What To Do about Boko Haram and the Schoolgirls?

By | May 29, 2014 | 0 Comments

amnesty-Bring-Back-Our-Girls[1]

Boko Haram is a radical Islamist gang in Nigeria, loosely allied with Al Qaeda. The name means “non-Islamic learning is forbidden.” Like similar groups elsewhere, it forbids educating girls. Its Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani allies throw acid in schoolgirls’ faces. Boko Haram, taking a more profitable approach, kidnaps schoolgirls and sells them as slaves or wives – apparently it sees no difference between these two roles.

Boko Haram escaped public notice, and was not labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, until it could no longer be ignored – even by the intentionally ignorant and the appallingly apathetic. Recently Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, many of them Christian. The fact that the exact number is unknown testifies to the lack of attention this violent group has engendered in Western nations.
Now, finally, the State Department and the U.N. have “acted” – they issued denunciations. First Lady Michelle Obama held up a placard reading, “#Bring Back Our Girls.” This may be the first example of diplomacy by Facebook and Twitter. It was as effective as one might have expected – that is, not at all.

The First Lady should have remembered Murphy’s Law of Bird Calls:

Tweets are made by small, defenseless birds. Eagles make a loud, screeching call and swoop down, talons bared, to defend their young.

But criticizing others is easy. It is more difficult to say what should be done about Boko Haram and the schoolgirls. I see five possibilities:
1. Do Nothing.
The girls have reportedly been taken into heavily wooded areas, which are difficult or impossible to survey by air, either by manned aircraft or by drones. Even worse, the girls have probably been separated, and many may have already been sold as slaves or child brides. In this case, there may be little that can be done.
In addition, isolationists and libertarians can argue that the kidnapping, though tragic, is none of our business, and that we have more than enough on our plate already. To this I would reply with the old saying: “Just because you can’t do everything everywhere, this is no excuse to do nothing anywhere.”
But one can also make a conservative argument to do nothing – that is, nothing until we do something about American hostages held abroad. We must do something to induce Mexico to release Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi. The Marine reservist took a wrong turn and blundered across the border. He told the customs agents he had legally owned guns in his trunk, and asked to make a U-turn and go back across the border. Instead he was arrested and now sits in prison, where he is likely to remain for months or years.
And we must do something about Mariam Ibrahim and her two-year-old son. She is married to an American citizen, and thus will be one herself as soon as the bureaucrats get around to it. She is eight months pregnant. As soon as he or she is born, the child also will be an American citizen, as is the toddler now. Nevertheless, the pregnant woman was sentenced to death for marrying a Christian, so she, her soon-to-be-born child, and her young son languish in a Sudanese prison.
A conservative might argue that we can try to rescue the Nigerian girls from their Boko Haram kidnappers – but only after we have succeeded in getting Sgt. Tahmooressi, and Mariam Ibrahim and her family, safe on American soil. And I would have difficulty refuting this argument. Empathy should grow like an expanding circle, encompassing more and more of humanity. Empathy cannot grow like a doughnut, including the distant but excluding our own.
2. Issue denunciations and demands.
This, in fact, is what the U.S. and the U.N. seem to be doing. This is the equivalent of Michelle Obama’s Facebook placard – a meaningless gesture to make us feel good about ourselves, while accomplishing nothing at all for the kidnapped girls. The end result of this legalistic mode of thinking is that after the Twin Towers came down on 9/11, we should have sworn out an arrest warrant for Osama Bin Laden.
In an ordinary person, a belief in the effectiveness of pieces of paper would be seen as a delusion requiring psychiatric care. In a diplomat or a lawyer, however, it is considered normal behavior. Normal, perhaps – but rational? Not really.
The problem with meaningless gestures is that everyone – friends and foes alike – can see that they are meaningless. If there is a better way to dismay our friends and encourage our enemies, I have yet to hear of it.
3. Send an FBI team to examine the evidence.
This reportedly will be done. But in all likelihood, what will they find? Fingerprints of people who have never been printed and for whom no records exist? DNA from people who are and will probably remain unknown? Clothing or other remnants of the girls? And this will help the girls because – oh wait, it won’t help them, because it was never intended to help them. It was intended only to help the administration look good.
Sending an FBI team to the scene of the kidnapping would be similar to sending an FBI team to examine the hole blown in the USS Cole in Aden Harbor 11 months before 9/11. Yes, indeed, there was a hole, a really big hole, as well as 17 dead and 39 wounded American naval personnel. But in reality, we did nothing, and those preparing for 9/11 saw no reason to stop their preparations.
4. Send in Special Forces to find the girls.
This might sound attractive, if (a) it is feasible, and (b) it is done seriously, and not as another meaningless gesture. In other words, what could even an elite team of special operators be expected to accomplish in a country as large and heavily forested as Nigeria? Would they not be exposed to unacceptable danger from Boko Haram, as well as from the Nigerian army itself? And what is the chance that they could find even some of the girls after all this time?
Holding up a placard on Facebook is so evidently an empty gesture that it is likely to be forgotten. But a team of our Special Forces running around without result would be seen as further evidence of American military impotence – a dangerous message to send to the world. How would Putin interpret this message? How would the Chinese and North Korean leaders see it? How would the leaders of Al Qaeda and other violent Islamist groups construe it? And how would they react after reading it as proof of our weakness?
5. Send in Special Forces to seize some of the leaders of Boko Haram.
Here we finally come to a potentially useful idea. Recall what happened when Islamist fanatics kidnapped Soviet diplomats in the Middle East some years ago. Reportedly the Soviets sent in Spetsnaz, their version of Special Forces, and kidnapped a relative of a leader of the Islamist gang.
The story goes that the Soviets delivered a photo of the kidnapped Islamist to his gang, with certain parts of his anatomy removed from his person. The Soviet diplomats were returned forthwith, and no more Russian officials were kidnapped.
Is this a factual account, or a myth fostered by the Russians? Who knows? But if Islamist gangs thought it was true, the effect would be as real, Perhaps we could do something similar, though a bit less dramatic, with some of the leaders of Boko Haram. Of course, none of this need be publicized. Only the remaining leaders of Boko Haram would need to know.
Could we do this? Possibly. Will we do it? Almost surely not. Such direct action would not appeal to the legalistic, diplomatic minds of those in charge of our foreign and military policy. It would require that the lawyers and diplomats involved change their whole concept of reality. It would require that they comprehend that reality exists in the outside world, and not in the stacks of papers on their desks. It would require that they recognize that the external world exists, independent of their briefing papers and theoretical assessments. It would require that they understand that serving Boko Haram with a writ is not a viable remedy for violent fanaticism.
Most of all, it would require that our government have more sympathy for the kidnapped schoolgirls than for their kidnappers. But that isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future. So pray for the kidnapped girls. That’s the only thing we have left to do.
Contact: dstol@prodigy.net. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.
www.stolinsky.com

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