May 16 – In Defense of the Hashtag

Hashtag #ItMightWork

Maybe we should call Ibrahim Musa Abdullahi the Good Muslim with the same reverence we give the Good Samaritan.

First things first. The hashtag.  You can read what Wikipedia (so it must be true) has to say, or just trust that a phrase – no spaces allowed – with a hashtag (#) in front of it has the possibility of being the Twenty-first Century version of the shot heard round the world.

During the last couple of weeks we’ve been hearing a lot about a hashtag seen round the world, #BringBackOurGirls. It’s been posted and tweeted by prime ministers and movie stars, worried mothers and, famously, our First Lady.

All this has to do, of course, with the cruel kidnapping last month of nearly 300 Nigerian school girls by the radical jihadist group Bako Haram, whose leader has threatened to sell the girls into slavery of the worst kind. As of this morning, there has been no resolution to the crisis.

Arguably the crisis would not have been known outside of a remote Nigerian village if it were not for the hashtag.

The Nigerian government’s response to the kidnapping of the girls, most of whom are Christian, has been criticized as ineffective and weak. Many have said that in the first two weeks after the April 14 abduction of the 16-18 year old girls, international media did little to tell the story, and diplomatic responses seemed muted at best.

Eventually the parents and friends of the kidnapped girls began to protest against their government’s inaction, and a Muslim lawyer, Ibrahim Musa Abdullahi, outraged by the government’s refusal to listen to the pain and grief of the Christian parents, launched the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

And, yes, the campaign has been exploited by politicians left and right from Al Sharpton to Ann Coulter, and opportunists of all sorts. And, yes, trending tweets are no substitute for the hard work required of wise diplomats and world leaders.

But I say good for #BringBackOurGirls.  Thank you, Ibrahim Musa Abdullahi, and David Cameron and Michelle Obama and millions of everyday people who retweeted and liked #BringBackOurGirls.

God’s people have a long history of demanding action on behalf of justice from our leaders. Ezekiel the prophet proclaimed God’s bitter indictment against Israel’s leaders who had become fat and happy at the expense of the people.  Jesus called the hypocritical leaders of his time blind guides and whitewashed tombs as he called woe down upon them. The saints and martyrs have stood for and with the weak – widows and orphans, the sojourner and the stranger, the unborn and the old of age, the mocked and the ridiculed, the slave and the oppressed worker. We must do so, because Jesus told us to.

Someone once asked Jesus who was the neighbor the law required him to love. Jesus told that person a story about a man who was mugged and left for dead on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. He said there were all sorts of good people who passed by on the far side of the road until finally a Samaritan, a hated Samaritan, stopped and did all he could for the injured man.  Jesus told the man who had asked, “who is my neighbor,” “Go and do likewise.” We need to do likewise, as well.

That man in the story who stopped to help has been known as the Good Samaritan ever since Jesus told the story. Maybe we should call Ibrahim Musa Abdullahi the Good Muslim with the same reverence we give the Good Samaritan.

Hashtags don’t resolve international incidents or do the hard work required of diplomats and leaders. But sometime they are at least part, and maybe the least part, of what we can do to demand justice, to offer care; to share the good news of the Gospel.