Under the Overpass: Listening and Looking for Our Girls

Under the Overpass focuses on politics, current events, and social commentary from a black, crunchy, granola perspective. Myshell chooses the topics. Michael writes the commentary. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the writer and not endorsed by myshelltabu.com or its owners.

You have just walked under the overpass and, down here, we are listening and looking for our missing girls. Let me set the context, before we talk about our search.

In the middle of the night on April 15, 2014, more than 200 girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Nigeria. The perpetrators, Boko Haram, are a fundamentalist Islamic group that does not believe girls or women should be educated (Boko Haram roughly translates as “Western education is a sin”). They claim that their interpretation of Sharia Law (their view of a fundamentally strict adherence to Koranic Law). The armed group is trying to spread Sharia Law throughout Nigeria.

The Chibok girls are not the first girls kidnapped. Nor is anti-Western education the only basis for the attacks. According to Human Rights Watch, as reported by Time magazine, the Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claimed in a 2012 video that the abductions were retaliation for detaining women associated with Boko Haram. In the video Shekau says, “Since you are now holding our women, just wait and see what will happen to your own women … to your own wives according to Sharia law.”

Time magazine reported that Human Rights Watch interviewed 12 Chibok girls who escaped from 2012 and 2013 kidnappings. A young girl from Konduga, Nigeria was walking home from school when she and her classmates stopped by militants from Boko Haram. The leader said, “Aha! These are the people we are looking for. So you are the ones with strong heads who insist on attending school when we have said ‘boko’ is ‘haram.’ We will kill you here today.”

The interviews confirmed what many have been suspecting. The girls are being raped, often in the context of forced marriages. Boko Haram doesn’t consider any girl too young for marriage. After a 17-year-old abductee complained that she was too young for marriage, the commander pointed to his own 5-year-old daughter and said, “If she got married last year, and is just waiting till puberty for its consummation, how can you at your age be too young to marry?”

Another girl, who was only 15, was forced to marry a Boko Haram commander after her kidnapping in 2013. “After we were declared married I was ordered to live in his cave but I always managed to avoid him,” the girl told Human Rights Watch. “He soon began to threaten me with a knife to have sex with him, and when I still refused he brought out his gun, warning that he would kill me if I shouted. Then he began to rape me every night. He was a huge man in his mid-30s and I had never had sex before. It was very painful and I cried bitterly because I was bleeding afterwards.”

I’ve got two daughters. This type of bulls@#t —- in the name of God -— is so painful and insulting to human rights and human decency that it can make you want to bring a whole different meaning to “Go Back To Africa.” Go back armed. Makes you wanna bring that gunfire.

American gunfire is what some are calling for to help locate the missing girls and the continued abuse by Boko Haram (at least eight additional girls were kidnapped in May). President Obama deployed a 200 member military and law enforcement regiment to help search for the girls. Though the emotion of the tragedy can make us want to bring violence to meet violence, some Nigerians aren’t in favor of this solution. Nigerian-American activists and writer Jumoke Balogun has been outspoken in her resistance to American military intervention. In her powerful site compareafrique.com, Balogun wrote:
Consequently, your calls for the United States to get involved in this crisis undermines the democratic process in Nigeria and co-opts the growing movement against the inept and kleptocratic Jonathan administration. It was Nigerians who took their good for nothing President to task and challenged him to address the plight of the missing girls. It is in their hands to seek justice for these girls and to ensure that the Nigerian government is held accountable. Your emphasis on U.S. action does more harm to the people you are supposedly trying to help and it only expands and sustain U.S. military might.

I agree with Balogun. Military incursions on behalf of the missing girls into Africa simply provides and open door for future military incursions. So what now? Other concerned world citizens have been supporting the #bringbackourgirls movement by posting videos of support and donating money to various agencies that could help the cause.

I think the #bringbackourgirls hashtag movement is important and it shows international compassion. We should continue to use what is available to us to show support. However, I defer to the activists on the ground as to what is the best way to approach the problem. Sometimes, even the most well-meaning of us, get in the way because we want to do it our way without even consulting the folks who we are trying to help. We need to listen more and listen better. Jumoke Balogun’s site has something to say about the what we can do to help the missing Nigerian girls:

If you must do something, learn more about the amazing activists and journalists like this one, this one, and this one just to name a few, who have risked arrests and their lives as they challenge the Nigerian government to do better for its people within the democratic process.  If you must tweet, tweet to support and embolden them, don’t direct your calls to action to the United States government who seeks to only embolden American militarism. Don’t join the American government and military in co-opting this movement started and sustained by Nigerians.

We hear you sister, down here, under the overpass.

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