#BringBackOurGirls Now. Or Soonish.

What in the World?? | Mara Leighton | April 27, 2016

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Heck, when you get around to it.

“BRING BACK OUR GIRLS” was first screamed in a much hoarser voice than the one you are imagining. It wasn’t vibrational, and the crowd didn’t hush to appreciate it once it had registered. It arrived (red-faced and screaming) as a camouflaged, magic-deficient yell that would disappoint your hopes of a Hollywood revolution.

And that’s why it works.

The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was the product of one desolate person speaking from the heart at a protest in Nigeria. It wasn’t subjected to prior linguistic tests, nor was it the product of which words “research showed…” would last longest in memory. It is not eloquent, nor politically attuned. It is a very human, stripped down request from a fed-up, grieving neighbor. It’s raw. Elegant words, no matter how fine, cannot hold boundless devastation. And you know what? They shouldn’t try.


Recap: Let’s Play Catch-Up
Boko Haram, who?

It sounds like a Cuban nightclub in Brooklyn. It isn’t.  

Boko Haram is an Islamic Militant group operating out of Nigeria. “Boko Haram” in the Hausa language means “western education is forbidden.” Which means you and I are pretty much their worst aggressors.

They officially launched in 2009, though their first known attack occurred in 2003. Today, Boko Haram controls much of northeastern Nigeria — or, in other words, a small village… if that village were roughly the size of Belgium. They have massacred thousands of people at a time and forced Nigeria to postpone their own presidential elections due to the danger. In response to the worst neighbors of all time, Nigeria went ahead and made alternative plans. Now, they have a military coalition with their neighboring countries. But when your soldiers are underpaid and under-resourced, it’s kind of an uphill battle… hilly topography aside.

In 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from their school. As if educating girls globally wasn’t difficult enough to begin with.

International Response
200+ Schoolgirls go missing, world notices.

After the girls were abducted and frustration led to avid campaigning, the aforementioned hashtag was created: #BringBackOurGirls — the main reason most of you have probably heard of this prior to this article.

The global population responded with Social Media, as we are accustomed to. If the pen is the sword, Instagram is the atom bomb.

Manolo Blahniks came clattering. Unless they were on a silent meditation retreat in Palm Springs that weekend, every celebrity and their less-famous-but-still-relevant friends were tweeting, facebooking, and instagramming pictures of themselves holding signs with #BringBackOurGirls scrawled across it. That kind of betraying, looping cursive that says this wasn’t their first try to get it right. Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 2.37.02 PMAt first scroll, it may strike you as a little absurd seeing supermodels invoking a call to bring back Nigerian children while they’re wearing the same studied face as page #7 in Marie Claire and a professional smokey eye. Particularly absurd is seeing that all the comments are “lb” and “first.” God help us. But then, along comes someone like Salma Hayek, who used her own movie premiere night to siphon attention from herself and redistribute it onto a larger global issue. It is people like her and the hordes of attendees that chose to participate with signs at the Cannes movie festival who make celebrity involvement seem copacetic again.

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Facetious at selfie-value, social media unequivocally broadens the audience of an issue and makes it overtly personal. Where direct progress is lacking, general awareness is certainly not — and it grows exponentially. Though the execution might not sit right with a critical viewer, what cannot be denied by the objective is the atypical scope of access that each celebrity has. I suppose if a fraction of their millions of followers saw and became aware, who are we to criticize the manner in which it was amassed?
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Boko Haram Responds

500 days after their disappearance from school in Chibok, Nigeria, the kidnappers released a video of the girls reciting the Quran. Boko Haram said they had forcibly converted them to Islam, and that many of the girls had already been married off to their fighters. The Nigerian military claimed to have rescued about 50, though many of them had been raped and some were already months pregnant. For two years, that was the only news their parents had.

Until Now

CNN released a video last week of 19 of the abducted girls, all alive. It is the first “proof of life” seen since 2014. It is believed to have been recorded on December 25, 2015, and as students of a Jesuit University, I don’t need to remind you of the irony of that date. Nigerian senator Shehu Sani, an official who has attempted to negotiate their release, notified Associated Press that he found the video credible. As 19/219 missing schoolgirls isn’t the greatest survey percentage, we are left to assume the other 181+ were just out to the movies.

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Didn’t Know They Were Still Missing?
Yeah, me neither. I’m not proud to admit it, but it offered me the opportunity to examine exactly
why that could possibly be. And there are three reasons.

1. Media Coverage. Because of the comparably quiet coverage following our initial explosive global outrage, I assumed by default that the issue had been resolved.

2. Inconceivability. I didn’t think, in my privileged position, that I lived in a world where almost 300 girls could go missing from school one day and get broadcasted across every news source in the world, and not be found within the week — or the year. And I didn’t want to. We will call this operational ignorance.

