The abduction three weeks ago of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria by the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram is now generating worldwide attention and condemnation. Muslim leaders in various countries have criticized Boko Haram’s leader for using Islamic teachings as his justification for threatening to sell the girls into slavery. Others have focused on what they view as a slow response by Nigeria’s government to the crisis. The British and French governments announced Wednesday that they would send teams of experts to complement the U.S. team heading to Nigeria to help with the search for the girls, and Nigeria’s president said China has also offered assistance.
Some of the reactions to the crisis:
— EGYPT: Muslim religious officials strongly condemned Boko Haram. Religious Endowments Minister Mohammed Mohktar Gomaa said “the actions by Boko Haram are pure terrorism, with no relation to Islam, especially the kidnapping of the girls. These are criminal, terrorist acts.” According to the state news agency MENA, he said “these disasters come from cloaking political issues in the robes of religion and from peddling religion for secular interests, something we warn incessantly against.”
The sheik of the Cairo-based Al-Azhar, one of Sunni Islam’s most prestigious institutions, demanded the group release the girls, saying it “bears responsibility for any harm suffered by these girls.” The group’s actions “completely contradict Islam and its principles of tolerance,” Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb said.
— PAKISTAN: Dawn, an English language newspaper in Pakistan, published an opinion piece that takes Nigeria to task for not moving against Boko Haram. “The popular upsurge in Nigeria in the wake of the latest unspeakable atrocity provides some scope for hoping that the state will finally act decisively to obliterate the growing menace,” wrote columnist Mahir Ali. “Naturally, the lives and welfare of the abducted girls must be an absolute priority. Looking back a few years hence, it would also provide a degree of satisfaction to be able to pinpoint the moment when Boko Haram sealed its own fate by going much too far.”
— INDONESIA: In the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, the Jakarta Post published an editorial Wednesday condemning the Boko Haram leader for “wrongly” citing Islamic teaching as his excuse for selling the abducted girls into slavery. Recalling the Taliban’s shooting of 15-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai in 2012 because of her outspokenness in defense of girls’ right to an education, the editorial said: “Malala’s message needs to be conveyed to all people who use their power to block children’s access to education. It is saddening that religion is misused to terrorize people and to kill the future leaders of the world.”
The newspaper also criticized Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, noting that “only after international condemnation and street demonstrations poured in did President Jonathan tell his nation that he would take all necessary actions to return the young women to their parents and schools, while also acknowledging that the whereabouts of the abductees remained unknown.”
— SWEDEN: In an editorial posted on the left-wing news website politism.se, blogger Nikita Feiz criticized the international community for its slow response and asked why the situation hadn’t triggered as loud a reaction as when Malala was shot in Pakistan. “Looking at the situation in Nigeria, Malala appears like a false promise from the West that it would stand up for girls’ rights to attend school without fear of being subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse,” she said. “It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that the West’s assurance to act for girls’ rights suddenly isn’t as natural when it comes to girls’ rights in a country in Africa.”
A Swedish women’s network called StreetGaris is planning a demonstration outside the Foreign Ministry on Friday to demand more action from the international community. Participants are encouraged to wear a head wrap or red clothes in solidarity with the girls and their relatives.
— UNITED STATES: The U.S. government is sending to Nigeria a team of technical experts, including American military and law enforcement personnel skilled in intelligence, investigations, hostage negotiating, information sharing and victim assistance, as well as officials with expertise in other areas — but not U.S. armed forces.
“In the short term our goal is obviously is to help the international community, and the Nigerian government, as a team to do everything we can to recover these young ladies,” President Barack Obama told NBC on Tuesday. “But we’re also going to have to deal with the broader problem of organizations like this that … can cause such havoc in people’s day-to-day lives.”
In an editorial, The New York Times faulted the Nigerian government for not aggressively responding to the abductions. “Mr. Jonathan, who leads a corrupt government that has little credibility, initially played down the group’s threat and claimed security forces were in control,” the newspaper said. “It wasn’t until Sunday, more than two weeks after the kidnappings, that he called a meeting of government officials, including the leader of the girls’ school, to discuss the incident.”
— BRITAIN: Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said Britain will send a small team of experts to complement the U.S. team being sent by Obama. The announcement was made Wednesday after Cameron spoke to the Nigerian president. The team will be sent as soon as possible and will include specialists from several departments. Experts have said special forces may be sent to the region. The issue has heated up in recent days with protests over the weekend outside the Nigerian Embassy in London and an increasing number of newspaper editorials calling for action to rescue the girls.
— FRANCE: Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told lawmakers on Wednesday that France is ready to send a “specialized team … to help with the search and rescue” of the kidnapped girls. “In the face of such an appalling act, France, like other democratic nations, must react,” Fabius said. “This crime will not go unpunished.” Fabius gave no details of the team, except to say it’s among those already in the region. France has soldiers in Niger, Cameroon and Mali, where it is fighting Islamic insurgents, as well as in Central African Republic.
— CHINA: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, arriving Wednesday in Nigeria for a state visit, did not specifically mention the abductions in a transcript of a joint press conference with Nigeria’s president, instead making only a general reference to the “need to work together to oppose and fight terrorism.” In his remarks, Jonathan said China “promised to assist Nigeria in our fight against terror especially in our commitment and effort to rescue the girls that were taken away from a secondary school.” He did not offer specifics.
— BRAZIL: The foreign ministry issued a statement Tuesday condemning the abductions. “In conveying the feelings of solidarity to the families of the victims and to the people and the Government of Nigeria, the Brazilian Government reiterates its strong condemnation of all acts of terrorism,” the statement said.
Associated Press correspondents Lee Keath in Cairo, Michelle Faul in Lagos, Nigeria, Gregory Katz in London, Malin Rising in Stockholm, Masha Macpherson in Paris and Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo, Brazil contributed to this report.