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June 2, 2014 - 9:29pm

Social Disorder: The struggles of intolerance


The extremist militant terrorist group Boko Haram has consistently made the news headlines since their successful abduction of over 200 girls from their dormitory in northern Nigeria several weeks ago. Heart-wrenching stories of family members “pooling together funds for fuel for motorcycles” so that able-bodied-males of the community can venture into the forest in search of their missing girls sends chills down our spines. These unsettling words put an image of a rough, undeveloped, third- world Africa far from our westernized America. We see these images like pictures from novels about barbarians of the past and horrifyingly read on, trying to imagine what it would be like to be taken from our dorm in the night and hauled off into the forest brush. It’s an unimaginable nightmare.

While this removed, westernized image only perpetuates the negative stereotypes towards Africa., Iit has also brought great aid to Nigeria. U.S. U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision this past week to put troops on the ground in Nigeria and help the search for the missing girls not only touches our heartstrings but reminds Americans yet again that we can be the saviors of the world if only we will it to be so. Obama probably had little choice but to do this, considering the huge media splash Boko Haram and the Nigerian girls have made in America and in truth, this has turned into a good-guy-go-find-and-destroy-the-bad-guy chase that people love to take part in.

But Boko Haram isn’t a TV show or a movie. They’re very real and worth discussing. Simply thinking of them as the “bad guy” or dismissing their extremism as “crazy” doesn’t attack the heart of the issue. This militant terrorist group has been around for several years, plaguing Africa through bombings, looting, fires and other disturbing terrorist attacks. They stand for the demise of everything western. They believe that western secular education and all political and social activity associated with western ways is bad. Their viewpoint doesn’t stop there, however. They’ve interpreted the Koranic phrase, “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors” to mean that they are justified in killing anyone who they think is a non-believer. This level of ignorance and intolerance is fed by the already present lack of education and tendency towards extremism that exists in the region.

Too often we take for granted the live-and-let-live trend that exists in our modern world bubble of America. Yes, we have our fair share of violent people but overall it’s rare that people use consistent violence to achieve a radical viewpoint. We’re not always civil towards one another but we are civilized as a whole. Seeing Boko Haram ride into the night pillaging, plundering and bombing just because they can and just because they want to is like seeing images of World War II. It’s barbarity to a new extreme. It’s a step back in time. It makes you wonder how these monsters justify their actions as human beings? What would they think if their child or wife were abducted? Is it possible that an entire group of people can be brainwashed into thinking a certain way or were they cultured to act this way?

The point is Boko Haram should leave questions on our western minds. We should be proud of our president for sending in reinforcements and reaffirming our commitment to women’s rights and aid for those who desperately need it but we should also question these monsters. Instead of writing them off as crazy and totally removed from anything we could ever encounter, we should compare them to our greatest fears (perhaps a sniper in a car or a movie theatre shooting) and think about how people turn out this way. How can we stop violence? How can we teach people to love and not to hate, no matter their views? We’ve come so far in our own history — from the three-fifths clause in the Constitution to full citizenship for African Americans. America knows the struggles of intolerance and we have overcome it time and time again. Let us help Nigeria do the same.

Maura Levine can be reached at