— Teju Cole (@tejucole) May 8, 2014
Will a well-meaning social media campaign to rescue kidnapped girls result in military action and, as a result, more blowback against the United States? Could our intervention in Nigeria make Boko Haram stronger?
In recent days, Americans have become aware of the 276 kidnapped Muslim schoolgirls, taken at gunpoint from their classroom in Nigeria by the militant Boko Haram movement. Though there were several real world demonstrations, many more are taking part in online activism through the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag. Since the kidnapping, the United States and many other countries sent teams of experts or offered assistance to the Nigerian government — at their request.
But Boko Haram has also stepped up its violence, slaughtering over 300 in the town of Gamboru Ngala in northeastern Nigeria. From the New York Times:
The latest attack, on Monday, followed a classic Boko Haram pattern: Dozens of militants wearing fatigues and wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers descended on the town of Gamboru Ngala, chanting ‘Allahu akbar,’ firing indiscriminately and torching houses. When it was over, at least 336 people had been killed and hundreds of houses and cars had been set on fire, said Waziri Hassan, who lives there, and Senator Ahmed Zanna.
The missing schoolgirls have grabbed the world’s attention, and more offers of help poured in to the Nigerian government on Wednesday from Britain, China and France. But Boko Haram’s deadly attack on Gamboru Ngala was similar to many others in the past several years that drew little or no notice beyond Nigeria. Bodies still lay in the street on Wednesday night, said Mr. Hassan, a cement salesman.
Likewise, Amnesty International officials told RT that Nigerian officials had warning of the kidnapping and did not or could not act:
According to a number of sources interviewed by Amnesty local civilian patrols in Gagilam, a village neighboring Chibok where the girls were abducted, were the first to alert the authorities.The patrols are known as vigilantes and were set up by military and local authorities to counter Boko Haram.
A vigilante patrol in Gaiglam raised the alarm when a group of armed men entered the village on motorbikes and said they were on their way to Chibok. Locals immediately phoned a number of officials to warn them including the Borno State Governor and senior military commanders based in the regional capital Maiduguri.
[...]At about 11:45 the convoy of Boko Harem fighters which by this time consisted of about 200 men on motorbikes and in trucks entered Chibok and a gunfight broke out with the small garrison of 17 police and soldiers who were based in the town. Outnumbered and outgunned the small security force eventually fled the town in the small hours leaving the Boko Haram fighters free to proceed to the girl’s secondary school where they abducted 270 school girls.
Two senior officers in the Nigerian military confirmed to Amnesty that they were aware of the attack even before the phone calls from local officials but were unable to mobilize reinforcements. One officer told the rights group that his soldiers were fearful of engaging the militants who were often better equipped.
It seems, once again, Team America: World Police are preparing to intervene in a complex local situation which we’re ill-equipped to understand or handle. Indeed, while all agree the fate of the kidnapped women is utter tragedy, many of the more sober writers online are beginning to question the wisdom of American involvement. Writing for Medium, Turkish writer Zeynep Tufekci notes, “this is but one step in a story that started long before the hashtag, and will not end when the global attention ends.”
After describing how her grandmother narrowly escaped a fate similar to the kidnapped students, she asks “why am I wary of the urge to ‘do something’ about Boko Haram’s kidnapping of these girls? Do they not deserve my grandmother’s small miracle? They do, a hundred thousand times over.” But she warns that there is a crucial difference between internal versus external attention and intervention: