When Boko Haram strikes again, the religious distinctions get blurry in news coverage


Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. Boko Haram has struck again.

It was bad enough in 2014 when 276 girls were kidnapped from Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. Half the world, it seemed, demonstrated and hashtagged #BringBackOurGirls in favor of these children.

Not that it did a whole lot of good. Four years later, more than 100 of those girls are still missing. And now it’s happened again and, as always, there are many religion questions that journalists need to be asking. From BBC

The grounds of the boarding school in Dapchi town are eerily quiet. Instead of the high-pitched chatter of 900 schoolgirls, there's only the bleating of goats as they wander through empty classrooms.
Thirteen-year-old Fatima Awaal is walking down the dusty path. She walks past a littering of rubber sandals, lost by girls as they ran away on Monday 19 February.
When the militants from the Boko Haram Islamist group attacked, she was in her boarding house with her best friend Zara. They were just about to have dinner when they heard the gunshots.
"One of our teachers told us to come out," she said "And that's when we saw the gunfire shooting through the sky."

Zara, 14, was one of 110 girls kidnapped that night. What’s almost worse than the kidnappings is the government’s utter inability to do anything about it.

Since the kidnappings, there have been many conflicting lines from the authorities on what exactly happened in Dapchi that Monday night. It wasn't until three days after the assault that they finally acknowledged some girls had been taken. It was another three days before they gave a number of how many were missing.
Now, President Muhammadu Buhari says the army and air force are in pursuit of the girls and are doing everything it can to find them. But most of the parents we spoke to don't feel they are doing enough.
"I don't know why the government has not reacted faster," said Zara's father Yussuf. "But these are not the children of senior politicians, they are the children of poor men."

And from the Associated Press:

Nigeria's security forces have been ordered to defend all schools in "liberated areas" of the country's northeast to avoid further mass abductions from schools by Boko Haram extremists, the president's office announced Wednesday. ... President Muhammadu Buhari's office said leaders of police and civil defense forces have been ordered to coordinate with the military and the governors of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states to "ensure deployment of personnel to all schools." …
Buhari, who made the fight against Boko Haram a key issue ahead of his 2015 election win, now faces growing pressure ahead of next year's vote. His government has repeatedly declared that Boko Haram has been defeated, but the Islamic extremists continue to carry out deadly suicide attacks in the northeast, often using young women who had been abducted and indoctrinated.

The whole thing is beyond depressing, as Boko Haram has been killing thousands. But as I looked at other coverage by Agence France Presse and the Washington Post, the New York Times and others, one thing was left out.

What was the religion of the Dapchi inhabitants?

Remember, Chibok was mainly Christian. But as I read accounts of the Dapchi kidnappings, I saw photos of veiled women, saw an Islamic studies teacher mentioned and read some of the names of the people quoted: such as Maryam, Fatima and Aisha, and realized this was a Muslim town.

Now that is interesting. Last year, Deutsche Welle, the German broadcast network, interviewed the Catholic bishop of Maiduguri in Borno State, where many of the terror takes place. Not only did he say that much of the international funds given to Nigeria for combating Boko Haram ended up in the pockets of top military officers but that some of the local Muslims helped Boko Haram destroy Christian property. It’s all done with the intent of causing the region’s Christians to flee; an effective strategy considering that similar pogroms have resulted in the near emptying of Iraq of its Christians.

This recent article in Crux also points out that Boko Haram’s main targets have been Christians. But not all. In 2013, there were horrific attacks on boys schools that ended in dozens of mainly Muslim victims.

After I read this Wall Street Journal article on some 10,000 boys who’ve been kidnapped by Boko Haram, effectively wiping out a generation of children in that part of the country, a number of commentators asked the reporter why the story had not put the responsibility more fully on radical Islam. And no reporter caught the religious distinction between Chibok and Dapchi.

Boko Haram, whose very name stands for hatred of western-style education, hates anything to do with schooling of any kind. It has an equal opportunity policy of gunning down Muslims and Christians alike, although the latter seem to be somewhat more at risk. 

It's tough for people outside of Nigeria to know the difference between one town and another, but there are differences that should be pointed out. And it should have also been pointed out that this time around, Boko Haram went after Muslim girls instead of Christian ones. 

I'll be interested to know if these terrorists dump their Muslim victims into the resurgent African slave trade, as explained by the Independentas they have done with Christian victims. Those ancient caravan routes running from sub-Saharan Africa north to countries bordering the Mediterranean are alive with slaves again, thanks to Boko Haram. Will they treat these girls as ISIS treated Yazidi women, as non-Muslims who deserved rape and slavery?

As reporters follow this story, look for ways these Dapchi girls, if they are fortunate, may be treated differently because they are Muslim. And if they are raped and enslaved just like as the Christian girls in Chibok have been, that is significant, too. 

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