By Gideon Feit
Less than a month ago, on October 14th, 358 Somalians were killed in a massive dual truck bombing in Mogadishu. Not only was this the deadliest attack in Somalia’s history, it was also one of the deadliest terrorist attacks since 9/11. Yet the attack received minimal attention from the media and citizens in the West. I’m sure some may have skimmed past the awful headline somewhere online, if they even encountered it. But how come this attack drew very little furor worldwide?
Of course, all the international leaders said the right things about condemning terrorism in strongly worded statements or tweets. But I’d be hard-pressed to remember seeing a single post about this on social media. There was no “Pray for Mogadishu” campaign on Facebook, no flags of Somalia superimposed on friends’ profile pictures, no real substantial attention at all. Why the unequal attention to the recent attacks in Western Europe and North America? Is it because Somalia has had such a volatile and violent history in recent years? Or something else?
It could be that here in the West, we are unfortunately myopic: we are predisposed to care more about attacks in the West than elsewhere in the world. Had this attack occurred in any downtown city in Europe or America, we would still be fixated on it a month later. But like so many other heinous terrorist attacks that happen outside the West, we can read about it, feel bad for a little while, and do very little else. Why is it that when an attack outside of America happens, one of the primary media angles focuses on how many American lives were lost? Is this simply an ethnocentric aspect of caring more for our own? If so, how do we break free from this shallow and careless cycle?
Ethnocentrism is defined as the evaluation of other cultures according to the standards and customs of one’s own. In the West, much of the ethnocentric belief system is that we are more “civilized” and less violent than many other parts of the world. This can be seen in many of the “White Savior Complex” issues that arise in international development. One example of this is embodied through volunteerism that helps the volunteer achieve an emotional experience in a non-Western country while doing little to actually help that country. Volunteerism as an industry is now worth over $2 billion dollars. Last year, of the 1.1 million international volunteers, 88% were white and 1 in 3 came from a household that made at least double the average American income. Instead of simply throwing money at complicated issues we ought to strive to really understand them. The same goes for our media coverage and even our own reactions to terrorism in non-Western regions of the world.
When we are predisposed to believe these foreign regions of the world are inherently violent and less “sophisticated,” it allows us to write off terrorist attacks like the one in Mogadishu. It fits into the convenient model we have built in our minds, which is then reinforced in both the mainstream media and social media. We need to be more aware of this bias and how it limits our perspective before we can truly change it. Awareness is the first step in the right direction. When we disregard whole regions of the world, we are essentially condemning them as being beneath us. If we truly care about fighting terrorism, we have to care about its effect on humanity as a whole, not merely one specific part of the globe – and not just where it is convenient.