Today’s post will be a touchy one for some, but it’s one of those topics that I really feel needs to be discussed, both for my mental health and for the purpose of just having these thoughts out there… somewhere.
I’m sure by now you’ve all read or heard about the tragic kidnapping of some 200 young schoolgirls in Nigeria by a group called Boko Haram. Their story has unsurprisingly gripped the Western world, which is suddenly alight with people ready to fight for the girls’ freedom—if not with actions, then with words. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has exploded across social media as celebrities and citizens alike call for action against the group whose name means “Western education is sin.”
I am all for this call for action—I can’t imagine the terror of being a young girl taken hostage simply for going to school. I can’t imagine being sold off for $12. I can’t imagine being married against my will or fearing I’d never see my loved ones again. I can’t imagine having to be someone’s slave. That is my privilege speaking: I am lucky to be able to say the words I can’t imagine. To see so many powerful figures–from the First Lady to celebrities like Emma Watson to activists like Malala Yousafzai–come together for one purpose is so powerful. It proves that humanity has incredible power when we choose to make it so. We can come together for a fight, even if it’s not in our own backyard.
But what bothers me about the situation is that we’ve become so ignited over this one incident—but many will fail to see the bigger picture. Boko Haram didn’t just suddenly pop into existence, and it won’t just pop back out. It’s been there for years; this is just the first we’ve heard of it because it’s finally a big enough deal to attract global attention. I think it’s wonderful that we’re finally catching on, but I also think it’s tragic that once this issue is resolved, or once some other tragedy happens, most of us will likely just go back to our daily lives, forgetting that Boko Haram ever existed. Hundreds, thousands more of these injustices will happen without us even batting an eye.
What’s worse is that some of these injustices will occur by our own hands, and we’ll dutifully ignore them, believing that we can do no wrong. I saw a different hashtag today: #WeCan’tBringBackOurDead. Side-by-side pictures showed a harsh reality: Michelle Obama holding a sign reading #BringBackOurGirls next to a photo of a man holding a sign that reads, “Your husband has killed more Muslim girls than Boko Haram ever could.”
I don’t blame the Obamas for the war; it began long before Barack Obama took office, and it takes more than one person to start a war, keep it going, and to stop it. But while I might not agree 100% with what the man in the photo believes, that didn’t prevent the reality from sinking in: our “War on Terror” has killed many young girls, and those deaths are ones that too often are simply labeled “casualties.” We (I use “we” as a collective pronoun for the U.S.–I know not everyone agrees with the war) like to think that in war, only the bad guys and the noble heroes get hurt. Perhaps that’s because the truth is a harsher reality than many like to be reminded of.
I’m not here to argue the rights and wrongs of war, the ifs, ands, and buts; my intention is simply to say, maybe it’s time to take a step back and look at the big picture, to assess how we can call out others for their wrongs while ignoring those in our back yard—and perhaps most importantly, consider how we as individuals can stop getting caught up in tragedies while they’re trending and then forget about them when a hotter story comes off the press.