A team of six US military advisors has arrived in Nigeria to assist in the search for the abducted girls, now said to number 276, and provide intelligence on the captors, militant group Boko Haram. Nine more advisors are en route. Not exactly a massive intervention, although a State Department spokesperson did say, "If there are needs for more, we'll continue to assess that." (NBC) However, judging from the reaction in the "left" and conspiranoid blogosphere, you'd think it was Operation Nigerian Freedom. There's something sickeninigly inappropriate about greater concern for the 15 military advisors than the 276 missing girls. But given how these screeds are being forwarded around cyberspace by animated partisans, we feel compelled to dive into the muck and do a little deconstructing, facile as it is…
One Atheling P. Reginald Mavengira on the perennially wacky Global Research asks in a headline: "Is the Boko Haram Insurgency Another CIA Covert Operation?" The piece turns out to be a total bait-and-switch, barely even making a case. It leads with something completely unrelated: Without bothering to tell readers that ACRI stands for the African Crisis Response Initiative, it cites a Wikileaks cable to the effect that ACRI was "set up by the US to instigate mistrust in Nigerian dominated ECOMOG," which is the Economic Community of West African States (we aren't told that either). The cable isn't actually quoted, named or dated; nor are we told what this has to do with the sensationalistic claim in the headline.
Other such semi-literate assertions do attempt to back up the headline, e.g. that "an Algerian based CIA wing gave out 40 million Naira as a planned Long term partnership with Boko Haram with PLEDGE TO DO MORE." Or: "Disregarding advices from experts the us armed Saudi Arabia who in turned armed Libyan rebels that in turn armed Malian rebels and Boko Haram, a chain tactically predicted by the CIA. US=>SA=>LIBYA=>BOKO HARAM." But these claims, sketchy as they are, are not even sourced, at all—no link, nothing. And we'll note that while Global Research was always wacky, it at least used to have some minimal standards for literacy. These now seem to have been abandoned.
In a similar vein is a screed from the deceptively named NSNBC (do they think anyone is gonna fall for that?), headlining "Western Powers Fuel Boko Haram Terrorism." The closest thing to any back-up for the claim is a quote from Irish "analyst" (sic) Finian Cunningham, who "pointed out Boko Haram's role as an instrument of western modo-colonialism." Not only is the enigmatic term "modo-colonialism" never explained, but Cunningham doesn't "point out" anything, a phrase that indicates an appeal to established fact. Instead, he makes a flat, baseless accusation: "Boko Haram is a proxy organization working on behalf of foreign powers." Why bother invoking another writer, if he is merely engaging in the same kind of content-free conjecture? That doesn't give the conjecture any more weight. Pathetic.
Only slightly less annoying than the shameless conspiranoia are the requisite anti-imperialist screeds that display all too little concern for the abducted girls. Alexandra Hartmann preaches to us on PolicyMic that "The Media Is Telling Us the Wrong Story About the Kidnapped Girls in Nigeria." She objects to the catch-phrase "We are all the kidnapped Nigerian girls." And there is a legitimate basis for objecting to such a glib expression of solidarity from comfortable people in the First World. But Hartmann can't make so simple and sober a point. Instead she tell us: "The abduction is not 'our' story. It is not an example of a clash between 'Islamic radicalism and modernity.'" Oh? Here we have a movement that wants to bring back slavery in the name of a medievalist conception of Islam, and Hartmann makes this nonsensical assertion without even bothering to back it up? Next: "It's not even necessarily an example of the pitiful global state of girls' rights, as Boko Haram continues to carry out bombings and massacres indiscriminate of the targets' gender." Talk about zero-sum thinking! If Boko Haram wreaks some random terror that isn't gender-based, then the mass abduction isn't "about" gender oppression? Please, stop. So, what is it about, in Hartmann's view? She finally takes a stab at it at the very end:
This is a story that is at once entirely about these girls — their names, their want for education, their desperate families and an idle and untrustworthy government that's failed them — and also not about them at all, but about the corruption and ineffectiveness that has made fighting Boko Haram unimaginable and disastrous, an unwillingness of the government to admit fault and the tactics of abduction, rape and forced marriage that are repeatedly used in warfare because the world fails to condemn them swiftly and absolutely.
OK, and how exactly does this contradict the notion of "a clash between 'Islamic radicalism and modernity'"? Or a manifestation of "the pitiful global state of girls' rights"? Hartmann calls out the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof for using the crisis to grand-stand for Western intervention, but she seems to be using the crisis to grand-stand against it. She does concede:
While it is true that family members of the kidnapped girls and notable Nigerian voices like Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka have said the country needs international intervention, doing so, particularly through a clicktivism centered on Western liberal feminism and girls' right to education, is fraught with consequence.
Yes, what a patronizing Western imperialist concept… the notion that girls have a right to education! For shame! OK, next…
Lindsey German of the UK's Stop the War Coalition strikes her one incessant note in The Guardian's Comment Is Free page, "Western intervention will turn Nigeria into an African Afghanistan." After some perfunctory lip service to the plight of the missing girls, she cuts to the chase:
But we should be wary of the narrative now emerging. This follows a wearily familiar pattern, one we have already seen in south Asia and the Middle East, but that is increasingly being applied to Africa as well. It is the refrain that something must be done and that "we"—the enlightened west—must be the people to do it…
So "we" Westerners arrogantly think of ourselves as "enlightened"… Yet if "we" were not concerned with the abducted girls, this would also be evidence of "our" arrogance. German next treats us to her own "narrative" (but of course she doesn't use that slippery word to apply to her own POV—only the other guys'!)—a litany of Western imperial interests in Africa and Nigeria. "It is this background that informs the terrible plight of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria. It will not be improved by more western weapons and armies on the ground or in the air." That's her closing line. In other words, the usual complete abdication of any grappling with what are the outside world's responsibilities of solidarity to the Nigerians, and especially the abducted girls.
A final entry in this vein at least comes from a Nigerian-American, Jumoke Balogun, writing on the website Compare Afrique: "Dear Americans, Your Hashtags Won't #BringBackOurGirls. You Might Actually Be Making Things Worse." She leads:
Simple question. Are you Nigerian? Do you have constitutional rights accorded to Nigerians to participate in their democratic process? If not, I have news you. You can’t do anything about the girls missing in Nigeria. You can’t. Your insistence on urging American power, specifically American military power, to address this issue will ultimately hurt the people of Nigeria.
She follows up with another exegesis about US imperial interests in Africa. OK, an honest argument against US military involvement is one thing. But to dismiss the notion of international responsibility and solidarity entirely? That's quite something else. No, hashtags alone won't bring back the girls, and nobody ever said they would. They are supposed to be a tool to prompt action. Is the rest of the world throwing up its metaphorical hands and saying "Not our problem" really something we want to uphold as a positive good?
So… You want to argue that the emergence of Boko Haram has to do with the fraying of Nigeria's social fabric due to the corrupt rentier economy and structural adjustment policies imposed by Western imperialism? Fine—we're totally with you. You want to further argue that, given this, any Western intervention is counter-productive in the long run? OK—you've got a case. But keep in mind that if you were the parent of one of the missing girls, the "long run" might not be the uppermost thing on your mind. And please—spare us the conspiranoid jive. It's just plain sick.