A Western Blind Spot? Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 15 2015 @ 5:21pm

A reader responds to the question of Western coverage of Boko Haram compared to Charlie Hebdo:

A blind spot? Not at all. Violence in places with strong traditions of law and order is news.  Violence in places where there is less of such a tradition is not. Francis Fukuyama in his seminal two-volume work reveals to us how hundreds of years of effort under favorable geographic and cultural circumstances are required even to hope for such traditions. There is nothing racist or materialist about the lack of coverage.  It is nothing more than human beings refusing to regard what can plainly be anticipated as news.

The Dish, which is a fairly representative gauge of Western media coverage, has produced about 25 posts on Boko Haram overall. CNN had the terrorist group in its top 10 list of most talked about stories of 2014. Regarding the most recent massacre, we posted two roundups that included pieces from the AP, WaPo, Time, TNR, New Yorker, Reuters, Bloomberg, BBC, Guardian, etc. – hardly a blind spot of Western media, though others will argue that coverage wasn’t quick enough. Matt Schiavenza is on the same page as our reader:

The main difference between France and Nigeria isn’t that the public and the media care about one and not the other. It is, rather, that one country has an effective government and the other does not.

The French may not be too fond of President Francois Hollande – his approval ratings last November had plunged to 12 percent – but he responded to his country’s twin terror attacks with decisiveness. Not so Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan. Since assuming the presidency in 2010, Jonathan has done little to contain Boko Haram. The group emerged in 2002 and has consolidated control over an area larger than West Virginia. And it’s gaining ground. Perversely, the seemingly routine nature of Nigeria’s violence may have diminished the perception of its newsworthiness.

Along those lines, Charlotte Alters adds:

The reports coming out of Baga are still sketchy, and there’s not yet an official death toll because Boko Haram still controls the area. The details of the Charlie Hebdo attacks were immediately available, and were accompanied by compelling video that quickly dominated every major news network. … More importantly, the attack in Paris was largely unprecedented (Charlie Hebdo was firebombed in 2011, but nobody was hurt), while the massacre in Nigeria is part of a long string of Boko Haram attacks that some are even calling a “war“: the group killed over 10,000 people last year, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, and 1.5 million have fled their homes since the insurgency started. Plus, the fact that the Charlie Hebdo attack was a dramatic ambush of journalists may have added a layer of panic to the media coverage.

The latest on those “sketchy” reports:

Now, new satellite imagery obtained and released by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) appears to confirm that considerable damage occurred in the towns of Baga and Doro Gowon in Borno state.

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 3.33.36 PM

The scale of the damage is remarkable. Adotei Akwei, managing director of government relations at Amnesty International USA, says that the images and other evidence suggested that the death toll was “certainly 700, if not 2,000 or close to it.”

Meanwhile, a few more readers add personal perspective to both the coverage and coverage of the coverage:

In 1984, I was with a group of Canadian volunteers who came to teach English in Nigeria. We spent two weeks in Yola, then moved out to our postings in the state. Within two weeks after our departure, the central part of Yola (Jimeta) was in flames. There had been a conflict between police and a heretical Muslim sect called the Maitatsine. The crisis went on for days, and was only resolved, as we were told, after the army bombarded the central part of the city. The report was that 800 people had been killed.

Here’s the relevant part with respect to your story on Boko Haram: when the Canadian organisation contacted our families to reassure them that we were all right, it turned out that they didn’t know about the violence at all. 800 people (apparently) had died in Nigeria, and the Canadian media ran nothing about it.

Media silence on Boko Haram has only become an issue now because Western media were running stories on it in the first place, and then they died down. In 1984, the situation was worse and got no attention.

Another writes, “Try putting your son on a plane back to Nigeria”:

Thank you for bringing attention to Boko Haram, and specifically linking to Hilary Matfess’s piece. She’s got it exactly right. Boko Haram is not ISIS or Al Qaida fighting for a caliphate, exactly. Rather, it’s more like the rebelling army in a Civil War. And, if you ask an average Nigerian, it’s not so black and white as our media reports as to whom are the bad guys.

Boko Haram does this crazy shit because they’re nuts, don’t get me wrong. But Nigeria is the most corrupt country on the planet. Goodluck Jonathan sits on the top of the money pile, denying everything and doing nothing. The north has been marginalized politically and economically for way too long. Anyone who has been marginalized – going without clean water while politicians buy houses and art in Malibu – can tell you that when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose.

On a similar note, my son’s students are offspring of oil executives and corrupt politicians (they freely say that’s their parents’ job title), as well as Pakistanis who have survived their villages’ drone strikes by the US. A mix of students from such backgrounds gives you perspective. When he teaches Speech, for example, students are required to research, deconstruct, and present an important speech from someone they admire. You would expect the choices of most of the students, but some of them choose from Osama bin Laden. When your best friend or family was killed in a US drone strike, you don’t expect them to pick the Gettysburg Address.