By CARLEY SCHAD:
Australia has the ability to quickly join hashtag bandwagons and social media solidarity but it’s disinterest in international counter-terrorism and helping our female counterparts in North-East Africa overrides it all.
In the late hours of the 14th of April and into the early morning of the 15th, an estimated 276 girls were kidnapped from their Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria.
The confessed kidnappers are Boko Haram, a Nigerian militant Islamist group, that has continually caused upheaval in Africa’s most populous country in an attempt to overthrow Nigeria’s government and create an Islamist state.
The group’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad which means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”. Boko Haram, which is derived from the regions Hausa language, simply means, “Western education is forbidden”.
A video was released shortly after the incident where Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, detailed his plans for the schoolgirls,
“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah, Allah has instructed me to sell them. They are his property and I will carry out his instructions.”
In the week following this video, The United States deployed 80 members of its armed forces to Chad, in an effort to find the girls who had now been moved out of their North-East Nigerian town.
A letter from the White House, released on 14th of May, justified this decision by saying: “These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over Northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,”
“The force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required”.
New York Democrat, Representative Eliot Engel, approached congress to reiterated this movement, saying, “We believe the United States, in conjunction with other countries, must do everything possible to free those girls,”
“We have technology, and a number of things available to us that other countries don’t have, that we believe should be utilized in any joint international effort to bring the girls home”.
The kidnapping took three weeks to reach mainstream media in Australia and less than two weeks for national interest to disengage with finding ‘our girls’.
Google, the worlds most reliable search-engine, offers an online optimization service called Google Trends which enables a person to examine how many people internationally, nationally and regionally search for certain terms, phrases or hash tags during a period of time.
The kidnapping was boiled down to the hash tag #bringbackourgirls which was created by Nigerian lawyer Ibrahim M Abdullahi nine days after the girls were abducted.
The tag allowed people to utilize social media to raise awareness about the terrorist abduction, spread concern and follow the story as it unfolded.
The graph above shows the spike and decline in Australia’s trending stories about the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls that were kidnapped in April.
The following graph shows the spike and decline in Australia’s trending stories about the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram. The letters C, B and A, point out the news headlines that trended during this time with only one news article being from the Australian news organization, Sky News Australia.
When reviewing Google Trends for the hash tag ‘#bringbackourgirls’ the search volume is so finite that a graph cannot be created.
This being considered, Burwood Girls High School students had rallied together on the 12th of May in an act of solidarity for the missing Chibok schoolgirls and to join the international hash tag campaign.
A week later, the Nigerian schoolgirls are still missing and our national government forces have not lifted a finger in the way of moving beyond the hash tag to join the United States in their pledge for military personnel support.
Two statements have been released since the emergence of the Chibok kidnapping by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop.
The first, being a condemnation of the terrorist attack, released on the 6th of May in which the Minister outlines Australia’s offering of support to the Nigerian Government and its work against counter terrorism.
The second statement followed the United Nation’s decision to list Boko Haram as a terrorist organization and how the Prime Minister is taking urgent steps to make the same movement under Australia’s Criminal Code.
Senior Lecturer at the University of Wollongong and international researcher of human rights, counter terrorism and civil liberties, Dr Mark Rix, expresses his particular concern with our nations ineptness to apply itself to human issues outside its borders,
“Australia’s concern [is] that there are continuing issues with regards to terrorism and a need for fairly effective counter-terrorism initiatives,”
“I think what Australia often loses sight of is the need for initiatives dealing with issues like social and economic development, education and ensuring its linkages with governments in South East Asia, in West Africa, wherever, they might put a high premium on the protection of human rights.”
“The kidnapping didn’t involve Americans, Western Europeans, Australian’s, Canadians and if it doesn’t involve people from those countries – or doesn’t directly influence Australia’s economic or foreign policy interests – the media won’t be concerned.”
“We get very little information from the government and we always hear from the government that without secrecy national security is at danger,” he says,
“If we are really concerned about counter-terrorism and terrorist threats then we really need to be concerned with exactly what our government is doing, who its working with and what steps are being taken to protect the human rights of the individuals involved.”
The northeastern town of Chibok has a sizeable Christian community in which 223 girls are still missing.
In the second video released by the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, expresses that their Islamist group has ‘liberated’ the girls by converting them to the Muslim faith.
Shekau reiterated that the girls were not to be returned until the Boko Haram ‘brethren’ who have remained in custody for 5 years, for other terrorist crimes against Nigeria, are released.
According to ancient Islamic belief, women who are captured during conflict are considered “war booty” and since the abduction it is understood the girls have been sold off into sex slavery and adult marriages for around 12 U.S. dollars.
Members of the Nigerian government have been criticized for not showing enough concern and contending that the girls have been forced into marriages.
Parents of the missing girls have since taken matters into their own hands with a number of protests and searches.
Mothers and Fathers have entered Nigerian bush land in the heartof an Islamist insurgency armed with bows and arrows but have been warned that certain occupied areas can result in further death and destruction.
The girls in Chibok and others alike in surrounding towns like Yobe, were targeted for their pursuit of western education and a Christian life.
Protest leader, Hadiza Bala Usman, told The New York Times that the demonstrations in the capital would continue until proper attention is paid.
She says, “If this abduction of 236 girls happened anywhere else in the world, the nation would be at a standstill”.
Dr Mark Rix agrees Australia often debates if counter-terrorism and human rights support over seas is a waste of time and money.
Dr Rix believes national governments shouldn’t get caught up in poor foreign policy and high-tech solutions and should instead focus on nipping terrorist attacks in the bud, saying,
“All of Australia’s foreign policy and aid initiatives should be directly linked to the welfare of the recipients of the aid, and in particular, women and the protection of women’s rights,”
“It’s important for Australia to support the rights of women and the need for education and development,”
“That should be a fundamental aspect of Australia’s foreign policy and its approach to national security.”