Ouvrez vos yeux: Looking beyond the Paris terror attacks

January 15, 2015

We don’t care about Boko Haram.

Last Wednesday, a series of terrorist attacks in France, beginning with the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, gripped the nation and the world. Millions of people from across the world gathered in Paris, adopted the phrase “Je suis Charlie,” stood in solidarity to support the rights to freedom of expression and religion, and condemned terrorists’ suppressive agendas.

This unprecedented response to the unconstructive and horrific murders of 17 people by fundamentalist Islamist terrorists is extraordinary, needs to continue, and should be commended. However, Boko Haram, a West African extremist group of Al Qaeda’s ilk, has been committing more atrocious crimes than this recent attack in Paris for years. They have killed nearly 2,000 in Nigeria this month alone. Where’s the media coverage, the outcries for justice, the demands to stand together against such acts of aggression and terror?

Perhaps we’re not paying attention to it because it isn’t “beneficial” to us, since, face it, we as a country and a global community tend to only give consideration to those injustices whose cessation serves American interests, whether it be through oil, weapons, or appeasing a powerful ally. Maybe we ignore Nigeria and Africa in general because we view it as a misadventure—a hopeless and constant problem with no solution.

The issue with this line of thought is that if America wishes to export the concept that all lives are sacred, valuable, and precious, and therefore radical groups such as Boko Haram and the radical Islamists responsible for the Charlie Hedbo attacks should utilize discussion rather than violence, we need to start viewing these events proportionally. We need to give a measure of consideration to other pressing global events. How can we teach extremists that all lives matter if we don’t act on that credence? And, perhaps if we took the utilitarian perspective, more lives could be saved by focusing on larger scale events like Boko Haram massacres.

Maybe we see “Je suis Charlie” as an opportunity to stand together and effect change ripe for the taking. But can’t that also be true for those slaughtered by Boko Haram?

This predicament is reminiscent of The Boston Marathon bombings and the West Fertilizer Company explosion in April of 2013. The Boston tragedy—which resulted in three deaths and 264 injured—completely overshadowed the West Fertilizer Company explosion in terms of media coverage and national outrage. With 15 casualties, 160 injuries, and a decimated town, I bet some readers of this piece still haven’t even heard of that tragedy. Both events deserve compassion and due attention, but somehow mourning the injured and the multitude of first responders who charged into a fire they knew they would die trying to fight got completely lost in everyone’s daily news report. True, the onset of another terrorist attack on U.S. soil snapped everyone’s attention to the marathon bombings, but meanwhile many heroes died in Texas waging a losing battle against a massive conflagration.

Activists and historians may read this and bring up the valid point of race. If those in Africa were white Europeans perhaps the world would have demonstrated more concern for them. Even so, if you were to compare the two separate points in time, many or all of those who died in West, Texas were white. The easiest answer to these ponderings is that we have neglected these other, incomparable tragedies because they involved terrorism on Western cultures.

The problem with these excuses for general apathy toward Boko Haram and West, Texas is that not only are we showing extremists our ability to disregard massive loss of human life, but the near certainty of a media circus after a terrorist attack allows terrorists to gain the attention that they are demanding. They want to scare us, they want us to be dumbstruck by their actions, they want our attention, and we give it to them each time. Terrorism needs to be addressed and combated, but our political myopia needs to stop. Both Boko Haram and the Charlie Hebdo massacre need to be acknowledged, but there’s a difference between plugging one hole in a sinking ship and plugging all of them. In one scenario, the ship still sinks.

Ana Smith
Ana Smith is a member of the College class of 2015. She majored in Biology of Global Health, premed, and minored in French.

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