Kidnapping young girls, threatening to marry them off, sell them to brothels, are utterly despicable acts. Why, then, are people getting defensive?
This calls for an offensive stance. I admit I knew little about Boko Haram and was in no hurry to pronounce an expert opinion culled from other opinions. However, reading some liberal western critics, and especially the piece I want to cut to shreds, it becomes obvious that while there are always reasons for anything, certain acts have to be taken in isolation. Yes, I do know that girls in other parts of the world are sold. Yes, I do know that politics and the terror mechanism have a symbiotic relationship. Yes, I do know that terrorists do not represent any one community.
Unlike a few others, I am not going to apologise for what a Nigerian militant group did. But I will not use religion the way they do, either.
The BBC informs us that “Boko originally means fake but came to signify Western education, while haram means forbidden” and “Boko Haram regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president”. That ought to settle the matter as far as their interest in religion goes.
It does not happen. So, we have an article largely made up of strung-together quotes. The headline challenges: “Hey Boko Haram, have you read the Quran lately?”
This opinion piece is “special to CNN” and is written by Arsalan Iftikhar who identifies himself as 'The Muslim Guy'.
300 girls were abducted from their school in Nigeria on April 14. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video clip:
“There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women.”
The writer reacts rather unusually:
“As a Muslim human rights lawyer, it is obscene and absolutely un-Islamic for these lunatic human traffickers to invoke the name of God while kidnapping young girls and threatening to sell them into sexual slavery.”
This is pretty disgusting. What if they had taken the name of Batman? Or, some other god? Or Marx, Hitler, Pat Robertson, just to give different flavours? The obscenity is not in what they uttered, but what they did, are doing for years, and what they stand for.
The issue here is sexual exploitation and slavery. There is absolutely no need to defend the indefensible, and no need to clarify what you think it means as a Muslim.
The tenor throughout is of disdain towards what has happened. Terrorists do not refer to a holy book as a manual. Bestiality and in some cases psychotic tendencies make them use any crutch. Fanaticism has many colours, and people have fought over territory, language, and religion. While one may not blame these abstractions, it undermines the havoc they cause by invoking them for their apparent inherent goodness. By doing so, it is possible to justify the acts too.
Take this example:
“The leaders of Boko Haram have clearly never read the Holy Quran, which states quite clearly that “oppression is worse than murder” (2:191) and that nobody “shall force girls to commit prostitution” (24:33).”
Would it not be possible to read it as ‘murder isn’t quite so bad’? In a tinder-box situation, nobody cares about context, and it seems the writer does not either. There might be ways to justify that girls were not forced into prostitution, but agreed to it as they were poor and had to feed their families.
But, why should there be any obfuscation when the leader of the group has claimed responsibility and is gloating about it?
The writer then quotes the now-standard western acceptable Muslim face, Malala Yousafzai, who says:
“The international community and the government of Nigeria (must) take action and save my sisters...It should be our duty to speak up for our brothers and sisters in Nigeria who are in a very difficult situation.”
It goes without saying that they should. But, for Mr. Iftikhar these kidnapped girls are “real heroes...who continue to assert their basic human rights to education in the face of danger every day”.
How the heck does he know? Why do people who wake up only when there is a crisis talk down to those they assume need their assistance? Boko Haram did not fall from the sky on that April day. There are schools in Nigeria. People do get an education. There is danger in American universities as well, if we want to stretch the point. What these girls and the rest of the population are doing is considered normal, not a fight for human rights.
The Op-ed is not done yet:
“In the meantime, the rest of the world’s Muslim population will continue to denounce extremists like Boko Haram and proudly stand in solidarity with these missing young schoolgirls in Nigeria and every other woman around the world who continues to fight for their basic human rights every day.”
Not only is this repetitive nonsense, it appears that the writer is marketing human rights, which as a lawyer who specialises in the subject sounds rather tactless and tasteless. I also have issues with the onus on the “world’s Muslim population”. What the Boko Haram has done is a crime, and should be treated as such. The police opened fire and killed a few of them. That did not stop them. They went ahead and kidnapped eight more girls. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that this does not repeat itself? Should Amnesty International only produce papers on the subject?
None of our houses are clean, so one cannot get preachy. But, the government, the police would know their job. International empathy, if not intrusive, would be welcome. Beyond that, it is always dicey.
As for those who are busy clearing the name of their religion, perhaps they don’t realise they are drawing even more attention to it. If the Boko Haram has chosen to say Allah made them do it, then responding to it reveals that you think somewhere along the line that their Allah is the same as yours.
PS: It is no surprise this piece was written by the same person who thought Gap was awesome because they used a Sikh model and stood up against bullies*. Corporate hostages would find god to be retail therapy too.
Update: May 8, 10 am IST
There is news of a fresh attack by the Boko Haram militants. They raided a busy area in Gamboru Ngala and killed 300 people, besides destroying property.
The BBC report states that a senator from the region, Ahmed Zanna, and a few others said:
...the gunmen had used a diversionary tactic to get the security forces out of Gamboru Ngala by spreading rumours that the abducted schoolgirls had been spotted somewhere else. The security forces then left, leaving residents at the mercy of the attackers, they said.
This is disturbing and suspicious. Even if diversionary tactics were employed, would the entire security force leave the region, especially now when the situation is still tense? It certainly raises questions about the security.
It also raises questions about how celebrities from the international community are not helping matters. The #BringBackOurGirls movement has succeeded in neither bringing back those they think they own – one form of slavery mimicking another – they have given these bloody-minded men an international platform to kill even more people. They, including US President Barack Obama, are planning searches for the 275 missing girls. They are not missing, though. Everybody knows who abducted them, but nobody knows what has happened to them.
Will they now talk about ‘Bring back the dead’ after the spate of murders? It is not practical and does not have the right ring to it, unlike kidnapped ‘girls’ who will be or are already sold. It is a celebrity marketplace, like any other.
© Farzana Versey
*The World According to 'Gap': Sikhs, Tokenism and Mistaken Xenophobia