The Western world is fickle when it comes to the attention it gives the many atrocities committed around the world. A few years ago, social media was awakened to the crimes of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, after a documentary film cataloged his crimes and his use of children as soldiers.
The Obama administration even sent troops to Central Africa, but Kony has yet to be captured, and the world’s attention has waned.
Now, attention has turned to Boko Haram, the terrorist group that kidnapped 234 young girls from their school in Nigeria in retaliation for the “Western” education the girls were receiving, and in the name of a Taliban-like devotion to religious fundamentalism.
Anyone familiar with the group would be surprised that the West is coming so late to this cause. Boko Haram has been killing Christians and kidnapping children for years. Various reports attribute about 2,300 deaths to the group over the past four years. A recent Washington Post report showed a steady increase in these attacks since 2011, including church bombings in 2012 that killed 185. Last November, Boko Haram kidnapped dozens of Christian women, CNN reported. They were rescued, but not before many were impregnated and forced to convert to Islam.
This selective Western outrage does not diminish the atrocity of what happened, nor does it reduce the need to do something to rescue the schoolgirls and bring justice to the captors.
It does, however, speak to the need for long-term solutions, both for education and religious freedom, which would make Sub-Saharan Africa safer and better able to prosper. Boko Haram is at least loosely connected to Al Qaida. It has found fertile recruiting grounds among the less educated and disaffected. The United States has learned that such groups can make attacks on American soil. There are both humanitarian and national security reasons for responding to this crisis.
The United States could, as Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal recently opined, perform a quick and decisive military action that locates the girls, rescues them and punishes their captors as a strong statement to other terrorists that they never know when the Americans may come. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is a proponent of such action.
But even such a strike would be of little long-term effect if not coupled with a strong and detailed strategy to promote education and religious freedom in the region. The U.S. should redouble its support for groups such as the Global Partnership for Education, which recently began negotiating for accountable education progress in Nigeria. It should support the many affordable private-school providers in Third World countries that are seeing a measure of success.
But religious freedom is just as important. Church bombings and crimes that target Christians or other believers ought to have set off alarms in Washington on their own. In Sudan, a pregnant Christian convert has been sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her faith, according to breitbart.com, and yet the administration has remained silent. Religious intolerance is rampant in much of the developing world and impedes any sort of progress toward multi-cultural democratic societies.
Of course, bringing appropriate attention to this would require the Obama administration to appoint a new ambassador at-large for international religious freedom. That post has remained vacant since October, with little sign it is a White House priority.
Unfortunately, Western attention spans come and go. There are so many atrocities and only so many resources. Effective long-term strategies, however, could have a lasting impact, both for the good of those who suffer and for the security of the United States.