Michaud: This isn't the West Africa I know

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Femi Falana, a lawyer and human rights activist,

Femi Falana, a lawyer and human rights activist, center, leads a mass demonstration calling on the government to increase efforts to rescue the hundreds of missing kidnapped school girls of a government secondary school in Lagos, Nigeria, Monday, May 5, 2014. Photo Credit: AP / Sunday Alamba

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Anne Michaud Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Anne Michaud

Anne Michaud is the interactive editor for Newsday Opinion. She has written about politics, government, education and transportation

The story about the 300 teenage girls abducted from their school in Nigeria by an extremist group brings back memories of my days in West Africa, where I lived in a Muslim village and worked for the U.S. Peace Corps.

My experience tells me that Boko Haram, the group responsible for the kidnappings, is not representative of African Muslims. And yet, I fear this story will help cement Western prejudices about Islam and Africa.

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Loosely translated, Boko Haram means "Western education is sinful." Leader Abubakar Shekau says the group will sell the girls, adding that some have been forced for a nominal $12 bride price to "marry" their abductors. There's a euphemism.

Shekau has threatened to attack more schools and abduct more girls. They must be stopped.

I'm sickened by the danger to the girls and the apparent helplessness of the Nigerian government to return them to their homes. What's to prevent another mass schoolroom abduction? The United States is right to send "expertise on intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiations."

Also revolting are the many stories from around the world that connect Islam with degrading women and banning them from learning. The people I lived with in the tiny farming village of Koussountou, Togo, were as much as mix of progressive and backward about women's rights and religion as some in my community on Long Island.

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Boko Haram is a militant organization seeking to establish a "pure" Islamic state governed by sharia law. The average Nigerian, I'm sure, looks on this group with horror.


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