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Benson: Sitting idle as terrorists put girls in caves

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A caveman lives in a cave, carries a wooden club with a stone head, dresses in animal skins, pats his pet dinosaur and then drags women around by their hair. This stereotype originated in the comics. There is Alley Oop, who carried a mean-looking war club, lived in the kingdom of Moo, had a pretty girlfriend named Oola and a pet dinosaur named Dinny. Then, there is Fred and Wilma Flintstone, Barney and Betty Rubble, Pebbles, Bam-Bam, and Dino, Fred and Wilma’s dinosaur.

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Comics devoted to prehistoric people who dwell in a cave might offer slight entertainment, but a cave is dark and dirty — more appropriate for animals than human beings. Western civilization asked people to leave the cave, where they existed in a state of ignorance and depravity, and enjoy the daylight, where they could build clean homes without snakes and spiders.

Yet, for some, this desire to push women back into the cave remains. Weeks ago, Abubakar Shekau, the leader of a pro-Islamic terrorist organization named Boko Haram — which means “Western education is forbidden,”— kidnapped hundreds of girls at a boarding school in Chibok, in northeast Nigeria, and is now holding them in the dense Sambisa Forest and in caves in the Gwoza Mountains.

A video released last week showed that the girls now wear veils and pray. One would presume that they are now enduring the worst forms of brutality deep inside those miserable caves. Instead of chalk, chalkboards, books, lectures, assignments and tests, the girls are commanded to pray, prepare food for their captors, and suffer physical degradation and abuse.

In exchange for the girls’ release, Shekau is demanding the release of 4,000 Boko Haram prisoners that the Nigerian government has captured in recent months. If Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, refuses, then Shekau threatens to sell the kidnapped girls as slaves to men in Chad and Cameroon. Shekau says, “There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell.”

The fault line between Islamic and non-Islamic Africa runs through northeast Nigeria, and a war is the result. In the past two years, Boko Haram has killed some 7,000 people and captured hundreds, but Goodluck Jonathan’s government appears unwilling to crush them for good.

Yet, his army knows the location where Boko Haram is holding the girls. A reporter named Peregrino Brimah of the Daily Post said that the army, as well as the girls’ relatives, followed the captors up to “the periphery of the camp,” but when the family members urged the army to attack and “rescue the girls, the commanders said they had no orders to do so.”

Disappointed by the soldiers’ timidity, these civilians stared and saw that the captors had “generators running refrigerators and other equipment, as well as hundreds of motorcycles.” Now that is surprising. Because of western civilization’s educational system, those brutal kidnappers enjoy modern-day conveniences, such as gasoline, refrigeration and motorcycles, but not the captured girls, who are relegated to caves, insulted, sold into slavery, and no doubt drug around by their hair.

Is it not incongruous to use and enjoy western civilization’s inventions, but then want to rip apart the very social, political and economic fabric that gave rise to their creation? If they want to forbid western education for others, then they should deny themselves its benefits.

In The New York Times, the columnist Nicholas Kristof stated the facts: “In northeastern Nigeria, education is weak, women are marginalized, two-thirds have no formal education, 1 in 20 has completed high school and half are married by age 15.”

Kristof then asked, “What’s so scary about smart girls?” He answered, “There’s no force more powerful to transform a society. If you want to mire a nation in backwardness, manacle your daughters.” Or, I say, shove them into the back corner of a cave.

Why is this? Kristof argues that once educated, girls postpone marriage, and when they do marry, they tend to give birth to fewer children. This changes a nation’s demography. Where a disproportionate number of boys and young men roam the country, without families or work, political instability is rife.

Then, in those nations where schools educate their girls and then give them access to worthwhile jobs, such as in Oman and Bangladesh, the birthrate declines, the youth bulge disappears, and stability reigns. Kristof says, “Educate a girl and transform a society.”

Islamic terrorism will not disappear on its own.

One Nigerian complained that the Islamists “bomb our cities, kill our people, spoil our glory, dim our star and (take) our children. Boko Haram has shown the world that we are a nation of cowards.”

While the Nigerian government dithers, the girls sit in their caves, praying, one would think, for their release.

Benson is a historian from Sterling, Colo., who writes a bi-weekly column for The Dickinson Press.

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