301 Days Later

It is now 301 days since Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from the Government Secondary School in Borno State, Nigeria. Fifty seven subsequently escaped, which means that 219 are still captive. Stories of their enslavement, forced conversion to Islam (most of the girls were Christian) and other horrors have circulated widely, but the #BringBackOurGirls campaign which briefly attracted celebrity support has largely fallen silent. Other stories have captured the imagination of internet-users.

It should be a source of deep shame to the Nigerian government that so little seems to have been done to track down the girls’ kidnappers. There are even reports that the Nigerian police have attempted to shut down protests in Abuja about the failure to act. With elections now postponed for what is widely seen to be motives of political expediency, oughtn’t there to be international pressure exerted on President Goodluck Jonathan to address this matter? The people of the north-east are, for the most part, desperately poor. The girls sent to Chibok to be educated represent the best hope of their parents to achieve a better life for their children. Let us support them with our prayers and do whatever we can to ensure that each one of those 219 missing girls is returned to freedom and safety. If no one else cares, we should.

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Waging War with Civilians and Other Horrors

It can be very hard to understand why anyone should wish to use bullets, bombs, kidnapping, torture and other horrors to achieve their aims, yet that is precisely what is happening in many parts of the world. Hamas wants to destroy Israel so rains down rocket-fire; Israel wants to destroy Gaza so rains down air-strikes and ground offensives; ISIS wants to eliminate anyone who thinks or believes differently so uses bully-boy tactics on Christians and other religious groups; Boko Haram has its own vision, if one can call it that, for Nigeria and has no scruples about using kidnap and terror against the civilian population. In every case, it is civilians who suffer most; and as far as I can see, the shocking truth is that civilian suffering is what is intended. If enough civilians die, there will be a shift in thinking; existing power-structures will crumble; victory will have been won.

It would naive to believe that waging war with civilians is a novelty. Sadly, it has always been so; but today’s weaponry makes it easier and deadlier than ever. That raises all kinds of moral questions about Just War theory, individual/collective responsibility, the role of Superpowers and so on. I’m not sure what bloggers and others have to contribute to the debate, but perhaps thinking in terms of ‘debate’ itself contributes to the problem. We are not talking about something abstract and ultimately harmless but about human lives. Perhaps we all need to take a deep breath and remember that what is done, or not done, today affects not only the present generation but generations to come. Wars are rarely born of sudden misunderstandings or power-grabs. They tend to come from long-simmering feuds and resentments, from the memory of hurts, real or imagined, that we all carry within us. Perhaps there is something there for us all to think about today.

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