The New York Times had a story a few days ago headlined:

Prisoners of Boko Haram, Then Prisoners of Fame

The headline seemed frivolous at first glance–being a prisoner of fame would certainly be preferable to being held by the vicious militant Islamic Boko Haram.

But the article began with an astute observation:

The next time international do-gooders decide to lend their hashtag support to a cause in Africa, it would be wise to remember the fallout from the Bring Back our Girls campaign.

The Bring Back our Girls campaign was the pathetic response in the west to the abduction of 270 Nigerian girls by Boko Haram in the spring of 2014. The girls were abducted from a dorm in Chibok. The sappy campaign for their return featured a forlorn Michelle Obama holding up a white sheet of paper with "#BringBackOurGirls" on it.

Boko Haram is a violent, atrocity-prone terrorist group, often high on drugs and not remotely likely to have hearts softened because westerners regard the Chibok girls as "our girls." But never mind: the hashtag campaign made all the right people feel good about themselves.

What got the girls back, as the Times reports, was a hefty ransom negotiated by the Swiss government and the Red Cross. The amount is undisclosed. The hashtag campaign may have led to a small improvement in the way the girls were treated while negotiations were initiated. As the Times notes:

As soon as the campaign began, the jihadists knew they were in possession of valuable merchandise.

Twenty-one girls were ransomed. But now the girls who have been returned live in form of captivity because they are famous because of the hashtag campaign. They are too valuable to risk re-capture. They are in a camp and can be visited by their families under strict supervision.

One subset of the girls were brought to the U.S. by a nonprofit, where they were urged to repeatedly tell their stories in U.S. churches. This doesn't sound so bad to me, but the Times implies that the girls are being exploited.

Here is the point the Times never got around to making: the hashtag campaign had everything to do with people in the west who wanted to feel for the girls. Feelings are good enough and easier than doing something about a terrorist group in a jungle.

But campaigns based upon kindly feelings must assume that the "other side" has similar feelings and values to which such efforts can appeal.

Gandhi's non-violence campaigns, for example, would have been unsuccessful if England had not had a set of values to which Gandhi could appeal. Boko Haram has no such values. The campaign imputed to them characteristics that simply were not there.

It is an assumption the west often makes. When an anguished former U.N. ambassador Samantha Powers asked the Assad regime in Syria, "Have you no shame?" she was making the same assumption.

The "#BringBackOurGirls" campaign was thus useless sentimentality and like many instances of sentimentality, it had, if the Times is correct, adverse consequences. But, as noted, it made many in the west feel dandy about themselves.