It was a rare occasion for the First Lady Michelle Obama to step into her husband's shoes. She delivered the weekly radio address on Saturday, May 10, instead of her husband President Barack Obama, on the eve of the Mother's Day. A somber looking Michelle spoke “as the mother of two young daughters” on the “unconscionable act” committed by a terrorist group who had kidnapped nearly 300 Nigerian girls from their school dormitory in the middle of the night on April 14. She said: “In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters. We see their hopes, their dreams -- and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now.” About fifty have since escaped but more than 200 remain untraced. President Barack Obama directed his administration “to do everything possible to support the Nigerian government's efforts to find these girls and bring them home.”
It is unfortunate that the group kidnapped the girls because it opposed female education. The girls were warned but they took the risk and were appearing at examinations to go to the next level on the night they were kidnapped. In her speech, Michelle did not forget to remember Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan, another champion of female education, who had been shot by another terrorist group as she too pursued her education defying a ban by the group. The First Lady even quoted from her speech at the United Nations “The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.”
Kidnapping for revenge, ransom or rape is common in many countries with poor law and order situations, including Bangladesh. But the scale and the cause of the Nigerian incident shook the conscience of the world. It is also unfortunate that the Nigerian army failed to protect the girls even though they are reported to have had advance information about the risks.
There are extremist groups in many countries who oppose female education and they do it in the name of religion. They know that female education plays a very important role in societal development. So, one way to retard the progress of any society is to keep their women uneducated. On Mother's Day, while we pray for the safe return of the kidnapped girls to their aggrieved parents, we cannot but condemn any terrorist act that denies education to any girl in any corner of the planet since “that is her birthright.”
The writer is a former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.