The world’s deadliest terror group is also the most uncovered — Elon University Boko Haram Panel

by Mariah Posey | Feb. 15, 2017

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We know of ISIS, of Al Qaeda, of the attacks in Paris, of the crisis in Aleppo. But what about the massive tragedy that’s been going on since 2009, caused by what the Global Terrorism Index considers to be the deadliest terror group of the world: Boko Haram? In order to initiate necessary conversation surrounding the massive terror group’s impact, the Elon Politics Forum (EPF) hosted a panel Wednesday, Feb. 15 7-8p.m. in the McBride Gathering Space in partnership with Elon African Society.

The panel answered a series of critical questions: what can regional governments and United Nations do to promote female equality; how does the country go about achieving economic equality; what do we tell those persecuted because of Boko Haram? However, amongst these, one question in particular stood out and set the tone for what the major takeaway of the event would be.

“Why aren’t international terrorists like Boko Haram being covered on an international level?” asked sophomore Thomas Armooh, moderator of the event. It was one of the few questions that evoked a passionate response out of each of the panelists.

Expanding our worldly outlook

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Photo by Mariah Posey | Boko Haram panel members: (left to right) Bridget Smith, Dr. Ariela Marcus-Sells, David Olatidoye, Muhammad Musah.

“There’s this perception that ISIS and Al Qaeda might come here and hurt Americans … but Boko Haram is focused on first Nigeria and then Africa,” said senior panelist Bridget Smith. Because there’s no direct threat to America, she explained, “They’re easy to discount. They’re easy to dismiss.”

But that dismissal is exactly the problem according to senior panelist Muhammad Musa, who says that in order to see real change, “international cooperation is essential.” As a reporter stationed in Lagos, Nigeria for eight months, Musah was closer to Boko Haram’s threat than most will ever be. He constantly covered the mass killings and wrote headlines like, “14 Murdered in Bomb Blast,” but says even he recognized the apathy around him.

Because the people of Lagos felt distant from the terror going on just north of them, they lacked consideration. When people aren’t connected, Musah said, they don’t care. For him, that is why the educational aspect of Nigeria’s conflict with Boko Haram is so important.

Education is important, but so is money

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Photo by Mariah Posey | Senior Prateek Patel introduces topic and panel members

“There has to be an effort to talk to these Islamic teachers and tell them that it’s important to take away any radicalization in teaching,” he said.

One of the issues brought up in the panel was the lack of enforced education in Nigeria and how it perpetuates the negative impact of Boko Haram by ostracizing girls who are kidnapped by them. Because these girls are often raped and end up having the children of Boko Haram members, they are distrusted and rejected. Their infiltration has become so regular that even the government can’t decipher who’s a part of the terrorist organization and who’s not.

“Although education may lead to stability, it does not lead to jobs,” Marcus-Sells said.

Often, Nigerians feel immense financial pressure and view joining Boko Haram as a quick way to get paid. Musah seconded her statement adding that, “In a country like Nigeria, if you’re not connected to power you’re not going to touch money. So you going to school is a waste of your time.”

Marcus-Sells asked why a parent would risk their source of money to send their kids through years of schooling.

“If you don’t have an answer to that question, then none of these initiatives will ever work,” she said. “It almost feels like a disservice to have them spend four years getting that education for nothing to come out of it … In order for there to be that education, there needs to be employment.”

Elon’s Role

When asked what role students can play in aiding Nigeria’s cause, Marcus-Sells advised that whenever we have the means to give, to do so in a way that goes directly to the people in need. According to her, local organizations are more effective than larger ones such as the American Red Cross.

“If you can bypass the large aid organizations and go directly to the people already there … that can be really helpful,” she said.

She encouraged students to take the initiative to further educate themselves on foreign affairs, especially in countries like Africa and post the news that they find.

“For every negative article you post, post three positive ones,” she said. “People assume that all the things happening in Africa are terrible [and] they get exhausted because we all get exhausted by sadness.”

Lastly, she advised to not get caught up in the pressure to act on a large scale.

“My advice to students on all levels,” Marcus-Sells said, “[is] if you think smaller you might actually have a larger impact.”

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