This week, the horrific images of teen girls abducted into lives of slavery to terrorists monopolized the front pages of every major newspaper and received wall-to-wall coverage on television. The vicious crimes of Boko Haram deserve the attention–but they have deserved it for years, and only now is the media eager to pay it.
Newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the Wall Street Journal are treating the kidnapping of hundreds of Christian girls by the organization and its looming threat over the largest economy in Africa as A1 news today. CNN has even interrupted some of its marathon Malaysia Airlines coverage to give the terror group some time. The Nigerian government’s apparent inability to do anything to prevent such a mass abduction and the feverish ravings of Boko Haram’s leader against a concept as universally accepted as education certainly pass the test for front-page news.
But Boko Haram has shown signs of potential to evolve into a top-tier terror group for years. The group has been committing acts of terror–and affiliated with Al Qaeda–for more than a decade. They have been explicit in their goals from the beginning: to establish Sharia Law and eradicate Christianity from Nigeria and beyond. “Democracy and the current system of education must be changed otherwise this war that is yet to start would continue for long,” said then Boko Haram leader Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf in 2009; that philosophy has clearly not wavered.
The girls abducted this year are being forced to continually say praise to Allah in the video that proves they are alive, released this week through AFP, as proof the group has stripped them of their Christian faith.
Even taking into consideration the argument that the Boko Haram we know today under terrorist Abubakar Shekau has only been in existence since 2009, when Shekau is believed to have taken over the organization, it is undeniable that the organization has shown potential for mass violence from the start.
In 2012, it was estimated that Boko Haram had already killed 3,000 people, including victims as a United Nations facility in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, in 2011. As Breitbart News reported then, Shekau was already threatening President Barack Obama and campaigning mostly against Christians generally, rather than the targeting of young girls that has now come to define the organization.
Few news outlets paid attention to Boko Haram in 2012. Those that did reacted dismissively. In a column titled, astonishingly, “In Nigeria, Boko Haram Is Not the Problem,” New York Times columnist Jean Herskovits wrote that “the news media and American policy makers are chasing an elusive and ill-defined threat; there is no proof that a well-organized, ideologically coherent terrorist group called Boko Haram even exists today.” Herskovits describes the origins of the group as “peaceful” and argues that adding the group to the United States terror list would fulfill “a self-fulfilling prophecy that makes us into their enemy.”
As we learned as week, the Obama administration reacted to the threat with similar lack of alarm– Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused requests to designate Boko Haram a terror group. The Obama administration’s efforts repeatedly led to the underestimating of the Boko Haram threat–and, in some ways, directly to the emboldening of the terror group.
In contrast, surprisingly, The Guardian reported then that Boko Haram was transparent with its intentions. “We will consider negotiation only when we have brought the government to their knees,” Abu Qaqa, a spokesman for the organization, said in 2012. That, at least, seems to be true, as the mass schoolgirl abduction is the first time Shekau has demanded anything determinate in exchange for an end to violence– namely, liberty for Boko Haram terrorists currently in custody.
And now, thousands of deaths, hundreds of abductions, and innumerable crimes against humanity later, the media has decided that Boko Haram is worth taking seriously. The victims of Boko Haram deserve as much. But those whose lives were destroyed in the years the news media ignored the threat deserved the potential to be saved, as well.