In the aftermath of the continuous Western media coverage of the Paris attacks by ISIS that killed 129 people, the “Black Lives Matter” Movement in the United States has raised questions about similar atrocities against black people that are either ignored or receive scant attention.
How many people know or remember that 148 people – nineteen more than in Paris – were murdered by al-Shabab militants who stormed the dormitories of Garissa University College in Kenya in a siege that lasted 15 hours last April. That horrific event received very little coverage at the time by the International Television networks such as CNN and Fox in the United States and the BBC in Britain. Certainly, the coverage was not as continuous, analytical or affronted as the reporting of the Paris events, and it did not reflect the same level of indignation.
A similar situation obtained in January this year when 12 people were killed in a terrorist attack in Paris at the offices of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. While television screens and the front pages of Western newspapers were filled with headlines, screaming terror and displaying outpourings of global sympathy for France, there was little or no coverage of savage jihadist attacks that took place in northern Nigeria and Yemen on the same day.
The Islamist group Boko Haram in Nigeria committed a massacre of unbelievable proportions in Borno State. The terrorist insurgents killed more than 2,000 people in the town of Baga and 16 neighbouring towns and villages, burning entire communities to the ground. In Yemen, 37 people were murdered by Al-Qaeda.
Of course, it is perfectly right that people and governments all over the world should denounce ISIS and Al-Qaeda for their reprehensible terrorist attacks wherever they take place. The day of the atrocity in Paris I delivered to the French Embassy in Washington a message to French President Francois Hollande from Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, expressing his sympathy and his solidarity, and, deploring “this vile act of terrorism” and condemning “ISIS strongly and unequivocally”.
In his letter to President Hollande, Prime Minister Browne made the important point that: “Terrorism is a scourge upon our common humanity”. He said: “The people of all countries have a right to live in freedom within the laws that govern our international system. In our 21st Century world, which has become inextricably interlinked, terrorism in all its forms, particularly directed at innocent civilians, must be halted by global action”.
And that is the fundamental point. Terrorism is not being directed at Western Countries only. Africa has been tormented by it, and many more people have been killed by acts of terrorism on that continent than have been killed in Europe. Eleven months ago in a commentary on the Charlie Hebdo killings, I observed that the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, based at the University of Maryland, has revealed that in 2012, terrorism touched 85 countries and just three – Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan – suffered more than half of the attacks (54%) and fatalities (58%). The next five most frequently targeted countries were India, Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and Thailand. That pattern has continued over the last three years.
Yet, the Western media does not reflect that awful truth. Well why? Is it because “black lives don’t matter”? There is a great danger that such a conclusion may become inescapable if Western media do not treat terrorist atrocities in Africa and Asia with as much depth and intensity as they give violent attacks in Western countries.
The further danger is that the Western media could contribute to resentment and even hatred of Muslims particularly. By focusing disproportionately on jihadist attacks in the West, the media may unwittingly be re-enforcing the bigoted and prejudiced view in Western societies that Muslims generally are a threat to Western civilisation.
The reality is that Jihadist groups have killed more Muslims than people of any other faith. The media should balance their coverage to reveal that stark truth. If they don’t, they will feed the growing belief that as far as they are concerned ‘black lives don’t matter’, and they may inspire sympathy for terrorist activity.
Four days before this month’s terrorist attack in Paris, in an address to the 2015 Forum of the International Third World Leaders Association in The Bahamas, at which I talked about the Commonwealth of Nations as a global good, I told an audience of over one hundred delegates from 30 countries that: “The answer to the growing problem of terrorism cannot be simply to bolster security. While effective security measures are essential, they are only part of the answer. In any event, it would tackle only the possible effect and not the actual cause.
The real cause lies in the radicalisation of peoples in many parts of the world based on grievances, both perceived and real, that find expression in brutal violence and terror and sometimes hides behind a thin veil of religion. This problem cannot be bombed out of existence, or can all its perpetrators and followers be imprisoned. What is required are initiatives at a global level to promote mutual understanding and respect among all faiths and communities; and an inquiry into the causes of radicalisation with recommendations and financial resources to address it”.
Not for the first time, I suggested that the Commonwealth – made up of all races and religions – was a good place to start such an inquiry.
The Western Television media, particularly because they have a global reach, have a special responsibility in all this. If they continue to give disproportionate attention to terrorist attacks in Western countries and pay scant attention to similar and worse atrocities in Africa and Asia, they will nurture the idea that they believe ‘black lives don’t matter’, and that will contribute to the radicalisation of those who already feel neglected and marginalised.
(Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States. He is also a candidate for the post of Commonwealth Secretary-General. The views expressed are his own)