What is it about girls going to school that infuriates so many grown men, turning them into beasts?
The appalling abduction of well more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls and the shocking delay in the West before mobilizing a response are two more indications of how far the world is from nailing this civilization thing.
The girls, some of Nigeria's best and brightest, were dragged out of bed by Islamic militants and spirited away in trucks. According to a girl who escaped, they were treated like slaves. Two weeks later, as the Nigerian government hemmed and hawed about not finding the girls and with countries such as the United States and Britain observing diplomatic niceties before helping, militants were boasting about selling the girls into slavery or as child brides.
On Capitol Hill, all 20 women senators, who rarely agree on anything, demanded to know why it was taking so long to find the stolen girls.
We are reminded of Malala Yousafzai, the brave Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking out about the importance of educating girls. As she heals, the 15-year-old wrote in her book, I Am Malala, that her life's work will be the education of girls.
We remember the years of terror in Rwanda where women and young girls were gang raped to impregnate them as a weapon in civil war.
As Americans pull out of Afghanistan after more than a decade, the Taliban has quickly reverted to shutting down girls' schools, terrorizing women who walk alone and otherwise trying to drive females back to the Stone Age.
Americans have traveled a long, winding road toward equality in education. Even many educated fathers (and mothers) wanted their daughters to marry, breed and obey their husbands more than they wanted female children to get an education, use their minds and be able to support themselves.
Ignorant Islamic militants wrongly use misunderstood religious precepts as an excuse to keep girls uneducated and used as sex slaves without rights or, often, decent living conditions. These militants burn with righteous fervor but they are basically cowards who fear a world where their prehistoric beliefs are not ascendant.
What should scare us is how many misguided militants there are and how quickly they can prevail in countries where poverty and political turmoil tamp down human rights. As Vladimir Putin is to Ukraine's sovereignty so are Islamic militants to the rights of women everywhere.
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has become an outspoken champion of ending discrimination against girls whether they are in Nigeria, Pakistan or India. He says that discrimination against girls is akin to the discrimination against blacks and that the world has a duty to fight both. He is correct, and President Barack Obama should be more forceful on this issue.
Too many men are too unsure of their manhood and their place in the world to tolerate the prospect of girls becoming their equals. So they grab their guns and get together in gangs — such as Boko Haram in Nigeria — to try to go back to an era where violence against women was accepted.
Every day we see the vestiges of the cruelty people inflict on others. The sultan of Brunei oversees new laws that call for flogging and stoning same-sex couples, adulterers and women who have abortions. The owner of the Los Angeles Clippers hates black people. A bigot in the West steals a million dollars in grazing rights from taxpayers and is lionized by politicians. The juxtaposition of the World Economic Forum for Africa being held in Nigeria while militants kidnap school girls is maddening. We must make human traffickers afraid. We must punish those who degrade others. We must make clear that civilized people will not tolerate this evil.
When children anywhere are denied education and brutalized, it's okay to be angry, very angry, and to demand retribution.
© 2014 McClatchy-Tribune News Service