Voices
TURNED DOWN: Deborah and her mom (left); the caskets of her brother Caleb and her father Peter.
Handout
TURNED DOWN: Deborah and her mom (left); the caskets of her brother Caleb and her father Peter.

A battle of wills and ideas

Nigeria | In terrorist-plagued Nigeria, the Obama administration can’t decide whose side it’s on

Issue: "Rejecting religious liberty," June 15, 2013

In his May 23 speech at the National Defense University, President Barack Obama spoke of “a common ideology” fueling Islamic terrorism and the need for “all elements of national power to win a battle of wills and ideas.”

We will have to forgive Deborah Wakai if she’s not buying that message. 

Just before the president’s speech, officials at the U.S. embassy in Abuja turned down Deborah’s application for a visa. She is one of four Nigerian victims of terrorism who applied to travel to the United States to attend a trauma counseling session this July.

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Her sponsoring organization is Tuesday’s Children, a New York–based nonprofit that’s worked with over 3,000 children who lost loved ones on 9/11. The group’s efforts have been successful enough that in 2008 Tuesday’s Children launched an international program to bring together teens ages 15-20 who have lost a loved one to terrorism from all over the world. Through summer camps it’s brought together over 200 children from 11 countries. Imagine: Israeli victims of terrorism engaging with Palestinians who also lost a parent in a terrorist attack. By all accounts, the gatherings are what winning “a battle of wills and ideas” is about. 

Tuesday’s Children invited Deborah to this summer’s camp in the United States—with reason. In 2011 the militant Islamic group Boko Haram attacked her father’s church and others in northern Nigeria during Christmas services, killing more than 40. At blood-spattered St. Theresa Catholic Church outside Abuja, the Muslim fighters scrawled, “No more peace in the country.” 

Deborah’s father Peter and her only brother Caleb were killed so gruesomely she cannot describe it. Then, the terrorists laid Deborah between their bodies and tied her to them, where she was forced to remain all night. She was 14 years old.

Of four Nigerian teenagers with similar stories who applied to the U.S. embassy for visas at the behest of Tuesday’s Children, the embassy denied visa requests for the three who are Christian but accepted the one who is Muslim. The reason they gave Deborah? Insufficient family ties. Thanks to Boko Haram, Deborah doesn’t have enough immediate family members—only her mother—to compel her to return to Nigeria following the camp. 

It’s becoming more difficult to believe the Obama administration’s sincerity about confronting Islamic terrorism at the level of “wills and ideas.” In Dublin last year the U.S. embassy sponsored a seminar for Muslim business leaders, which included promoting Sharia-compliant financial instruments. In northern Nigeria the U.S. Agency for International Development has spent over $45 million on “education initiatives” that primarily benefit Sharia—or Islamic law-based—schools. Most recently, the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom in May financed a “Holocaust awareness” trip to Auschwitz for imams from seven Muslim countries—including Nigeria—and the United States. 

Yet the battle continues. More Christians are killed in targeted attacks across northern Nigeria than are killed in all the rest of the world combined. The Nigerian government on May 16 declared a state of emergency to battle terrorism in three states, including Borno state, where Deborah lives. Her father’s church was in the Borno city of Maiduguri, birthplace of Boko Haram. There on May 15, Boko Haram gunmen trailed and shot at close range Faye Pama Musa, a pastor and state head of the Christian Association of Nigeria. Musa had officiated at the Wakais’ 2011 funeral. 

There are many forms of U.S. “intervention” in the battle against Islamic terrorism. One would be to welcome young victims of the violence for a time of aid and comfort in the United States, rather than leaving them to summer on as Deborah will do in a swelter of ongoing siege.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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