3. Laziness. If 1 and 2 exist, so does 3. Because of my two preceding suppositions, I didn’t follow up continuously. Two years is long enough for me to forget that I own a dog, and that at least barks.

Current Situation
Today, 744 days later:
An entire Nigerian community still has a lot of beds that haven’t been slept in and too many hangers in the closet. Their kids are gone, and they have been… for two entire years. Some families lost more than one daughter. How about that for an allostatic load? What’s the scope and longevity of that kind of mental strain on a community?Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 1.34.44 AM

As if to obscure how massively fucked up this situation is, Nigeria’s Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, told CNN that the girls in the video appeared “under no stress whatsoever” and there had been “little transformation in their physical appearance.”

Excuse me? Are you a wizard, sir? How did you assess them in 50 seconds? It’s too early to point out what comparable “positives” are truly ours to offer or postulate. There are glaring caveats — the video is less than a minute long, i.e. way too short to make any clinical assessment, the girls are virtually entirely covered by material, i.e. 90% of their body not available for valuation, and there are only 19 of them, i.e. only about 9% of the group is represented. Also, does it seem right to assess their level of stress? I guess no one rated themselves a yellow or red on the kindergarten card system, but they’ve also been living with their aggressors for two years and being videotaped under their artistic direction. Not to mention that internalization or externalization of chronic stress coexist and are equally credible. Their calm does not negate potential trauma. In other words, it might be a bit early to start assuming they serve fruit cups at dinner.

And where are the other 200? Bueller? Is it not possible that these girls were picked to be the poster children simply because they looked healthiest? Is it not possible a significant amount of the others have met a much worse fate?

I’m asking you these questions because they’re the same that their parents had to ask themselves. What kind of relief is it to know how to phrase the question but not how to answer it?  

Difficulties In Rescue: Playing Politics
“My priority is not politics. My priority is the return of these girls.” said Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in a statement.

Well It makes it kind of hard to find someone who isn’t missing. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Initially, the living embodiment of charity and grace — First Lady Mrs. Patience Jonathan — completely denied the abduction ever happened. She said it was a story fabricated to damage her husband’s image. How’s that for not making it political? Never one to leave any room for possible backtracking, Mrs. Jonathan went ahead and burned the whole bridge back to office by imprisoning two of the #BringBackOurGirls activists… Which left relations between the government and Chibok parents strained.

After denying the event took place, the administration finally reluctantly accepted international aide to help them look for the girls. The United States, France, and UK all sent advisers, including hostage negotiators. Though US and British drones found at least one group of ~80 girls and reported their findings to the Nigerian government and military, they failed to rescue them in time. For a guy named Goodluck, he isn’t worth any.

I hope to God his daughters never land in a similar position because good old dad is no Liam Neeson. Can you imagine that phone call?

“I don’t know who you are. I don’t —  what? Yes, I’ll hold.”

In addition to the challenges of facing someone reluctant to save hundreds of little girls lest their disappearance reflect poorly upon him, there is the difficulty of negotiating with terrorists. They are not the most understanding people in the world. Nor are they particularly malleable on the Myers Briggs spectrum.

Boko Haram sees these girls as highly useful, nifty little negotiating pieces. In previous times, they have expressed an energetic interest in trading them for commanders arrested by the Nigerian government. Apparently there are ongoing negotiations, but we can’t discuss them, because they’re ongoing.  Bit of a pickle.

Current Situation
Well it’s not over.. After the abduction of blameless kids from school, the Islamic militant group continued to go into peaceful northeastern towns, slaughter the people, and burn their homes and churches to the ground. Their cruelty is unimaginable. Literally thousands of Nigerians have died and thousands have been taken. Of those taken, Amnesty International says about 2,000 are women and girls. Many of which are used as sex slaves, fighters, and suicide bombers. The situation as repugnant as it is could escalate and flow into those neighboring countries in Nigeria’s militant coalition — Niger, Chad, Cameroon…

Nigerian government has made progress, but Boko Haram as evidenced by the proof of life video has remained successful in keeping secret spaces, secret. It’s important to keep covering this story, because it isn’t at its end yet.

So What Can We Do, If Anything?

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Beyond policy, the issue is remarkably, humanly simple. The newly released video is overwhelming for parents and their entire community, and they say that they just want someone to bring their girls home. On the individual level, every global issue is as simplistic as that.

Unfortunately, the only tangible action I can offer you is to Join the movement online. Lend your voice and your name, and check in when you can. Genuinely care about them. I promise you that even on some cosmic level, you consciously feeling for another human being in pain and fear will indirectly make the world a better place by making you a better person in it.

At the very least, acknowledge their pain. Acknowledge their unimaginable loss so the absence of their girls, and that incurrent lack of closure, does not create an absence of validation.