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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/9/14

The kidnappings the world ignored

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Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram

By Bob Gaydos

Now, the world notices. Now, the world calls it an outrage. Now, it is not just an act of terrorism, it is a crime against all humanity.

But where was the world then, three weeks ago, when the outrage occurred? Where were we when members of the Boko Haram terrorist group swept down on a boarding school in Nigeria and kidnapped 276 of that African nation's brightest girls from their dorms? Where were we a mere week ago when the leader of the extreme Islamist group threatened to sell the teenaged girls as "wives" for $12 apiece?

A lot of us, myself included, were focused on the words and actions of a man who shelled out millions to enjoy the company of women, a man who also owned a professional basketball team and who happened to be a racist as well as a misogynist. While Donald Sterling, whom I dubbed "the NBA plantation owner'' in my blog, was being vilified and ridiculed in the media and on the Internet, Abubakar Shekau, commander of Boko Haram, was leading his bloodthirsty group on deadly attacks on Nigerian villages, government buildings, mosques and churches, and kidnapping eight more girls.

For the most part, major media, electronic and print, downplayed or ignored the kidnapping story and hyped the Sterling fiasco. After all, Los Angeles, where Sterling's team plays, is familiar and glamorous and Nigeria is, well, way over there in Africa somewhere. And Sterling had insulted a team of talented, male, black athletes while Shekau had kidnapped a group of young black girls. Double standard hardly seems to cover it.

It took -- as it increasingly does these days -- a social-media campaign for, not just the news media, but other nations to learn about the plight of the Nigerian girls and to muster the moral outrage to offer to help the inept Nigerian government find and return them to their families.

The "#Bring Back Our Girls" campaign on Twitter began in Nigeria as a response to the failure of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to mount any effort to rescue the girls, 53 of whom escaped on the night of their abduction. The hapless president at first said only a few girls had been kidnapped and they had been rescued. When the girls' parents refuted that story, he said he had no idea where the girls were and even faulted the fearful parents for not giving police enough information on their daughters. (The girls had returned to school to take final exams. Virtually all other girls schools in Nigeria were closed because of threats from Boko Haram.) Jonathan's wife, Patience, actually ordered the arrest of parents protesting the government inaction because they made her husband look bad.

As the Internet campaign drew more support (more than a million tweets on May 8), the rest of the world -- and news media -- became aware of what was really happening in Nigeria. A ruthless group of extremist Muslims was trying to take over Africa's largest country through sheer terror. Nigeria is an oil-rich, half-Christian, half-Muslim nation whose people, as demonstrated by many protests, are united in their desire to find the girls. Now, Jonathan, whose army says it is outgunned by Boko Haram, has accepted offers of help from the United States, United Kingdom, China and France in finding the girls and punishing the extremist kidnappers.

Save for members of Boko Haram and other groups with similar extreme views of women's "place" under Islam (such as the Taliban), a successful resolution to this crisis wished by most would be the safe return of all the girls, unharmed, with no ransom paid and the terrorists either dead or in prison. Doesn't matter which.

Beyond that, however, lies the bigger challenge of recognizing and educating the world on the continuing lack of basic rights for women in many Muslim societies. Boko Haram loosely translated means "Western education is sinful." The group supposedly believes its violence is justified by its religion, although Islamist scholars and millions of Muslims say this is not what their religion teaches. Unfortunately, the rare occasions in which Western media mention Islam tend to be in connection with groups like Boko Haram who use their extremist views to justify violence.

Furthermore, major media reporting on women's rights and issues in general remains woefully inadequate, especially considering we're talking about more than half the world's population. Even in the Sterling story, the focus of reporting was on his racist comments while his misogynistic behavior was ignored by most media outlets.

As I said, I am guilty of having missed the Nigerian girls' story while getting wrapped up in Sterling. It's not that Sterling didn't deserve to be revealed and reviled for the person he is. He did and I'm glad I did. But there's no reason I couldn't have been more aware of the Nigerian girls' plight and raised my voice on their behalf as well.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school girl who survived a shooting by Taliban extremists for daring to speak out for the right of girls in her country to get an education, said it simply, "If we remain silent then this will spread. It will happen more and more and more."

More and more and more, it appears that major media institutions in America have forsaken their function of informing the public of injustices wherever and whenever they occur in favor of reporting the most convenient, easily explainable stories, preferably those with some celebrity name-recognition. That leaves it to the rest of us to demand more of our press and ourselves. Social media will undoubtedly lead the way. Bring Back Our Girls is on Facebook. It had more than 88,000 likes on May 8.

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Bob Gaydos is a veteran of 40-plus years in daily newspapers. He began as police reporter with The (Binghamton, N.Y.) Sun-Bulletin, eventually covering government and politics as well as serving as city editor, features editor, sports editor and (more...)

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