Is There a Double Standard for Survivors of Boko Haram?

Returning From Boko Haram

To the Editor:

In her review of Edna O’Brien’s “Girl” (Nov. 3), which was inspired by the kidnapping of the Chibok students in Nigeria, Francine Prose compares the novel to a nonfiction work by Isha Sesay, “Beneath the Tamarind Tree.” She writes: “And though some of the Nigerian girls may have been rejected by their families, as is Maryam, her mistreatment by those who presumably love her sounds more like a familiar development in an Edna O’Brien novel than the scene of rejoicing in Sesay’s book when parents are reunited with their daughters.”

Worldwide, young women who seek to return to their communities after being abducted by militant forces are, sadly, more often than not met by rejection if they return with a child born of rape. For boys and young men returning from forced involvement with armed groups such as Boko Haram and the Lord’s Resistance Army, a variety of programs, services and rituals exist to help support their re-entry into their communities. Few such programs exist for girls and young women, especially those who have become mothers during their captivity and face deep opprobrium from their families. These mothers are vilified because of what was done to them, even if resisting would have meant brutal beating or death.

In this regard, as in so many others, there is a sad double standard. O’Brien deserves all honors for depicting this too-frequent reality rather than what might seem a more desirable “storybook” ending.

Lauren Goodsmith
Baltimore
The writer coordinates the Intercultural Counseling Connection, a program for trauma-affected forced migrants.

American Jews and Israel

To the Editor:

The headline and subhead (“Difficult Love: Why Are American Jews at Odds With Israel?”) on Judith Shulevitz’s review of Daniel Gordis’s “We Stand Divided: The Rift Between American Jews and Israel” (Nov. 17) are flawed. American Jews are not falling out of love with Israel. On the contrary, a recent analysis by Gallup found that 95 percent of American Jews have a favorable view of Israel. American Jews may take issue with some of Israel’s policies or leaders, no less than with America’s policies and leaders, but there is no rift between the Jewish-American community and Israel.

As for Israel’s nature, labeling it an “ethnic democracy” captures only one facet of its being. It is a nation of immigrants, albeit immigrants returning to their ancestral homeland. It was created in part as a reconstituted ancient state for its indigenous people; in part as a refuge for Holocaust survivors and Jews fleeing European and Middle Eastern anti-Semitism; and in part as an ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse modern society. It is also a liberal democracy and a beacon of rights in a sea of deeply conservative absolutist regimes.

Stephen A. Silver
San Francisco

American Women

To the Editor:

Lesley Stahl’s review of Gail Collins’s “No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History” (Nov. 10) accomplishes a remarkable feat: It discusses working women in American without even a polite nod in the direction of black women, who have worked every day since the first enslaved Africans landed in Virginia.

The plantations of the South — before and after the Civil War — were worked by women as well as men. The plantation houses of the South likewise: How many nannies and cooks and housecleaners served there, subject not only to enforced, unpaid labor but also to rape and whippings and daily, hourly insults?

How many black women, coming north in the 20th century, found work as domestic laborers or in foul food-processing plants or other out-of-sight corners of the economy? We get a mention of farm women in the 1700s, attitudes about sex in the 1880s, flappers in the 1920s, wartime and postwar work, Mamie Eisenhower’s pink toilet seat, but of black women and their work not a word.

John Burke
San Francisco

To the Editor:

Lesley Stahl’s review refers to the Eisenhower years, when “women became stay-at-home moms in the suburbs and many … were bored to tears.”

I am now 82 years old, but when I retired from my job at 55, I volunteered at a soup kitchen, visited people in a nursing home and helped out at Meals on Wheels. I found time for my newspapers and also the books that were on my “must read” list. I can’t imagine being bored when there are so many worthy organizations who need people who are “bored to tears.”

Ruth L. Krugman
Avon, Conn.

Reconstruction

To the Editor:

I concur with everything Adam Liptak says about the value of the Reconstruction amendments and Eric Foner’s “The Second Founding” (What We’re Reading, Nov. 3). But I would not be so quick to dismiss the Constitution as “more modest” on federal power. The whole purpose of the 1787 Constitutional Convention was to drastically reduce states’ rights in the Articles of Confederation. There are several anti-states-rights provisions in the Constitution, if you know where to look for them, but, like the 14th Amendment, they would never be put to effective use. James Madison and others were afraid that the selfish interests of the states would be the ruin of the country.

States’ rights is a concept that has long been used to hamper attempts to acknowledge the federal government’s constitutional power to enforce national rights standards.

Leon Zitzer
New York

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