nigeria’s government and so bypassed by its oil wealth, that high school-level education is not common and not free. While these girls’ abduction made headlines, International Crisis Group reports that many boys and girls in the region must work as house servants or street hawkers to pay tuition for boarding school. Too many of the boys end up in street gangs. Too many of the girls end up sexually abused. Most fundamentally, if we represent them as “ours,” it is because they and their parents want something we have—high school education—so badly they are willing to risk their lives for it. But how would U.S. policy be different if they were really “our” children? How would policy be different if we spent the time it took to post a #BringBackOurGirls selfie on Facebook instead calling our members of Congress to tell them to pay the U.S. share of United Nations dues that fund girls’ education? To lift bans that prevent U.S. NGOs from counseling those girls about how not to get pregnant or deal with the result of a rape? To stop cutting funding for U.S. diplomats, in Nigeria and other places, who can tell Americans these children’s stories?

This is the face of terrorism. Understanding Boko Haram is as good a way as any to understand what the universe of al-Qaida imitators, wannabes and hangers-on is really like: The group is a threat not easily dismissed, made up of individuals who hate modernity and hide in a warped version of their faith, who are willing to kill innocents by the thousands and assault the moral underpinnings of the world we wish to live in. It is also a collection of impoverished misfits that raises funds $12 at a time, can cause untold damage and pain, but poses no existential military threat to the United States, or to Americans in our daily lives.

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