The T-shirt campaign was as inevitable as it is useless. Once the story of the more than 200 stolen Nigerian schoolgirls went viral on Facebook and Twitter, complete with the catchy slogan “Bring back our girls,” it was only a matter of time before their ordeal was made into a fashion accessory. Proceeds from T-shirt sales will supposedly go to families of abducted girls. How they will be identified and paid isn’t something the T-shirt makers explain.
The next phase will probably be novelty bracelets. Maybe someone can repurpose all those Kony 2012 wristbands that must by now be cluttering drawers in wealthy countries all over the world.
All the attention and anger is understandable and justified. This is an obscene crime that, if anything, has had its jagged contours smoothed over in some press reports. (“Forced marriage” is a mealy-mouthed way to describe child rape.) But when discussing the obscenity that has befallen these girls, could we at least be clear-eyed about what helping them, and future victims like them, would entail?
In the Ottawa Citizen, Shannon Gormley says Canada could “attack violence at the root by putting a concentrated effort into poverty reduction.” Poverty is the root cause of a lot of terrible things. This isn’t one of them. Boko Haram’s leader Abubaker Shekau has helpfully provided his own explanation.
“In Islam, it is allowed to take infidel women as slaves. In due course, we will start taking women away,” he said in a March video.
Shekau appeared, gloating, in another recent video to confirm that the girls, whom he calls slaves, are in his possession. “I will marry off a woman at the age of 12. I will marry off a girls at the age of nine,” he said. “God instructed me to sell them. They are his properties, and I will carry out his instructions.”
Shekau does not sound like the kind of guy who might be dissuaded from his pedophilia and religious supremacism with a microcredit loan from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.
He runs one of a number of Islamist militias that have taken root across Africa’s Sahel. Last year, a similarly minded group conquered much of Mali, making life miserable for everyone in areas they controlled. They were pushed back because France, with logistical help from Canada and other allies, was willing to put its soldiers on the ground to hunt them down and kill them. Malians are now better off as a result.
The chances that the stolen Nigerian schoolgirls will be rescued are, sadly, slight. But there will be other enslaved girls unless Boko Haram is crushed. That will require men with guns—either Western soldiers, or African ones with extensive Western backing. If those demanding help for the stolen girls support a military mission to suppress Islamist extremist groups in Africa, let them say so explicitly. Otherwise their calls to action are disingenuous. T-shirts are not enough.