In response to Note to Michelle and Hillary — #SaveOurGirls:
You’ve put your finger on the thing about hashtag diplomacy that really bugs me, David – the inherent assumption that the thugs of Boko Haram (or Vladimir Putin and his separatist allies in eastern Ukraine) can be argued and/or shamed out of their actions, as if they just needed to see one more selfie of pouty-faced Michelle Obama holding up a sign to realize the error of their ways.
This is the underlying assumption of “soft power”: world events can be shaped by speeches, gestures, and lockstep media support. It works fairly well on the American electorate, so maybe it’ll work on the terrorist fanatics of Nigeria! Once they realize the entire world is frowning at them, they’ll crack like soft-power-boiled eggs.
But even that’s too strong a description for what this particular hashtag game is saying. They’re pleading with these savages to “Bring Back Our Girls.” I’d be less contemptuous of the effort if the hashtag said #BringBackOurGirlsYouFilthyMonsters. Or, better yet, #BringBackOurGirlsOrDie. But that’s not at all the message being sent here; Boko Haram is treated almost like a natural disaster, not a force of human evil, and their deeds can supposedly be reversed if big-hearted liberals hope for change with sufficient intensity. That’s a fundamental – and, I would add, dangerous – misreading of what motivates the ogres of the world.
Now we’ve learned that even if Boko Haram does decide to #BringBackOurGirls, a lot of them will be coming back Muslim, after forcible conversion. The terrorists just released video of a hundred hostages sitting around in hijabs. How about a hashtag to rally universal condemnation from the Muslim world for this atrocity? Any chance we’ll see the super-powers of Islam swing into action against the latest in a long series of vicious terrorists who have hijacked their religion? Or would such a social media campaign be too… judgmental for Western liberals? Their current hashtag isn’t even judgmental of Boko Haram – on the contrary, it extends them an implied offer of credit for introspection. I can’t imagine they’d climb aboard a social media effort to shame the Islamic world into action.
I’ve heard defenders of hashtag diplomacy say it’s better understood as an effort to rally Western opposition to Boko Haram. I tend to think #BringBackOurGirls is just trendy moral posturing for liberals who won’t actually do anything about the crisis – they just want to be given credit for caring. (The hashtag actually started in Nigeria, where it has a bit more relevance and meaning.) Some say it’s not just hollow preening – it’s the Western world getting itself worked into high dudgeon and spreading “awareness” of the girls’ plight. If that’s true, it does not speak well of us. I didn’t get one paragraph into the first news story about this outrage before my dudgeon meter went off like a tilted pinball machine. Does the American ruling class really need explicit marching orders from its political celebrities to become aware of mass kidnapping and slavery? Is that an implicit acknowledgement that much of our 24-hour news culture has faded into meaningless background noise?