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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Bradford: Nigeria attacks also demand our attention

The Columbian
Published: January 24, 2015, 4:00pm

A most brutal and violent terrorist attack occurred recently but most Americans were unaware of it. As the world watched in shock and horror at the three-day siege launched on Paris by Islamist terrorists, an even more vicious and devastating series of attacks was unfolding in Nigeria.

World leaders marched their way through Paris to mourn the 17 dead and to show solidarity in the never-ending battle against terrorism. Western media covered the Paris attacks nearly around the clock. But scarcely a report was filed about two young Nigerian girls, forced to carry out a suicide mission in a Potiskum cafe. Remotely detonated explosives blasted through the cafe killing five, including the girls.

A similar attack occurred the previous day in Maiduguri, where a girl, thought to be as young as 10, was used as a vehicle for a bomb. That assault killed 20. But the worst atrocity was committed against men, women, and children in the Nigerian town of Baga. Details of the assault remain murky, but the death toll estimated by Human Rights Watch is said to be as many as 2,000. (The Nigerian government is claiming just 150 victims.)

Boko Haram, the terrorist group believed to be responsible for the Nigerian attacks, has been active since 2002. These Islamist extremists, whose name roughly translates to “Western Education is Forbidden,” have been successful in unleashing a reign of terror over Nigeria. Boko Haram’s goals are to impose Sharia Law, implement an Islamic state and eradicate Western influence.

Boko Haram was relatively unknown in the West until the group kidnapped 200 young girls in the Borno state in 2014. This incident captivated the West’s attention. Sadly, we took notice because of social media. When the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls hit twitter, Western media outlets decided this was a story and finally gave the mass kidnapping the coverage it deserved.

The social media campaign was largely ineffective in pressuring Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan into action, nor was it successful in bringing the kidnapped girls home. However, the campaign was successful in two other capacities. First, it highlighted the inadequacies in media coverage between Western and non-western terrorist violence. Second, it showed that these inadequacies can be somewhat leveled when the public demands that attention is shed on a particular event.

Easy to dismiss

It’s easy to disregard violence that occurs in nations that do not bear a striking resemblance to our own. Africa in particular is easy to dismiss. It is a continent that often is bathed in blood, warfare and corruption. Not only do we assume that it is the norm for violence to occur there, but it’s easier to ignore violence when it’s unlikely to affect our daily lives. Moreover, it’s harder to identify with a tragedy when people are dying by the thousands, because the personal narratives of the victims remain untold and they simply become a statistic.

We must keep those who are suffering at the hands of Boko Haram from becoming another statistic. We can do this by educating ourselves about events that occur outside of our borders. Education empowers and provides security.

Because of this, it is our responsibility to be informed citizens, and to do so through reputable media outlets. The media responds to ratings and Web hits and because of this we have the power to insist that our media outlets report on these events with the same intensity that they devote to terrorist violence in the West. Moreover, as our leaders stand united against terrorism in the West, they must also do so for those in Nigeria.

Alexandra Bradford is a graduate of King’s College in London, and an expert in Islamic extremism and homegrown radicalization. Twitter: @AlexBradford87