My social media newsfeeds has been filled over the past few days with messages from young and old relating to the kidnapping of hundreds of school girls in Nigeria. Over 200 girls were taken from their boarding school by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram. The group threatens that it will sell the girls into sex slavery.
Much of the disgust and discussion over the past month since the mass abduction occurred, has revolved around the Nigerian Government’s and Military’s inaction. Numerous sources claim that the two parties were aware of an impending attack but failed to act to protect their own people.
Although Boko Haram has been in existence since 2002, it has really only since 2009 that it has become a militant organisation. It seems that their goal is to prevent the “Westernisation” of Nigeria and wish to see a full implementation of the strict Islamic Shari Law. This is one of the reasons why a school was the target of their attack as the group is opposed to numerous practices such as traditional education.
The entire incident is a tragedy of huge proportions but what has struck me though, as more and more “Westeners” pour to social media to give their support, is how selective both us the public and the media are in relation to news and events.
Boko Haram have murdered in the region of 1,200-2,000 (Amnesty International puts the figure at more than 2,000) people this year alone, including 310 people in one town. Why weren’t we made aware of the genocide happening in Nigeria prior to this incident? Why does it always take one specific story to have an emotional affect on us? It would seem that if news agencies had lead with the story of 2,000 deaths then we would not have been interested – a simple shrug of the shoulders and we’d continue what we were doing – worrying about tonight’s dinner or weekend plans.
It reminds me of the rape and murder of the Indian student in New Delhi two years ago. In India a child goes missing every 8 minutes, with over half of them never being found, yet we rarely hear it on the news. Obviously we can relate better to an individual’s story but there does seem to be something perverse in ignoring the disappearance of over 1,200 children each week.
I don’t mean to preach either, we all have our own worries and it is probably a coping mechanism that we cannot understand the scale of the number of children being raped, tortured and murdered on a daily basis. Neither do we have time to research the backgrounds and political situations in many of these countries. (I chaired the university branch of an Indian charity for the past two years, hence my interest there).
What we hear in the news in relation to many of these stories is only the very tip of a massive iceberg. There is so much more pain and suffering occurring in certain parts of the world that maybe no media outlet has the resources to cover it to any reasonable extent. Even if they did, would we be interested in hearing it? It’s easy to discuss the girls’ kidnapping at the water cooler or over a beer and suggest some simple solutions such as a US intervention. It would take more than one round of beers to come up with a solution to demilitarize Boko Haram or prevent the mass abduction of children on a daily basis in Indian.
As media consumers we may be most to blame for our selective ignorance, both at home and abroad. This is a shame as one would hope that with the ever increasing power of social media, the general public has more influence on political leaders than ever before. There is one caveat though, we must keep our minds open and get informed about the rest of the iceberg – millions of lives may depend on it.