Saturday, May 17, 2014

Nigerian School Girls

 A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook.  The article is written by a Nigerian-American named Jumoke.  My friend headlined the post by saying, "Pushing the question of American involvement in Nigeria. Worth the read and discernment. What am I even doing about human trafficking in my own community?"  I read the article and then wrote the following comment:

'Jen, your question is a good one and I thank you. The rest of what I'm about to say is not directed at you but at the American people who have looked at this story all wrong. A good rule of thumb is to assume that human trafficking is going on in our own communities. My fiancee and I just called the Human Trafficking Hotline the other day about a suspicion that is more than a suspicion. I ask, also; if the U.S. government were to get involved in every country where trafficking abuses are occurring, then, a) the U.S. government would be involved in EVERY country, which clearly oversteps our boundaries and possibly also oversteps the resources we have that we'd need to be effective; and b) we'd be more involved in trafficking abuses in our own country. The news from Nigeria really sucks, but, at the risk of sounding inhuman, I question why it has become news. I don't mean to say that this is not news. But how do some pieces of news about abduction and slavery become major attractions and others do not? Jumoke, the writer of the article, is on to something: maybe we want to get involved more in Nigeria, and so, heyo, we jump on news like this. That may or may not be the case. In my opinion, though, the big news should be that no country anywhere, including our own, is doing enough to prevent or combat slavery. American outrage should be pointed not at Nigeria, and not at our military for not flying in there and dropping bombs, but when news like this breaks our outrage should be pointed at ourselves: oh, woops, there's a slave right down the street that I'm blind to because I want justice (read: people killed) in Nigeria. We first should make sure that we ourselves aren't somehow contributing to slavery around the world and in our own communities, and then take care of our own backyards, and then, maybe, we can start thinking about other ways to end slavery.'

Another friend of mine sent me a message on Facebook asking me how the situation in Nigeria could continue.  Her question being, if awareness should consequently lead to the elimination of slavery, then how can the world be aware of the captured schoolgirls that Boko Haram claims to be throwing into slavery and not put an end to the whole deal?  Well, my above response is part of the answer.  Combating slavery is complicated and, unfortunately, bringing governmental forces into play is probably not the answer right now.  The military, and even the government in general, is tricky.  Moral capital, genuine and valid moral capital, is the answer, because it is the only force powerful enough.  

I first encountered this term, "moral capital," in a book of the same name: Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism, by Christopher Leslie Brown.  At risk of boiling the book down into too simple formulations that are then incorrect, I will say that the book essentially argues that the abolitionist work of the great William Wilberforce, one of my heroes, and his friends, like Prime Minister William Pitt, were not necessarily, or at least not only, aimed at doing good in the world.  Brown argues that in the wake of the American Revolution, or what we from the States call the Revolutionary War, the British Empire needed some way to reinstate its validity and virtue across the globe.  How do you do that if you cannot win a war?  You accumulate moral capital.  And how do you accumulate moral capital?  You eradicate the worst crime known to humanity; you also eradicate other evils, as Wilberforce took aim at gambling and alcoholism after ending the slave trade.  Being the first country invested in the slave trade to end the trade and end slavery gave Great Britain the continued leverage it needed.  Then Britain could say to the world, "Look, we are still the greatest nation on this planet.  We ended slavery, for goodness sakes!  We might have lost a war to those rebels, but they're not the holders of morality--we are!  They still hold slaves!  And they're a bunch of drunks!  Their government is corrupt!  Not convinced?  Well, can we say again that we ended slavery??"  The reason that the British Empire did not fall apart following the American Revolution, according to Brown, is that the Empire rightly (rightly in terms of its preservation, anyway) turned its sights on moral capital.  That way the Empire could legitimately say, and mean it with all honesty, "Let us into your country.  Because of all we've done for good in the world, can't you see that letting us rule you will be mutually beneficial?"  I do not mean to enter into a conversation about colonialism here.  I only mean to point out that the British Empire stood as long and as powerful as it did because people could actually believe in its promise.

Now we are faced with the horrible truth of slavery abroad in places like Nigeria.  Boko Haram flaunts it in our face.  Our government will, if our citizens continue to push for it, take advantage of an awareness capital to assist in eliminating the threat of Boko Haram and return the kidnapped girls to their families.  But will such action be invited?  Will it actually be helpful?  Without question our assistance, even if it's not military assistance, will increase our dominance in the region.  And without the surety of morality on our side, dominance in any region is scary.  While avoiding a colonial spirit we should take a page out of the British Empire's playbook: increase moral capital at home.  We cannot share capital if we do not have capital. 

Recap: moral capital, which is seeded in the soil of awareness, will overwhelm the evil of slavery.  A corrupt society, even if our (I mean, the society's) intentions are good, cannot defeat slavery through force... or any other means.  We must maintain our integrity first.  If we do not, then the horrifying news stories that we hear about slavery in our world today, like that of the school girls in Nigeria, will only multiply with no one and nothing to stop the advance.  How can the school girls not have been returned to their families by now?  Because we have allowed our culture/society to wallow in arrogance, to wallow in the apathy of misguided pride (we ended slavery and other horrible crimes years and years ago!).  As a whole we have done this to ourselves and to the world.  When we ask why we can't stop the Nigerian madness--which probably shouldn't be the question anyway, since slavery is everywhere--then the only clue can be found in our history, in our recent history of blindness.  

Let's reverse our course so that we can compound real moral capital.  Then we can do some good in our country and in the world.  In the meantime, we need to support graceful political means rather than violent ones. 

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