Where Is the Outrage?

New York Times' Nicholas Kristof asked John Kerry if he could "nudge" Nigeria to do more to find over 200 kidnapped girls. Not pressure. NUDGE.

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“One good thing that made me happy and I believe most Nigerians are happy is that there is no story that any of them have been hurt in terms of injury or death,” said Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday, May 4, breaking his three-week silence about the abduction of more than 300 girls Nigerian girls from their school by the extremist Muslim group, Boko Haram on April 14. (Boko Haram, in the Hausa language, means “Western education is a sin.”) Yes, three whole weeks before he said anything about this tragedy. But the president has managed to find a silver lining, something that made him happy and possibly has made other citizens happy: The girls haven’t been injured or killed.

No, they’ve just been sold into slavery or forced to marry their captors at a cost of $12 each. (Fortunately, 53 girls, according to reports, have managed to escape, bringing the number down to 276.) Not that the president has any idea where these girls are—one report yesterday says some of the girls have been taken across the borders into Cameroon and Chad—because it appears that the Nigerian government has done next to nothing to find them.

Yesterday Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video admitting that he “abducted your girls” and “will sell them in the market, by Allah.” What I’d like to know from President Jonathan is how he defines such terms as “happy” and “good” and “injury.” Because these young students were captured, abused, raped—that’s what happens when you’re kidnapped, sold into slavery and forced into marriages with militants. So how exactly does this not constitute “injury”? How will this make anyone “happy”? There is nothing “good” about any of this.

I’m sorry that New York Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristof hadn’t heard the Nigerian president’s statement before writing his Johnny-come-lately editorial on Sunday. It might have put a little spark in his flaccid prose. Then again, the Grey Lady had to be publicly shamed to give this horror story some ink, which it didn’t do until two weeks after the fact. Kristof, who has a tendency to write paternalistic damsels-in-distress editorials (e.g., this February 1 piece on Dylan Farrow), joined the chorus with a Bring Back Our Girls editorial that was puzzlingly dispassionate, bordering on apathetic.

Kristof echoes much of what has been said already, including the observation made by so many last week, that there has been nonstop news coverage and a major international search for the missing passengers of Malaysian flight MH370—passengers who are likely dead—while underlining the fact that there has been next to none devoted to finding girls who are being sold as “wives” and slaves to militants for chump change. But he doesn’t contribute much more to the conversation.

He talks with the grieving father of one of the missing girls, an 18-year-old student named Ayesha. He tells Kristof that parents have abandoned hope in Nigerian government officials who “are just saying lies” and are pleading for “international pressure on Nigeria to rescue the girls.” So Kristof says he asked Secretary of State John Kerry, who is currently in Africa, whether the U.S. could “nudge Nigerian authorities to do more to find the girls.”

Nudge? Did he really say “nudge”?

Nudge is something you do to a guest who has yet to RSVP for a party. You don’t nudge a government to amp up their search for over 200 missing teenagers who have been taken by terrorists and sold into slavery. You pressure the shit out of them. WTF?!??

And when we writes of the social-media campaigns to “Bring Back Our Girls” to pressure Nigerian authorities, via the White House websiteChange.org, and Facebook, he says, “All this may or may not help, but it’s worth trying.” Are we looking for a missing gerbil? Or human beings?

I don’t really need to say that if these were American girls, war would be declared, do I? (I guess I just did.)

But it’s a good thing these girls are seeking a Western education because at least Kristof thinks they’re worthy of rescue: “More than 200 teenage girls have just been enslaved because they had the brains and guts to seek to become teachers or doctors. They deserve a serious international effort to rescue them.” What if, I wonder, they were not seeking a Western education, but had also been captured by terrorists and sold into slavery? Would they deserve a serious international effort to rescue them? Or would they be even more invisible than these Nigerian schoolgirls have been for the past couple of weeks?

Where is the outrage? Last week, we were outraged by the incendiary, loathsome words of a racist, misogynist, rich piece of crap who owns the L.A. Clippers—words that were taped from a private conversation. Donald Sterling was a known racist, had been embroiled in lawsuits before for this very reason, so it should have surprised no one. But his words were no less offensive, and he was rightly punished: banished for life from the NBA, fined $2.5 million, and he may even be forced to give up ownership of his franchise. I suppose it’s more bearable to be outraged by a story that is easier to resolve, and certainly one with recognizable outsize characters—it happened right here in the U.S.—than a story happening halfway across the world, involving religious extremists who have forced young girls into slavery.

Except that we have waged wars against the Taliban supposedly for such matters. No, this is in Africa, a land way over there. Invisible to us. It is just a place that the West insistently is blind to.

The media got hold of the tape, everyone was whipped into a froth, the press talked about nothing else but Sterling Sterling Sterling, and within a week, the NBA takes action. The heat was on them to do something.

So where is the froth over these girls? Where’s the sense of urgency? Where is the front-page coverage, the CNN minute-to-minute updates that reveal that they have no new news to report. You know, the full-court press? I know there are American citizens who feel outraged about and scared for these girls, because my social-network newsfeeds on Facebook and Twitter are filled with posts about #BringBackOurGirls, demanding action, organizing rallies, circulating letters to be signed urging action. But what good does any of it do if the American press is collectively shrugging it off? Is Kristof’s editorial going to light a fire under Secretary of State John Kerry? Is a newspaper of record, who waited weeks to half-heartedly cover an international crisis that involves human trafficking and child abuse and rape and God knows what else going to help these girls, and put pressure on President Jonathan? What do you think?

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