There is a hypocritical behavior in our culture when it comes to collective empathetic responses. We are hypersensitive to what we think of as terrorist attacks in the West, and I think that with all of the recent protests for civil rights and against police brutality, people are increasingly inclined to show support and solidarity through the media ie. #jesuisCharlie #icantbreathe, #blacklivesmatter, #bringbackourgirls, etc. and while I think that that is awesome, our empathy can oftentimes be misguided.
I definitely think that the attack in Paris was a shameful act by extremists who misunderstand the readings of the Qur’an but at the same time I have to acknowledge the absurdity of the media for choosing to satirize the beliefs of an entire religion with no consequences. We believe so strongly in the freedom of speech in western civilization that we fail to see how it parallels the freedom of religion and virtually any and every other freedom. The outrage felt over the 12 killed at Charlie Hebdo is a perfect example of this. I’m not at all trying to make sense of this attack, but I think it says something that #jesuischarlie was tweeted over 5 million times… And at the same time there are almost 2,000 people feared dead in Nigeria from the attacks by Boko Haram, an extreme Islamic militant group in northeast Nigeria.
We can empathize with the shootings in Paris because we can see ourselves in that situation. It scares us that in our perfectly safe world someone could shoot up an office building in downtown Paris and it’s devastating because we’re just so sensitive to such a tragic story. The victims become ideas, the cartoonists become the cartoons, and the entire thing becomes a metaphor for the radical Islamists attacking our freedom of speech. In 1839 we learned that “the pen is mightier than the sword”, in 2015 we ask is the pen mightier than the bullet?
I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t mourn the Charlie Hebdo victims as much as we do (although if I wanted to, I could.) But to completely ignore the massacre in Nigeria is not only blatantly hypocritical, but really just down right selfish. It’s 2015 and we can’t seem to move past the ideas of developed nations and third-world countries. We can’t keep shrugging off headlines of genocide and outrageous death tolls simply because they are in Africa, or the Middle East, or the South Pacific. We can not accept this as a norm. We have to be able to extend our ability to empathize with the suffering of those who need it most. And as we become more connected globally we can not let our exposure to the cruelty and violence in this world desensitize us.
Today, world leaders and hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched in the largest rally in French history. President Francois Hollande and leaders from Germany, Italy, Israel, Turkey, Britain and the Palestinian territories, all marched arm-in-arm in the Paris Unity Rally to pay tribute to the victims of the Islamist militant attacks. And while part of me is excited for this example of camaraderie, I can’t help but think of the over 7,000 Nigerian refugees fleeing into Chad because of Boko Haram. And I can only hope that these world leaders and demonstrators can extend the same level of support and solidarity to those in Nigeria.