On Jan. 11, 2015, millions of people, including an array of world leaders such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy marched through Paris in show of solidarity against terrorism and in support of freedom of speech. In response to the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, in which 12 people were murdered, it was an opportunity for the world to come together, and show unity even in the aftermath of terror and grief.
For those who were unable to make it to France, they showed their support with posts on social media. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and almost every social media site was painted with the hashtag #jesuischarlie, “I am Charlie.” Warm fuzzies were exchanged and goosebumps were had as the largest gathering Paris has ever seen decided that regardless of race, sex, gender, religion or citizenship, in that moment they were all Charlie.
Meanwhile in Baga, Nigeria, an estimated 2,000 bodies lay dead after Boko Haram’s largest attack to date. The extremist group arrived with grenade launchers, guns and plenty of ammunition. Bullets sprayed throughout the villages, and as people tried to run and hide, they were followed by the insurgents and massacred. Some sought safety in their homes but the terrorists burned them down with countless people still inside.
Those who fled tried to swim across Lake Chad to Chad but drowned. In the aftermath, Yanye Grema, a Nigerian fisherman told The Guardian that “for five kilometers (three miles), [he] kept stepping on dead bodies.” So where were the million people marches? Where were the hashtags? Where were the world leaders banding together to let people know that they are not afraid, that Boko Haram would be stopped?
They were in France mourning the 12 lives taken due to another terrorist group’s actions. This past week, 147 people were murdered by Al-Shabaab at Garissa University College in Kenya. Although condolences were sent, the outcry for justice was nowhere near that of France’s Charlie Hebdo attack.
All violent acts of terrorism are tragic and despicable, so why should those in France get far more global and media attention than the 147 massacred in Kenya or the thousands slaughtered in Nigeria? If it came down to purely numbers, then Baga faced far more death than France. If it came down to the gruesomeness and ferocity of the attack, Baga certainly had it worse. If it came down to ideologies, yes France was fighting for freedom of speech but what about fighting for education or freedom of religion in Kenya?
There is no way to know exactly why one attack was given precedence over another but some analysts have said that the conflict in Nigeria may be viewed as a civil war, therefore an attack in a time of war would be seen in a different light than an attack in a place of peace such as Paris.
Currently, Nigeria is unstable. It is divided into the mostly Muslim north and the mostly Christian south. Boko Haram has terrorized the region since about 2009 and with such instability, an attack is almost to be expected, or is at least less of a surprise.
Over the past several years, Kenya has been a pretty stable nation except in regards to Al-Shabaab so even the large scale of this recent attack took many by surprise. France, on the other hand, is a first world nation facing little insecurity. They are not at war nor do they face the daily struggle of insurgents taking over their nation. So an attack such as the one at Charlie Hebdo caught the nation off guard and thus prompted a larger reaction.
While all of these points are valid, they are not sufficient excuses as to the lack of support or even media recognition in Kenya and especially in Nigeria. It’s almost like saying, “We expected you to die, so when you did, it isn’t that big of a deal” — which is truly sad. Were the lives lost in Nigeria or Kenya somehow less valuable, less sad, less warranting of grief simply because the region has faced more suffering in the past than France?
Regardless of peacetime or wartime, lives are lives, humanity is humanity. When so many are massacred due to the terrorism that plagues our world, the same terrorism we claim to unite against in Paris, the same terrorism the U.S. went to war against, and an attack of so many African lives barely gets a headline, it makes me wonder if the world is truly fighting terrorism, or just fighting terrorism from the West. Has the world become desensitized to Africa’s pain and complacent with the turmoil?
If anything, this recent event has just further proved that we live in a Eurocentric society. Please don’t misunderstand me to be unsympathetic to the events in France or unnoticing of the Western aid that has been given to Nigeria and Kenya and various other nations over the years to combat terrorism. Although I am grateful, I can’t help but wonder if it’s too audacious to want more. I, too, mourn for those who died in Paris, but I also mourn for my countrymen who died in Kenya and for those who died in Nigeria.
Terror is abstract. You cannot put a Band-Aid on terror. You cannot pay terror to go away. You cannot send troops to fight terror. Although these things help, they cannot be the only solution. If we are truly fighting terror, we must first give hope, strength, courage and all those cliche things that sound cheesy but make all the difference in a time of chaos and disorder. There is strength in numbers they say. Right now, Kenya is under three days of mourning. How much strength and encouragement would it give them if the world stood together and grieved with them, and said this must come to an end?
In these past couple months we’ve seen #blacklivesmatter and #jesuischarlie take over the Internet and world in great shows of unity. But I think the world can do so much more than that. We are Charlie, we are Nigeria, we are Kenya, we are Syria, we are Yemen and to quote Michael Jackson, we are the world. But as demonstrated by these attacks, the world is far from perfect. And although it is so easy to get lost in our own lives, it is important we share one another’s burdens.
Maya Kamami is the Opinion Editor at The Triangle. She can be contacted at [email protected]