Tony Norman: Bash Boko Haram on Twitter — then what?

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The kidnapping of 276 girls from a remote Nigerian village last month by the jihadist group Boko Haram is tailor-made for social media -- but I hope it doesn't stop there.

Like thousands of Twitter users, I retweeted the image of first lady Michelle Obama holding a "#Bring Back Our Girls" sign. Mrs. Obama's enthusiasm for this movement is understandable. Her daughters are the same age as the girls who were taken from their beds at school in the middle of the night and marched into the jungle because they dared to get an education.

It is intolerable that young, bright girls who were once full of ordinary anxieties about final exams are now at the mercy of brutal and illiterate men who don't believe they have a right to an education.

The fact that the girls were scheduled to take their finals at the Christian school they were spirited from is only one of many inciting outrages for the militants.

Their perverse interpretation of Islam teaches that Western education, a vestige of British colonialism, is forbidden by Islamic law and that women and girls should either be pressed into service as obedient wives or reduced to chattel labor. The rough translation of the insurgency's name is "Western education is forbidden by Islamic law."

Even young boys aren't safe from the cult. Boko Haram recently burned 60 school boys to death for daring to get an education. They want to take over Nigeria and force everyone in that very modern state to submit to its nihilistic interpretation of Shariah law.

The militants are largely illiterate and subservient to the religious frauds who have somehow convinced them that 14th-century practices should have a place of honor in the modern world. Their numbers are too tiny to prevail, but they're determined to make life as miserable as possible for ordinary Nigerians in the meantime.

Earlier this week, one of the leaders of Boko Haram made a video taunting the Nigerian government about its inability to track them down. The smug imam boasted of forcing many underage girls into marriages with their captors as if that was some kind of moral victory.

The militant also indicated that many of the young girls who dreamed of becoming Nigeria's future doctors and lawyers have been sold across the country's porous borders. Sex trafficking is just another holy rite for pious slave traders in the 21st century.

The fact that the girls will be difficult to track down adds to the agony of their families and fellow citizens who have demanded swift action from President Goodluck Jonathan and the Nigerian military.

Throughout this crisis, the Nigerian government has proven itself exasperatingly incompetent, despite the country's recent designation as Africa's largest economy. Patience Jonathan, the wife of Nigeria's president, even had a few demonstrators arrested for questioning the regime's competence, though they were quickly released thanks to international pressure.

The Nigerian military has resisted international help with tracking down Boko Haram until recently, but finally appears willing to do something now that the missing girls have become the focus of so much negative global attention.

Watching Boko Haram in action gives us an inkling of the mentality of the Africans who aided and abetted the trans-Atlantic slave trade four centuries ago. These modern slavers aren't historical abstractions in books. They're bandits who profit from selling Nigeria's future to customers who have no imagination and no conscience.

Boko Haram infuriates us because on some level, we recognize them as the spiritual and literal descendants of those who raided the interior of the continent for slaves on behalf of Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Today, no European country sanctions slavery, but there are still Africans who practice the ignoble tradition of stealing people and forcing them into slavery or marriage.

If not for the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans would probably sanction some limited U.S. Special Forces intervention in Nigeria to rescue the girls, but that ship has sailed.

Meanwhile, Boko Haram isn't losing sleep over what the world is saying about it on social media. It doesn't have a Twitter account.


Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631; Twitter @TonyNormanPG.

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