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A mother’s anti-war editorial on #BringBackOurGirls

Editorial by Meredith Aby-Keirstead |
May 10, 2014
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Minneapolis, MN - This has been a hard week to listen to the news - especially as a mother. I have had trouble sleeping all week thinking about the girls and mothers living in hell in Nigeria.

On April 14, 277 girls between the ages of 12 and 17 were kidnapped from their boarding schools by the Boko Haram in Nigeria. 43 girls managed to escape but 234 girls are still missing and have been for weeks. Although the conflict between the Nigerian government and the Boko Haram has been going on since 2009, the massive scale of this atrocity has captured international attention. For weeks the Nigerian government did nothing, at times claimed the girls had been rescued and at other times refused to act. After a growing campaign of protest - first in Nigeria and now across the globe - the issue of #BringBackOurGirls is getting international attention.

This week President Obama sent an interagency team including military and law enforcement to Nigeria. The BBC reported Secretary of State John Kerry saying, “Our inter-agency team is hitting the ground in Nigeria now and they are going to be working in concert with President Goodluck Jonathan's government to do everything that we possibly can to return these girls to their families and their communities. We are also going to do everything possible to counter the menace of Boko Haram.” This week First Lady Michelle Obama sent out her own message on social media with a picture of herself holding a sign #BringBackOurGirls. I’m concerned that even that the girls have not been returned to their families many people falsely feel progress towards justice has been made.

I am deeply concerned that once again the American public is being manipulated to support U.S. imperialism while at the same time ignoring the ways in which the U.S. contributes to the very humanitarian problems it claims to be trying to fight.

For starters, what was a grassroots movement by Nigerian women to hold their own government accountable has turned into a discussion here of what the U.S. government should do to protect women and girls in Nigeria.

By sending in military advisors the U.S. is backing an incredibly repressive government in Nigeria and is giving legitimacy to the Boko Haram’s claims that they are fighting against Western intervention and influence in Nigeria. The last thing Nigeria needs is a foreign military to prop up its corrupt government.

President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have now pledged the U.S. to the Nigerian fight against Boko Haram, which will further fuel this conflict and ignores the causal factors for how the conflict has developed. Nigerian President Jonathan has been fighting an internal war with incredibly brutal tactics, including burning homes, physical abuse and extrajudicial killing. The Jonathan administration is known for stealing $20 billion from the government, extensive corruption in his government, and for doing relatively little for two-thirds of the population that lives in dire poverty despite Nigeria being one of the most oil rich countries in the world. Sending in military assistance to this government will expand and prolong this conflict.

As a woman, a mother and a peace activist I know that war means rape and violence against women. I think it is important that we say no to all instances of sexual violence.

I sincerely do not understand how the U.S. military can be seen as a vehicle by which to protect women. The Huffington Post reports that the Pentagon estimated there were 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact in 2012 and that 62% of sexual assault victims in the U.S. military say they faced retaliation for reporting sexual assault. Internationally - from Japan to Iraq to Colombia - women and girls see the U.S. military not as their protectors but as their rapists. There is a culture of violence in the U.S. armed forces which should not be exported to Nigeria and that must be challenged.

Just last month the White House acknowledged, “1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted while in college, usually in the first two years and usually by someone she knows.” Girls and women aren’t safe at schools in the U.S. either. This issue of sexual assault - both in and outside of war zones - needs to stop. That should be the demand - not to send in the U.S. military!

This is not the first time that I have frustrated compassionate people who watch the news and argue with me, “We must do something!” I would argue it is more important to do something helpful rather than to do something to merely make ourselves in the U.S. feel better.

U.S. intervention is incapable of promoting the needs of the 99%. U.S. intervention is always done hand in glove with corporate interests. U.S. intervention in Nigeria will be done to make sure that Nigeria, the fifth largest oil exporter in the world, is a safe place for investment, which means that the U.S. will help the Jonathan administration continue - even though it has been found to be literally stealing from their people. The Obama administration might use this as an opportunity to expand AFRICOM and to expand its use of drones further into the continent.

With these potential outcomes I don’t see Nigeria as becoming a safer place for children. Between U.S. drone strikes and an escalated internal war I’m worried that Nigeria will be less safe with more U.S. involvement.

So then what’s the answer?

There is a lot of work to be done both at home and abroad to say no to sexual violence. There is a lot of work to do to question U.S. involvement in Africa - from AFRICOM, to drones, to escalating the “war on terrorism,” to destabilizing governments, to propping up undemocratic leaders - we have a lot of activism to do.

Cheering for U.S. intervention will not bring these girls back so please don’t encourage more militarism.

On this Mother’s Day my heart is with the mothers and daughters of Nigeria. I will hug my own little girl and recommit myself to struggling for a safer world for all girls - a world without imperialism and without sexual violence.

inspector