Chibok

When covering Nigeria and Boko Haram, BBC consistently nails the crucial details

When covering Nigeria and Boko Haram, BBC consistently nails the crucial details

Boko Haram, the terrorist group that has torn up communities all over northern Nigeria, not to mention Cameroon, Niger and Chad, has been making more headlines recently.

This coming week includes the Oct. 15 deadline they have given for the Nigerian government to meet certain demands before they execute Leah Sharibu, a 15-year-old girl who was one of dozens of female students captured in February by Boko Haram. All the girls were released except her, mainly because she refused to give up her Christian beliefs as a condition for her release. She’s since become an international cause celebré, the subject of a book and potential Christian martyr.

At the same time, BBC has released a gorgeously produced piece on what life is like for the girls who are forced to become suicide bombers after being captured by Boko Haram. What we learn from the narrative is that poorly educated girls are imprisoned for months while being inundated with teachings from the Quran, then talked into getting a fast track to heaven by becoming a martyr to the cause.

I’ll begin first with the BBC piece, then cut back to Leah’s case. The former is headlined: “Made up to be beautiful: Sent out to die.”

Falmata is getting a full beauty treatment – a thick paste of henna, with its delicate pointed swirls, adorning her feet.

While it dries, a woman is batting with her hair. Comb in hard, she is stretching and straightening Falmata’s tight curls.

“We were allowed to choose any style for the hair and the henna,” remembers Falmata … (who) knows she’s going to look beautiful. But there’s a deadly consequence.

Once she’s made up, a suicide bomb will be attached to her waist.

So, these girls are being brainwashed into thinking they’re “marrying” martyrdom. She was told that if she killed non-believers, she’d go straight to paradise.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

When Boko Haram strikes again, the religious distinctions get blurry in news coverage

When Boko Haram strikes again, the religious distinctions get blurry in news coverage

Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. Boko Haram has struck again.

It was bad enough in 2014 when 276 girls were kidnapped from Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. Half the world, it seemed, demonstrated and hashtagged #BringBackOurGirls in favor of these children.

Not that it did a whole lot of good. Four years later, more than 100 of those girls are still missing. And now it’s happened again and, as always, there are many religion questions that journalists need to be asking. From BBC

The grounds of the boarding school in Dapchi town are eerily quiet. Instead of the high-pitched chatter of 900 schoolgirls, there's only the bleating of goats as they wander through empty classrooms.
Thirteen-year-old Fatima Awaal is walking down the dusty path. She walks past a littering of rubber sandals, lost by girls as they ran away on Monday 19 February.
When the militants from the Boko Haram Islamist group attacked, she was in her boarding house with her best friend Zara. They were just about to have dinner when they heard the gunshots.
"One of our teachers told us to come out," she said "And that's when we saw the gunfire shooting through the sky."

Zara, 14, was one of 110 girls kidnapped that night. What’s almost worse than the kidnappings is the government’s utter inability to do anything about it.

Since the kidnappings, there have been many conflicting lines from the authorities on what exactly happened in Dapchi that Monday night. It wasn't until three days after the assault that they finally acknowledged some girls had been taken. It was another three days before they gave a number of how many were missing.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

New York Times omits crucial faith detail when covering release of some #ChibokGirls (updated)

New York Times omits crucial faith detail when covering release of some #ChibokGirls (updated)

So what details do you remember from the #ChibokGirls news coverage? We are talking about the 300 or so girls who were kidnapped more than three years ago from a Nigerian village by Boko Haram militants and forced to marry the fighters, to serve as slaves or even to take part in terrorism raids.

Do you remember the online activism campaign, led by First Lady Michelle Obama and others, with the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag?

Maybe you remember the remarkable photos and videos from 2014, with the images of the girls sitting on the ground -- dressed in hijabs -- chanting Muslim prayers and verses from the Quran in Arabic.

This was a highly symbolic moment, since most of the kidnapped girls were from Christian families and they were forced to convert to the radicalized, violent brand of Islam pushed by Boko Haram.

Do you remember reading that most of the 300 girls were Christians?

That's a rather important detail that, believe it or not, the editors of The New York Times either forgot to include or chose to omit from the newspaper's main story -- "Years After Boko Haram Kidnapping, Dozens of Girls Are Freed, Nigeria Says" -- about the release of about 60 of the Chibok girls.

It's a gripping story. Still, search through this report and try to find the missing word "Christian" and the fact that these girls were forced to convert to Islam. Here is one key passage:

To much of the world, the mass abduction of nearly 300 girls from a Nigerian school as they prepared for exams three years ago was a shocking introduction to the atrocities and humanitarian crises caused by Boko Haram, galvanizing global attention to a militant group that had already been terrorizing Nigerians for years.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Nigerian girls are released, news media say -- but most reports keep their religion hidden

Nigerian girls are released, news media say -- but most reports keep their religion hidden

Twenty-one of those kidnap victims in Nigeria have been returned to their parents -- a victory for that nation's government and for the alertness of mainstream media in this 30-month-long story.

What is not so alert is the recurring blindness of most media to the religious dimension of the conflict: the abduction of 276 schoolgirls, most of them Christian, by the jihadist gang known as Boko Haram.

We GetReligionistas have been giving very mixed reviews on the coverage. We've praised mainstream media for keeping an eye on the story, while criticizing the way they seem to dismiss the religious beliefs of captives and captors alike.

One (kind of) bright spot shines at the BBC, in its story on the 21 newly freed girls. The narrative conveys almost Passover-like imagery of deliverance from slavery:

One of the girls freed said during a Christian ceremony in Abuja: "I was... [in] the woods when the plane dropped a bomb near me but I wasn't hurt.
"We had no food for one month and 10 days but we did not die. We thank God," she added, speaking in the local Hausa language.
Many of the kidnapped students were Christian but had been forcibly converted to Islam during captivity.
Another girl said: "We never imagined that we would see this day but, with the help of God, we were able to come out of enslavement."
One parent said: "We thank God. I never thought I was going to see my daughter again but here she is... Those who are still out there - may God bring them back to be reunited with their parents."

Strong clues indeed about the faith of the girls and their families. The story would have been stronger still if the BBC had detailed the occasion for the reporting. The article says only that it was during a "Christian ceremony" in Abuja, the national capital. Wish they'd said what kind of ceremony, and who performed it. (It was a church service, as you'll see in a bit.)

Please respect our Commenting Policy