The eyes of the world have been riveted on Paris, where armed men brazenly gunned down staff members of a satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo and spread terror throughout the city before they were killed by police three days later. In all, 16 people were ruthlessly shot down in those three days.
Meanwhile, in the African nation of Nigeria, the terrorist group Boko Haram was on a rampage of violence that is estimated to have left 2,000 innocent civilians dead. It was the deadliest attack yet for Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden” and whose stated aim is an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria and surrounding countries.
Yet while millions of people marched in Paris arm in arm, waving placards that said, “Je Suis Charlie,” I have seen no such organized protests against the brutal murder of thousands of civilians by an organization that kidnaps young girls to be sex slaves and recently strapped explosives to three 10-year-old girls, detonating them in a crowded square.
Why the difference? I think the answer lies in the Western world’s inability to identify with the “otherness” of Africa. Whether it be the genocide in Rwanda and South Sudan or the slaughter of thousands in Nigeria, we in the US and Western Europe seem to turn away.
Like many of us, I was outraged by what happened in Paris, and I believe it’s heroic to take a stand for free speech. But I also think it’s important to stand up for the innocent and the downtrodden. For a brief moment last spring, the world did sit up and take notice of what Boko Haram was doing in Nigeria. Images of Americans, including First Lady Michelle Obama, popped up on the internet with signs that said, “Free Our Girls.”
I realize that marching, protesting, and waving signs will not save lives. And I am not talking about US policies on military intervention. Ironically, Nigeria has so far refused US military assistance to fight the menace in their own backyard.
But I think we are insufficiently afraid of the group Boko Haram. Like other Islamic terrorist groups, they are waging a holy war. Nigeria is a Christian-led country, as are some of the surrounding states that Boko Haram has in its sights. In fact, the leader of Boko Haram, in a rare commentary on world events, praised the Paris attacks. According to the former US ambassador to Nigeria, the remarks indicate an ambition to be “part of a much bigger global movement.” (NBC News)
More importantly, we need to stand up for human rights no matter what the nationality, skin color, or religious persuasion.
Je suis l’humanité.