Are the kidnapped Nigerian school girls really America’s problem?
Boko Haram is evil and we all want to see the victims rescued. But how is it our responsibility?
Many of us have watched in horror as the story of the kidnapped Nigerian school girls has unfolded. The idea of a terror group like Boko Haram selling these victims into “marriage” violates every atom of our shared morality.
But the other day I saw this headline from the Beeb:
I have to tell you, I was a little taken aback. Sure, we have resources we can put into play. Yes, we’re trying to help. Yes, hopefully we can be part of finding the victims and rescuing them.
But since when is the abduction of children in Nigeria a US problem? Read that headline – it assumes that Boko Haram kidnappings are America’s responsibility. The first B in BBC – that stands for British,” right? Why isn’t the headline “Was Britain slow to act?”
Natural disasters on the other side of the world? Call America. Unrest in Ukraine? Call America. Iranian nuclear program? Call America, and fast.
I know, I know. This is our own doing. We’ve spent so long pretending we’re the world’s policeman that now everybody has bought into the idea. You don’t devote decades to deploying a short-sighted, arrogant, counterproductive imperial foreign policy without eventually paying for it.
I don’t want to sound like an unfeeling asshole. I’m not. We find ourselves in a position to help, great.
But… What about all the kidnapped children in the United States? There are a lot more of them than there are in Nigeria. How many is hard to sort precisely – the famous 797,000 number is problematic, as Slate explains, but by any reckoning the tragedy here is, numerically speaking, far greater than it is with the Boko Haram case, especially when you consider that “one in seven endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 2013 were likely sex trafficking victims.”
No, these stories don’t make for a handy parallel. The missing in the US are diffused – lots of small, individual cases that aren’t deemed newsworthy in and of themselves (except when one of the victims turns out to be a pretty middle-class white girl, of course). The numbers are spread out over time and geography, whereas in the Nigeria case everything is neatly focused in a way that cynical international media conglomerates can aggregate for maximum ratings.
Also, Boko Haram is an Islamic terrorist organization, and that’s always good for attracting eyeballs. The only thing that would make it a better story would be if they’d somehow nabbed a girls youth soccer team from a lilly-white burb of Atlanta.
Am I being cynical here? Fine. Explain to me how I’m wrong.
As I say, I’m mortified by the kidnappings in Nigeria and can barely think about what those little girls are facing. I hope to hell they can all be brought to safety, and I’m not going to lie, I’ll be just fine if each and every kidnapper dies in the rescue operation. If the US is part of the happy ending, great, although for all kinds of reasons I hope no US soldiers are the ones pulling the triggers. That just makes the recruiting process easier for our enemies.
In the end, though, I don’t find the plight of kidnapped Nigerian girls being sold into what amounts to sex slavery any worse than I do kidnapped American girls being forced into sex slavery.
If you want to fix the world, start at home.