It is more than a month since 276 teenaged girls were abducted from schools in Chibok, Nigeria, and held captive by Boko Haram wearing a dogmatic badge – 'Western education is sinful'.
Despite the global outrage, 'return our daughters' clamouring by their parents and sophisticated crack platoons and surveillance drones taking to the field, courtesy of USA and UK, rescue operation has yet to produce any tangible result till the time of writing this (May 19). France too is in it, being the worst sufferer through abduction of its citizens along with those of some other countries. Boko Haram has taken a toll of no less than 2000 lives this year alone.
It is palpable though as to how carefully the rescuers must navigate when the girls have been held ransom to a difficult militant proposition that imprisoned Boko Haram elements will have to be released first. And, spiking the fears of the girls' parents, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has rejected the offer out of hand.
In the same breath, President Jonathan says, 'All options are open' meaning that the window for negotiation has not been shut off. In fact, his government's incompetence is matched by the nervous breakdown it has writhed under. Although the skeletal presence of his military in Borno was warned a week ahead of the incident, the government failed to send in reinforcements to prevent the attack. The blitzkrieg was a walkover as the government forces deserted out of fear.
Nigeria's neighbours – Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger – lately in a meeting in Paris declared war on Boko Haram, somewhat diffusing the focus on the girls, one my surmise with good reasons.
But then French President Francois Hollande who hosted the summit sounded determinedly committed to the cause: "When more than 200 young girls are being held in barbaric conditions with the prospect of being sold into slavery, there are no questions to be asked, only actions to be taken."
In the meanwhile, the kidnappers showed some 130 girls on You-Tube. Of them, only 54 could be identified by name. Their tormentors claiming they have been ‘converted to Islam’, the long-robed girls were heard reciting verses from the Holy Quran.
Some rural sightings of the girls have been reported.
Where are the other girls and are they all safe have been the questions doing the rounds not only in Nigeria but in many homes throughout the world. It is humanity united by a common concern for the speedy recovery of the girls unharmed. Anybody seeing the tears dripping down the faces of mothers seated on the trunk of a dead tree with a vague look into the horizon cannot but have a churning sensation in one’s heart.
In a parallel development, vigilante groups have killed many suspected Boko Haram activists demurring at the government’s poor handling of the situation.
Women, particularly girls, remain vulnerable and unsafe whether in peacetime or in warlike situations or in conflict zones – in ascending order. That is largely because groups with extremist ideology get a field day in troubled times. As the contending forces fight, militancy can make inroad into a society that is unsure about itself. A homegrown extremism feeding on desperation is likely to play into the trap laid by an external variety of 'radicalization'. Warped ideology will have to be dealt with ideals of pluralistic coexistence that resounds with the echo of the creed 'your religion is yours and mine is mine'.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.