By Tuva Julie E. Smith*
On January 7th 2015, the French satire magazine, Charlie Hebdo, came under attack by Islamic extremists who were said to be supportive of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL and Da’esh). Among the 12 people killed were four cartoonists, including the editor, and two policemen. In the days following the attack, more than three and a half million people marched through the streets of Paris, standing in solidarity with the victims and their families, while saying “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie). In the front-row linking arms, were presidents and prime ministers from all over the world.
One cannot deny the solidarity shown by and among the world leaders. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, publicly stated his opinion of the attack as, “a horrendous, unjustifiable and cold-blooded crime”. Furthermore, the response after the attack had poured out on the social media, with hashtags #CharlieHebdo and #JesuisCharlie trending media outlets like Twitter. The extent of international support was enormous. Twitter recorded with more than 6,500 #JesuisCharlie every minute, and more than 3.4 million hashtags of the same kind within the 24 hours following the attack.
But, where the besieging of a community of liberals in one of the western capitals could capture the media glare, and for long, the western ignorance of Boko Haram, another lethal Islamic terror organisation, was conspicuous by the wilful ignorance that was casted on it.
Boko Haram, for all the dramatic monstrosity it has committed this far, paralleling the IS but on a smaller scale, has become one of the deadliest terrorist organisations in the world. It has been terrorizing Nigerians since the end of the 1990s, and represents radical terrorism that has largely been left unfettered. In fact, unsurprisingly in March 2015, the radical group pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State.
Their indiscriminate killings are horrific in character, but these lack broader coverage in the media compared to ISIL`s activities. The attack and kidnapping of more than 250 schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno State in April 2014 was perhaps, one of those one-off moments that could gather world interest and as whose consequence, a worldwide solidarity campaign got launched. World leaders and people in general joined the campaign “bring back our girls”. However, even though the attack brought international outrage, the attention remained rather ephemeral in character.
While the attack that took place in Paris was horrific in itself, but that being said, only four days earlier, the radical and violent extremist group, Boko Haram had plundered its way into the town of Baga, in the northeast of Nigeria. The genocide they committed claimed the lives of more than 2,000 women, men and children who were unsuccessful in their attempt to escape Boko Haram´s men. However, the indiscriminate attack, and possibly the deadliest once since 9/11, went seemingly unnoticed among the western media outlets. One could ask oneself: if this event had occurred in any western country, killing more than 2,000 people, would the coverage have been any different? The answer is a solemn yes!
A word worth highlighting is indifference, which I believe describes the situation of western ignorance. The fact is that people in the west and western media outlets in general have a tendency of ignoring international events if it is not of a direct concern to them. One can simply reflect on a comment on the Ebola crisis made by the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan during a BBC interview, and which I believe sums-up the wilful western indifference well: “when you look at the evolution of the (Ebola) crisis, the international community really woke up when the disease got to America and Europe”.
As such, one of the reasons for the western world’s ignorance of Boko Haram is for the reason that it is yet to do anything go all guns blazing on the American or European soil. For as long as it does not take such shape, Boko Haram will not be seen as a direct threat to the western world and thus, be of little interest to them. The ignorance could also be because of the fact that the political interests of the western world are not as much as say they are in the Middle East.
But, where these attacks certainly lack media attention, one thing that possibly impedes them from being covered is the geographical space where they take place. For instance, Boko Haram attacks often occur in remote areas where local reporting is challenging impeding access to real footage of massacres which makes the limited international reporting even more difficult.
An unequipped government and its reluctance to admit a state of emergency are partly to be blamed for the lack of knowledge about such incidents globally. To accept the loss of control over your country is not something that comes easily. It wasn’t until May 2013 that the former president of Nigeria, Jonathan Goodluck affirmed the real challenge his country and government were struggling with, which later that year resulted in the official listing of Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation.
The media glare or the lack of it notwithstanding, the cancer of terrorism is spreading rapidly, and one can no longer deny the deadliness set by Boko Haram. As statistics from previous years show, Boko Haram has literally exploded. The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2015 published by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), is a study on terrorism in 162 countries with the data being collated by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START).
The GTI 2015 highlights some disturbing facts on Boko Haram. For instance, in 2014 the group increased its attacks by 300 per cent; a staggering number of an additional 5,662 individuals killed compared to 2013. The worst assault that year was the attack on a Nigerian mosque killing at least 120 and injuring as many as 270. The year 2015 did not show any signs of improvement. In January 2015 alone, more than 2,000 people were said to have lost their lives to Boko Haram attacks.
Boko Haram´s unrelenting attacks and fight for an independent Islamic State has steered the civilians in Nigeria into desolation. According to the GTI 2015 study, Nigerians had in 2014, witnessed the largest increase in terrorism incidents compared to the other 162 countries, with the outcome of 7,512 fatalities. Additionally, it is worth highlighting that the group’s violence and despoliation has openly resulted in a large number of internally displaced people (IDP). In terms of the scale of displacement, the wave in Nigeria is said to be estimated at a staggering 1,075,300 IDP at minimum (figures from December 2014). Additionally, the forecast for the neighbouring countries, such as Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, is equally dismal. Boko Haram carried out its first cross-border attack in Cameroon late December 2014, which left at least 30 civilians dead at Mbaljuel village in northern Cameroon. Furthermore, Niger experienced its first attack by Boko Haram militias in February 2015. Bosso town was reportedly attacked in which one civilian and four soldiers got killed, as well as 109 Boko Haram militants.
Furthermore, data collected and analysed in the GTI 2015 study points out that Boko Haram militias were responsible for 6,644 deaths in comparison with the Islamic State, which was accountable for about 6,073 deaths. Hence, the radical extremist group is no longer the “little brother” of Islamic extremism. Boko Haram is now triumphing on top of the chart as the world’s most deadly terrorist organisation.
We should care and we should investigate the crimes of injustice when we know for a fact it is a reality, even though is it not directly concerning us. The declaration of an Islamic caliphate back in 2014 by Boko Haram only signals their aspiration of wanting to control a larger area then Nigeria. Currently ranked as the world’s deadliest terror group, it will be interesting to see what Nigeria and neighbouring countries can expect from Boko Haram in 2016.
*Tuva Julie E. Smith is an operational assistant at SITSEN, Norwegian Armed Forces. She can be reached at [email protected]