Why are some lives more valuable than others?
That’s the question many asked after the events of this past week when the deadliest massacre in Boko Haram history took place and nobody cared because nobody heard about it.
According to Amnesty International, Boko Haram fighters killed almost 2000 Nigerians in Baga, a city in northeast Nigeria along with its military base, over the course of last week. Yet with the on-going drama of free speech rights in the wake of the Charlie Hedbo attacks, there was no media spotlight on the massacre. Oh the irony.
The silence of the media on the tragedy that took place in Baga provides the greatest evidence on the limitations and failure of the free press, as well as well as how the West is defining global priorities. Simon Allison provides an explanation:
“It may be the 21st century, but African lives are still deemed less newsworthy—and, by implication, less valuable—than western lives. There are plenty of excuses for this, of course. There are no dramatic visuals from Baga. It is difficult to understand, and the situation doesn’t fall neatly into the clash of civilizations thesis that makes for such a compelling narrative (it’s inconvenient to acknowledge that, overwhelmingly, Muslims are the biggest victims of Islamic fundamentalism). It was not an attack on journalism itself, as Charlie Hebdo was, and therefore didn’t tug at the heartstrings of editors everywhere.”
This week proved to us that the masses are more concerned about the technicalities of free speech—a Western priority, not a global one— rather than the sacredness of human life.
Within the framework of human life—though even the lost lives in the Charles Hebdo attack were overshadowed by the free speech debate—Western/white/privileged bodies were celebrated while the African/brown/voiceless bodies remained invisible. Even in death the narrative prevailed: those murdered in Paris are martyrs, they died for a higher cause, a great idea. Their deaths are cause for celebration eclipsing those who were massacred in Nigeria.
Why #BokoHaram massacre has been so neglected: (1) racism (2) paucity of Boko experts (3) Nigerian government cover-up (4) weak local media.
— Max Abrahms (@MaxAbrahms) January 14, 2015
Most surprisingly, even African leaders failed to condemn the Baga massacre and missed an opportunity to bring attention to Boko Haram’s escalating violence in Nigeria. And yet they were all too quick to align with their Western counterparts in condemning the Charlie Hebdo attack and supporting freedom of expression in order to participate in the game of power politics.
The media coverage of this week has proven that some lives are worth more than others, particularly those higher in the global power structure. While millions gathered at rallies crying “power to free speech,” villages in Nigeria were cleaning up dead bodies.
A Facebook post making the rounds on news-feeds written by Alex Shams, co-editor of Ajam Media Collective, summarizes the sentiments really well:
“How does it feel to live such a privileged life, where your tragedies are the world’s tragedies? Knowing that whatever happens in your country or to people who look like you, the whole world will know, the whole world SHOULD know, the whole world must mourn and respect your tragedy, the whole world must recognize, the whole world should cower in fear trying to predict what the reaction will be, what new policies your government will impose on the rest of the world, or on the hungry trying to reach its shores, or on the “others” within, or, or, or…
That your sadness and your mourning must be felt by us all; that even those who merely dare to question if it is right to make martyrs out of the imperfect should be silenced, for this is “our tragedy,” these are “our dead,” this is an “attack on all of us,” don’t you see?