Boko Haram: The terrorists you don’t know about


Illustration by Tribune News Service

A map of Baga and Doron Baga, Nigeria where Boko Haram burns towns.


During the week of Jan. 4, two horrific terrorist attacks took place. In one, a total of 17 people were killed at the Paris offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in an isolated (albeit horrible) attack by two gunmen. In the other, possibly up to 2,000 innocent citizens of the Nigerian town of Baga were killed in the latest installment of a continued effort to enforce loyalty to an African terrorist group, Boko Haram. Therefore, how does it make sense that one of these issues has come to the forefront of the Western news media, while the other continues to fly under the radar, as do many attacks in Africa and the Middle East, allowing its perpetrators to continue on their path of destruction?

I use the issue of the Charlie Hebdo shooting not to diminish its significance—as it was an absolutely horrific incident itself—but simply to serve as a contrast. The attack in Paris received thousands of front page headlines, as well as a march attended by 1.5 million people. The only time Boko Haram’s attacks have even come close to achieving such notoriety in the news was the brief #BringBackOurGirls campaign on Twitter. While that campaign did certainly have a large reach, the worldwide concern about that has seemingly not carried over to the group’s other attacks. The fact remains that people worldwide, particularly in the West, are still woefully under-informed about Boko Haram, as well as other non-Western terrorist events, which is something that needs to change.

The unfortunate fact is that many Americans simply don’t empathize with Nigerian citizens as much as they do with, for example, Parisians, because Parisians think more like us and live more like us than Nigerians do. Because we can relate more to Western citizens such as those in Paris, the idea of their lives being in peril scares us much more than the idea of African and Middle Eastern citizens’ lives being in peril. In addition, due to both a lack of modern safety measures in some African and Middle Eastern areas, as well as incompetent leadership in others (for example, Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan), killing unfortunately happens much more often, making us almost “used” to the idea of violence in Africa as an everyday occurrence. As a result of this unfortunate apathy, the media has seemingly deemed Western lives to be worth more than African and Middle Eastern ones, simply because that is what will garner a bigger reaction from readers.

This, quite frankly, is the underlying issue. As fellow human beings, we should be concerned with the plight of our brothers and sisters in Africa. We should be concerned that a terrorist group is running roughshod in the country with the biggest economy in Africa. We were outraged when two gunmen attempted to challenge “freedom of speech” in Paris. Why are we not nearly as outraged that a terrorist group has been waging a war in Nigeria while attempting to do the exact same thing?