Boko Haram and the kidnapped girls: The real ‘War on Women’

Robert A. Cohn is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light.

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

The civilized world continues to recoil in revulsion and outrage over the kidnapping of 276 school girls last month by the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram. World leaders, including First Lady Michelle Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and numerous Jewish organizations have joined thousands of protesters in Nigeria and around the world, rallying under the Twitter hashtag: “#Bring Back Our Girls!” 

Those expressions of outrage are all well and good, but it will take more than slogans and social media savvy to secure the release of the kidnapped schoolgirls and to bring to justice the evildoers who are responsible for this latest chapter in the war on women waged by Islamic terrorists.

The very name of the terrorist group, Boko Haram, translates into English from the Hausa language as “Western Education is Forbidden.” In a chilling video, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau smilingly boasted about the kidnapping of the girls from their school and warned that the girls could be sent across the border and “sold” as forced-marriage “wives” or into sex trafficking. There truly are no words to adequately express the outrage over these actions, which are only the latest in a series of attacks on women and girls by Islamic extremists throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and founder of  the AHA Foundation, has had the courage to speak  out against not only the latest Boko Haram atrocity, but also to denounce forcefully the Taliban terrorist who shot and nearly killed 15-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai as she rode home  in a school bus in 2012.  In a powerful op-ed column in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal, Hirsi Ali noted that Malala was shot because she had advocated for girls’ education. “As I know from experience, nothing is more anathema to the jihadists than equal education for women.”

Hirsi Ali was the scholar who was set to receive an honorary degree from Brandeis University for her scholarship and advocacy for human rights until various pro-Muslim groups objected, accusing her of “Islamophobia.” To its shame, Brandeis University caved and rescinded the degree. Justice Louis D. Brandeis, after whom the university is named, must be spinning in his grave. The very idea that a university named in honor of the first Jewish justice of the U.S. Supreme Court — and a fierce advocate of free speech — would be so disrespectful is scandalous.

Not every Jew who criticizes Israel should be branded as an “anti-Semite” or as a “self-hating Jew.” Similarly, not every Muslim, or member of any faith who criticizes actions perpetrated by murderous terrorists acting in the “name of Islam” should be denounced as an “Islamophobe.”

Hirsi Ali, along with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and NBC’s Ann Curry, are part of a handful of scholars and journalists who have called the world’s attention to the excesses of extremist groups that operate on the basis of a distorted and hateful misinterpretation of Islam. Curry has interviewed some of the desperate parents of the missing girls, and one of the girls who had escaped the kidnapping to focus attention on their plight. Kristof, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who did more than any other journalist to call attention to the atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan, published a column in Sunday’s Times headlined, “What’s So Scary About Smart Girls?”

He wrote: “When terrorists in Nigeria organized a secret attack last month, they didn’t target a police department or a drone base. No, Boko Haram militants attacked what is even scarier to a fanatic: a girls’ school. That’s what extremists do. They target educated girls, their worst nightmare. That’s why the Pakistani Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai in the head at age 15. That’s why the Afghan Taliban throws acid on the faces of girls who dare to seek an education.”

At this writing, President Barack Obama has promised the families of the kidnapped girls that the United States will do “all it can” to reunite the girls with their families. British Prime Minister David Cameron was even more direct, promising not only to help rescue the girls but also to punish the Boko Haram terrorists responsible for the kidnapping. On Monday, news media reported that about 100 of the girls were shown seated in front of their captors, who announced that the girls shown had all “converted to Islam.” The captors offered to exchange the girls for Boko Haram terrorists who are in Nigerian prisons and jails. France and China have also offered to help resolve the crisis.

It serves no useful purpose, as this crisis unfolds, to second-guess those in the Nigerian government or U.S. and world leaders who are attempting to  “Bring Back Our Girls.” We can only hope and pray that they can all be rescued and reunited with their desperate families and that those responsible will receive the swift and resolute justice that they deserve.