A Silicon Valley “Bring Back Our Girls” vigil for the missing girls in Nigeria was recently held at the Lytton Plaza in Palo Alto, in the vicinity of Stanford University. Organized by Sally Lieber, former California State Assemblywoman, and by Nigerian and American activists, the vigil drew over 100 participants, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
In his opening remark, American-Nigerian Chike Nwoffiah, an educator and theater director who has lived in Silicon Valley for 25 years, condemned Boko Haram for abducting 276 school girls in Northern Nigeria. “We have to claim these girls who are our daughters, because indeed they are our daughters. This horrific event must serve as a community awakening for all of us.”
Rev. Jesse Jackson exhorted the gathering to work for the release of the girls but also pointed out that the issue had several dimensions. “The United States has to come up with an enlightened Africa policy,” he said. Because we lack a policy, “we missed Rwanda, Congo, Liberia, Egypt. One-eighth of the human race lives in Africa. They are not foreigners. They are our neighbors. Boko Haram has engaged in terrorism for years, resulting in the deaths of at least 8,000 Nigerians. Someone is supplying them with weapons and even uniforms. This has got to be stopped.” He urged his listeners not to underestimate their power. “I am big and I matter,” he repeated and the audience took up the refrain. “Boko Haram has perverted Islam,” said the Rev. “Muslim scholars have unconditionally condemned the group. The organization has no sanctity in Islam. The KKK claims that they are Christians. Are they Christians?”
Hon. LaDoris Cordell, Former Mayor of Palo Alto and Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge, reminded the rally that insecure, ignorant, sexist men of the world are afraid of educated girls. Boko Haram has a deep-seated fear of women with education. Forced and early marriage goes hand in hand with sex-trafficking. Worldwide, 27% of sex-traffic victims are children. There are over 1.2 million children trapped in sex-trafficking. There are 230 million children in the world without any birth certificates which makes them easy targets for sex enslavement.
She identified four steps to defeat Boko Haram:
- Stick it to Boko Haram by contributing to the education of Nigerian girls. One website she singled out was http://www.camfed.org (campaign for female education).
- Use social media to generate pressure on the United Nations to declare Boko Haram a terrorist organization.
- Encourage our Muslim friends and organizations to step up. (At this point I stood up and pointed out to the gathering that my wife and I, along with several Silicon valley Muslims, had left work early to join the rally, that we had voiced our condemnation of Boko Haram when the story broke, and that we were more outraged than most because Boko Haram was committing atrocities in the name of Islam when, in fact, they were nothing but criminals and murderers. After a few moments of silence, people broke into applause!)
- Organize rallies in every city as we are doing in Palo Alto. This will embolden activists worldwide.
Boko Haram consists of criminals who are mortally afraid of the light of education, particularly female education, because it threatens to drive away the darkness of ignorance in which they thrive. The group misses the irony of its name, for it is not western education that is forbidden but the group itself that is haram. The crude language used by its murderous leader, Abubaker Shekau, in the recently-released video - “Girls must give their hands in marriage because they are our slaves. We would marry them out at the age of 9. We would marry them out at the age of 12” - only underscores the evil nature of Boko Haram.
The death knell for Boko Haram has sounded. It is only a matter of time. But its demise must not stop us from working to rid the world of sex trafficking, from the glittering cities of Europe and America to the seedy alleys of Asia and Africa. Misogyny and sex enslavement, and the people who profit from them, are everywhere. Some are brazen, some more subtle and insidious. We cannot rest until we have brought all our girls back.