Hashtag Activism is Bullshit

Posted: May 11, 2014 in General
Tags: , , , , ,

A substantial piece of the world does not have the same value on life that we do here in America.  Many times when atrocities are being perpetrated against a people or a race of them, we look at it through American eyes and expect the same level of outrage and subsequent action that we would here in the homeland.  When it gets to be bad enough, often we can get together a coalition of countries together to do something about it, and sometimes we are even successful at doing so.  You can look at the former Balkan countries as an example of something that eventually turned out much better than it started.  The jury is still out on some of our other meddlings such as Iraq and Afghanistan, but in general we try to do better than maybe we have in those cases.

It may be because we have been at war for so long that many think it is time for a change in how we handle international crises.  It may have something to do with the perceived successes of the Arab Spring just a couple years ago in that the way to affect change in the current age is through social media activism, in particular the ever more prevalent use of the “#” or hashtag, made popular by Twitter.  The fact is this cannot be further from the truth.

While uprisings in places like Egypt and Tunisia thrust social media outlets into the spotlight in the upheavals, what most fail to realize is that they became the transport method and coordination mechanism for much of the violence and bloodshed that happened during the Arab Spring.  Egypt is still a mess, Tunisia is generally quiet but far from safe, Libya is a quagmire that no one, including the Libyans who wanted a new government can get a handle on, and Syria is a giant ball of fuck just waiting to take us down another rabbit hole.  Each of these countries have very tight controls over the internet that flows in and out of them, and “hactivists” and other do-gooders are finding creative ways to leverage deeper and darker transport methods in order the tweet out the latest gossip and news.

The latest travesty that has hit the international community, and a substantial number of influential people in the US have latched on to, is the forceful kidnapping of close to 300 young girls in northern Nigeria by the Boko Haram close to a month ago.  A social media campaign led by our First Lady has taken root with people doing an always annoying “selfie” with a white sign simple labeled with the #bringbackourgirls.  As if this alone will make the BH leader, Abubakr Shekau simply see the error of his ways, stop him from selling these poor girls into slavery in Nigeria and other countries and just turn around and never do anything bad ever again.  This cannot be further from the truth.

I do not mean to say that the efforts of these people and the millions that have joined in are in vain.  I think that getting these types of crimes and travesties out to as many people as possible is very important, and it is important to stop these things from happening in the future.  These efforts alone however are never going to get these girls back because the issue is not simply the kidnapping of these girls, but it is the great big quagmire of shit that is the country of Nigeria right now and unless the government of Nigeria is going to take responsibility for what happens within its borders, fix the rampant corruption and crime that happens there, and distributes the wealth from the proceeds of being the 4th greatest oil producing nation on the planet to its majority impoverished people, there will always be tragedies such as this happening there.

My first deployment overseas was to Nigeria in the days just after 9/11.  We were packing to go on the day the Towers fell.  Even back then there was a huge issue between the mostly Muslim north and the mostly Christian and Animist south.  Enroute to our FOB on the first night we were supposed to remain over night in a city called Jos.  This city sits relatively central in the country and has been the scene of much violence since Nigeria gained its independence from the UK in 1960.  We never go to RON there as we were chased out of the city by several thousand people on motorcycles and mopeds (sounds funny in retrospect, but pretty scary when there are only about 20 of you) and we made camp on the road a few miles out and for the first time in my career up to that point I thought I may have to actually shoot someone.  The camp we worked on for three months was set up by tribe and that is generally how we trained their soldiers as they had a hard time working with people they had traditional issues with.  There were two other FOBs in the country and we had our HQ in Abuja and a mortar range not far outside of it.  I had a great trip besides some training accidents that happened, but I realized a few things back then, we can’t fix everything and we cannot commit half-ass if we are ever going to do anything in Africa.

Northern Nigeria has been a mess for years.  The oilfields are in the south and even the population there does not really benefit from them.  The north is more impoverished than the rest of the country and that is saying something when the overall populace is impoverished and has something like a 20% literacy rate.  The government has gone back and forth between a military dictatorship and something that replicates a democracy and it is riddled with corruption at all levels.  Overall, a very fertile breeding ground for extremism of any flavor, but particularly Islamic extremism as the north is very close to the other Saharan nations that fall into those forms of teaching.

Whatever aid we throw at Nigeria in conjunction with our international partners is going to be limited and marginally received by the population.  While the people seem to be genuinely appalled by these kidnappings and the many other violent acts that have happened, it has been a month and very little has been done about it.  This just serves to embolden the extremist, not in any way temper their desires.  I must imagine that seeing a world-wide social media firestorm over their crimes is in no way a concern for people who in no way cherish life the same way that we do.

No one is going to bend to the power of the TWEET besides corporate bigwigs who are concerned about their bottom line.  Extremists do not make apologies, people who are losing money do.  Extremists understand having their ass handed to them in a violent, decisive way with the hostages being able to use social media to decry their plight during capture and praise their rescuers.  That is what affects extremists, having the rug pulled out from under them, having their bounty stolen out from under them and returned to their families as the last thought going through their minds is preempted by a bullet.  That needs to happen in conjunction with an international outcry via social media.  BH is not going to bow and they will not change unless given strong reason to; i.e., you will not survive if you try to pull this kind of shit again.

The bottom line is, this at heart is a Nigerian problem.  The people need to be fed up enough to fight for their daughters when someone is trying to take them and the government needs to put the clamp down on extremists while it is getting its own corrupt house in order.  We can look at this situation from the outside right now and see that our getting involved may help in getting these girls back, but unless we are going to commit fully, and, the Nigerian government is going to fix itself, then we have no business getting involved.  We cannot fix what does not want to be fixed.

Activists, stay active, do your thing, but realize that most times what you are saying on social media means less than shit.  Actions, not words.  I would love to be proven wrong, I don’t think that I will.  I am fairly pragmatic when it comes to outcomes in shitholes.  If the Nigerians were smart they would take a play out of Algeria’s book from just a couple years ago when their refinery was taken over; they grabbed their sacks and took the place back by force.  Some hostages did not make it, but they sent a very strong message to the shitheads #takethatfuckers!


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