15 May 2014

Bring back...

Dear Josh Shahryar, Kelly Fox and other outraged-at-the-outrage-at-the-outrage members of the liberal left:

Firstly, thank you for caring. Thank you for your open hearts which note a definite lack of justice in the world and are working to correct it! It is very true that the mass-kidnapping of nearly three hundred Chibok schoolgirls in West Africa is an atrocity, a monstrous crime against countless persons and families which deserves to be righted as swiftly and as thoroughly as possible. I applaud you for supporting this as thoroughly as you have, and hope and pray that you continue to use that energy and enthusiasm to its best effect.

That said, the direction of all that energy and enthusiasm should serve the cause. What do I mean by this? Well, not to get into a full-on rant about it, but there are useful things that can be done about the crimes of Boko Haram against the Chibok, and not-so-useful things. Petitions can be signed, donations can be made, and time can be spent researching and disseminating useful information through proper channels to the public. Those, I think, may rightly be considered useful contributions to the dialogue. Twitter hashtags and solidarity-selfies, tempting though they are to a generation of slacktivists (of which yours truly is as guilty a member as any), do not elevate the conversation, or include in it the people most in need of inclusion – at best, they are methods of starting a conversation, not of continuing or propagating it. It depresses me when people like Michelle Obama or David Cameron sign onto such things, because they are essentially engaging in a vanity exercise: unlike your average Western bloke or gal with a webcam and a Twitter account, they actually have significant public platforms to serve political movements they identify with.

And regarding social media: recall the shortcomings and the ultimate failure of the Kony 2012 campaign. It is a worthy cause to ‘bring back our girls’, but if it turns into a morally-dualistic crusade via the linguistically-flattening influence of Twitter, it stands in danger of being warped into something entirely different.

Which brings me to my next point – namely, that of the role of American imperialism in Africa, and how it is relevant to the discussion of the kidnapped girls and Boko Haram.

Josh, Kelly, I agree with you that turning aside the discussion of the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls into a debate about drone policy was at best misguided and self-serving. But, Josh, when you say ‘[i]f Whites tried to divert #BringBackOurGirls, we’d be up in arms calling ‘em a colonialist, and yet brown people doing it is OK?’, and when, Kelly, you agree that ‘derailing a conversation about black girls to talk about… victims of US imperialism is an expression of anti-black racism and sexism’, you are both wrong (though for different reasons).

First off, whites have been diverting the conversation in highly predictable ways. To imperially-privileged American eyes, all international problems are problems to be solved with… well, military intervention, with all the usual white-faced suspects (such as John McCain and Bill Kristol) lining up to say how ‘something must be done’, with that ‘something’ inevitably involving uniforms, guns, planes and bombs. It’s true that Obama has so far been careful and measured in his response, but it is highly disingenuous not to recognise that the question has been far diverted from its original intent. White men have been interposing themselves, unasked, as the military saviours of black women. From your point of view, is this not problematic?

Secondly, black voices have been active in drawing attention to the some of the broader issues and pointing to the dangers of further American intervention in North and West Africa. Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report, for example, laid out fairly broadly the background against which this mass kidnapping happened. Glen Ford rightly notes that the Nigerian government and army have been engaging in horrific mass killings of traditionally-Muslim tribes in the country, which has led to the radicalisation of many Nigerian Muslim youth and the rise of Boko Haram in the first place.

Thirdly, Ford also points astutely to the role that the Obama Administration and the British Tory-led coalition government have played in having empowered Boko Haram in the first place by removing the linchpin against extremist Islam in North Africa: Muammar al-Gadhafi! (A similar point has been made by Brendan O’Neill over at Spiked Online.) As Ford puts it:
Most relevant to the plight of Chibok’s young women, Obama led “from behind” NATO’s regime change in Libya, removing the anti-jihadist bulwark Muamar Gaddafi (“We came, we saw, he died,” said Hillary Clinton) and destabilizing the whole Sahelian tier of the continent, all the way down to northern Nigeria. As BAR editor and columnist Ajamu Baraka writes in the current issue, “Boko Haram benefited from the destabilization of various countries across the Sahel following the Libya conflict.” The once-“shadowy” group now sported new weapons and vehicles and was clearly better trained and disciplined. In short, the Boko Haram, like other jihadists, had become more dangerous in a post-Gaddafi Africa – thus justifying a larger military presence for the same Americans and (mainly French) Europeans who had brought these convulsions to the region.
These Chibok schoolgirls are firstly victims of the kidnappers. But Boko Haram could not have gotten the materiel, the training or the support they needed to pull off the kidnapping, if the three overwhelmingly-white nations America, Britain and France hadn’t ganged up to remove the only bulwark against Islamic extremism in North Africa, subjecting the black population of Libya directly to genocide at the hands of the NATO-supported rebels and the rest of the black population of the entire region to risk of the same. Imperialism is playing a role here. I can only hope that your commitment to ‘intersectionalism’ is deep enough that you guys can ‘talk about multiple issues at once’ – including American imperialism and its victims – not only for the sake of the young Chibok women still in captivity, but for the sake of all vulnerable populations across North and West Africa.

Yours sincerely, Matt

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