Faith Works 5-17-14
Where the world's attention is turned
In Nigeria, some 276 girls have been kidnapped.
You've probably heard about this by now, and perhaps good news about their location and circumstances have reached us here in Ohio by the time this is in print. Or it may be that more dire information will make it out of the backcountry where they are being held by Islamist militants of the "Boko Haram" brand (they don't seem to be an organization as much as an ideology).
More likely, we'll still know nothing.
In an era when we can get breaking news from cellphone video on the "cat attacks dog" front, there are still vast areas of the globe, and of human life, where we don't know much. We're accustomed to knowing everything and anything when and how we want it, assuming we know how to spell some search terms for it.
At the same time, we worry out loud about privacy . . . and then wonder who's listening. Data mining and encryption security and federal collection of connectivity information are both part of the world of transparency and the deep shadows of the security state.
Which is where, ironically, drones come into the picture.
Many have protested, including in not a few religious bodies' general meetings last summer and no doubt more of them this summer, about the use of drones in our wars and assassinations around the world. Collateral damage and authority to use force mingle with the simple, unforeseen strike in the public debate, even as pilots in Nevada take out suspected terrorists with a satellite connection and a single keystroke.
How can such a system be governed appropriately? The military assures us there are protocols and procedures that ensure that the fatal keystroke is executed only when the level of certainty and the justification for such an act are carefully coordinated. Rogue drone pilots are simply not possible, nor are free-fire zones from the sky. Perhaps.
But then we encounter an area of darkness, one of these zones of ignorance and impotence for a nation, for an audience. Where are the girls, why can't we find them, what can we do to rescue them?
And what we seem to want in such a time are drones, and special forces, and all the powers and principal actors that in quieter hours we want to see under careful control and carefully delimited authority. We don't want drones everywhere, except when we do; we don't want governments to see everywhere or be able to project lethal force anytime, except when we've decided that in this particular case, we should.
The problematic nature of that formulation is obvious, but it's not new. We want a military that is strong, but under civilian control; police who are there when we need them, and we don't need them noticing when we are in a hurry in a "Strict Enforcement" zone. It's a tension we're all used to.
The bigger contradiction here is that we're currently deeply, and sincerely concerned, willing to see some edges blurred and boundaries crossed, because we're aware of 276 or so girls who have clearly been the victims of cruelty and injustice.
Then we hear about a slightly older woman sentenced to hang for being a Christian in nearby Sudan. Shall we send a drone to blow up the gallows before they can execute sentence? She has three days to recant, we're told.
And what about that other group of 200 plus girls subjected to violent oppression in . . . well, that's the thing. What about the situation we haven't heard about? That isn't in a media spotlight? It could be in Zimbabwe, or Indonesia. Sex trafficking and forcible marriage: who do we need to bomb, again? Which international signal eavesdropping should we exert to listen in on movements of women in northern Myanmar or southern Thailand, and do we need special forces to break up those rings?
Or should we send a SEAL team to Toledo, Ohio? Okay, that's ridiculous I know. We have laws about the use of armed troops within the United States. But how many girls misused and abused have to be gathered together before we're ready to break laws to make justice?
I don't know what we need to do in Nigeria. Not. A. Clue. But we should ask ourselves where the impulses of faith and the challenges of ethical standards can and should shape our global understandings, and the power we want to put behind them.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; send him your solution for world peace at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.