The embarrassingly minute coverage on Boko Haram’s recent escalation in Nigeria in both the media and on social media needs to be discussed. It seems our national fixation on the Middle East and Euro-centric terror attacks is blinding us from other pressing humanitarian issues.
In a country where the epicenter of our international obsessions lies in the heart of the Middle East, we are ceaselessly bombarded with coverage of ISIS push for dominion in Iraq and Syria, usually innately partnered with some grainy videos of overzealous jihadists spouting their plans for world domination in the greatest tradition of Stewie from “Family Guy.”
Nevertheless, while it’s reasonable to make light of the ramblings of these mad men, what they’re doing in Iraq and Syria is truly gruesome and inhumane. Reports of hundreds or thousands slaughtered seem to come rolling in each week, and the psychology of the average American’s current obsession with ISIS seems to be at least somewhat rooted in the desire to see these wolves brought to justice. No doubt we have all seen the videos and read reports of the beheadings and execution-style massacres, and some viscerally American part of our collective soul yearns for the opportunity to bring these dirtbags to justice as the self-affirmed messiah of the world.
But is that truly the whole story of our obsession with the Middle East? The answer: no, not even a little bit.
Without going into the tiresome and played-out retelling of the history of the U.S.’s Iraqi occupation and our other various endeavors in the region, suffice it to say that we can agree it was clearly our political and economic interests that took us down those often-mistaken paths.
At first glance, even the title of the operation in Iraq —“Iraqi Freedom” — itself seems to intimate the aforementioned obsession with bringing an end to the struggle and trauma the Iraqi people dealt with each day. But if we care so much about the slaughter or displacement of innocents, why doesn’t anyone in the media or on Twitter seem to be fired up about the current state of affairs in Nigeria?
Oh, right, because we don’t exactly have any pressing interests there.
You have probably heard of Boko Haram at least once in the past year, and it was likely during the coverage of their abduction of 276 girls from a school in the village of Chibok. Like ISIS and other garden-variety jihadist groups, Boko Haram’s modus operandi is essentially the same: the establishment of a Shari’a-based Islamic state in Africa with the lion’s share of attacks carried out against state institutions and local police and military forces.
The group was fractured — some “experts” believed the fracture to be beyond repair at the time — in 2009 after a Nigerian security raid on a Boko Haram compound, in which a significant amount of their leaders was either captured or killed. However, what was left of the group recollected to lick its wounds with the help of Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, and Boko Haram has since slowly escalated its attacks with its quickly growing forces and significant aid from AQIM.
The numbers are frankly disturbing. Since 2010, where there were just 75 Boko Haram-related fatalities during the low point of their fracture, the amount has increased each year with 569 fatalities in 2011, 1,646 fatalities in 2012, 2,973 fatalities in 2013 and an alarming 7,711 fatalities in 2014. In the month of January 2015 alone, well-known political scientist Ian Bremmer reported that the group has already slain upwards of 3,000 people in the region.
Where is the outrage and solidarity?
What is even more frightening is the corrupt Nigerian military’s lack of any ability to stop the streaking Boko Haram insurgents. Currently, Boko Haram is making a push into the capital city of Maiduguri after taking control of many of the towns and villages surrounding the city. If successful, this push could spell the genesis of the realization of an extremist Islamic state in Nigeria.
If we’re being frank, the Nigerian military is no match for the current force that is Boko Haram, but luckily, African leaders across the region have agreed to send 7,500 troops to help the ailing Nigerians fight back.
What further exaggerates the sheer weight of the geopolitical importance of this issue and the farce that is the lack of coverage in the media is the possibility that at some point, should Boko Haram find success in Nigeria, the group could link with AQIM, which already has a large presence in much of northern Africa. Together, the pairing could wreak significantly more havoc on the region in pursuing their dream of a global Islamic caliphate.
All of this sounds like a pressing humanitarian problem, right? Like, one that we might see updated regularly on a nightly CNN or World News broadcast?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The early-January massacres in Baga — in which Boko Haram forces sadistically executed more than 2,000 civilians over the span of a few days — were severely overshadowed by coverage of the Charlie Hebdo slayings in France. Though the Charlie Hebdo murders were a clear affront to freedom of speech and a wanton act of aggression toward the West, how can that one event so heavily overshadow the systematic slaughter of thousands of innocents over a period of four days? While the hashtag “Je suis Charlie” quickly became one of the most tweeted hashtags in history, nobody seemed to pay any heed to the increasingly burdensome daily existential struggle of innocent men and women in Nigeria.
What’s ironic (since we are on the free speech trope that was so heavily invoked in the coverage of the Charlie Hebdo incident) is “Boko Haram” is linguistically the embodiment of anti-free speech: boko is the Hausa word for “fake” and haram is Arabic for “forbidden.” When combined with colloquially, the group’s common name translates to “Western education is a sin,” a slam on our world and our way of life. With all the brilliant artists of the Charlie Hebdo response cartoons, you’d think the media could get some pretty good content out of that.
Even in our latest obsession with police brutality (to which I take no importance from and agree with its pressing nature) in Ferguson and New York, I see hypocrisy in its highest form. In the months of hearing about and even participating in marches and vigils for these tragically killed Black men, I thought I had learned one thing: Black lives matter. Or is it just that American Black lives matter?
Je suis Nigeria, anyone?
Matthew Jackonen is a LSA senior.