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Nine Dead Immunization Workers in Nigeria at the Hands of Islamist Militants

Nigeria
Nigeria

Militant Islamists abhor anything associated with modernity, with health and welfare, and with social progress. If it interferes in the slightest with their grand designs for shoving the world back to the barbarism of the 7th century, it goes on the hit list. And so it is with the effort to end polio, a disease that continues to rage only in three countries in the world. Those three countries also happen to have a problem with terrorism waged by Islamist militants: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

On Friday Islamist militants killed nine anti-polio workers in Nigeria, on the heels of similar attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It's become fashionable to blame the CIA for anti-polio workers becoming the targets of armed Muslim fanatics, as suggested in The New York Times this week:

In a roundabout way, the C.I.A. has been blamed for the Pakistan killings. In its effort to track Osama bin Laden, the agency paid a Pakistani doctor to seek entry to Bin Laden’s compound on the pretext of vaccinating the children — presumably to get DNA samples as evidence that it was the right family. That enraged some Taliban factions in Pakistan, which outlawed vaccination in their areas and threatened vaccinators.

This seems to me the usual scapegoating, deflecting everything back to the evil empire of America, rather than drawing the obvious conclusion that he who pulls the trigger is at fault. As the same article notes, there has long been resistance to polio vaccination campaigns in the less educated milieux of polio affected areas of the world, far pre-dating the bin Laden take-down:

Ten years ago, immunization was suspended for 11 months as local governors waited for local scientists to investigate rumors that it caused AIDS or was a Western plot to sterilize Muslim girls. That hiatus let cases spread across Africa. The Nigerian strain of the virus even reached Saudi Arabia when a Nigerian child living in hills outside Mecca was paralyzed.

The prevalence of superstitious beliefs, illiteracy, and xenophobia has much more to do with the ongoing irrationality that confronts the courageous health workers trying to snuff out the last vestiges of a deadly disease, than it does with suspicion resulting from a one-time ruse of the CIA's (which was incidentally for Hepatitis B, not for polio). And the reluctance of so many commentators to question the underpinnings of the Islamists' ideology that would seek to destroy a life-saving effort, in favour of their knee-jerk responses that automatically assign the blame to a devious western agenda, is symptomatic of the blindness that characterizes our understanding of what lies behind the Islamist worldview. It is the same story when it comes to Mali, where westerners who fancy themselves progressives of a leftist bent, bristle up at the idea of French troops saving the skins of Malians:

For those at a safe distance from the reach of the jihadists, one can welcome the liberation of the Malian people from this stark nightmare or shrug one’s shoulders and mutter about colonialism or the expense to European taxpayers.

The proper response here is to applaud the bravery of the nine dead vaccine workers in Nigeria, to mourn their senseless murders, and to condemn their killers- not to excuse their murderous actions with the apologist mantra of western neo-colonialism as culprit in perpetuum.

Lauryn Oates is Assistant Editor for The Propagandist.

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