Gradually but explosively, what Boko Haram, the Islamist terror group, has been doing in North East Nigeria has penetrated the mainstream from the social media. On 14 April Boko Haram (meaning ‘Western Education is Forbidden’) abducted more than 230 girls from a boarding school. Most are still missing. Abubaka Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader, obligingly gave a videoed explanation: ‘I abducted your girls; there is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell – he commands me to sell.’
The fact that these are girls, at least, makes their plight of international political and media interest. Feminism is an easy fall-back position for the foreign policy/human rights community. For that, the girls and their parents may yet have reason to be grateful. It allows the British Foreign Secretary to tweet that ‘using girls as the spoils of war and the spoils of terrorism is immoral’. But what neither the UK nor the US authorities is prepared to draw attention to is that these girls – all or nearly all of them – are Christians.
Boko Haram might, indeed, abduct Muslim girls from school because it thought they should be back at home, to be covered up, beaten, and to make the soup. But it would only dare to sell Christians into slavery and prostitution. Not only are they Christian. It is their Christianity which caused them to be victims.
These and other abductees were at schools in the Christian enclave of Chibok in Borno State. The region is the scene of systematic Islamist persecution and intimidation. Chibok, itself, was regarded as safe, until Islamists arrived to burn down the market, destroy houses, steal, kill, and abduct at will. Full, credible, detailed accounts are available through the Christian on-line networks.
Yet commentators still seem content to exercise self-censorship. The religious identity of the girls has not been mentioned in the mainstream US or British media.
The words ‘poverty’, ‘corruption’, and ‘incompetence’ figure largely, and with some justice, in explanations of what is dysfunctional in Nigeria. But the word “Christian’ is notable by its absence in explaining what happened in Chibok.
Nigeria is, in truth, the scene of a brutal religious war being fought by jihadists against Christians. But don’t expect the White House or Downing Street, let alone Foggy Bottom or the FCO, to own up to it.
Robin Harris was an advisor to Margaret Thatcher and is the author of Not for Turning: The Life of Margaret Thatcher