Je ne suis pas Nigeria
Last week, terrorist organization Boko Haram killed over 100 people in Nigeria. According to Amnesty International, 2000 people have been killed. During the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris, 17 people died. Why do we see people holding up ‘Je suis Charlie’ signs, but no ‘Je suis Nigeria’?
Europe is mourning the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack more than the victims in Nigeria. Why exactly? Boko Haram even used a little girl as a suicide bomber. According to cosmopolitanism professor Ralf Bodelier, there are several explanations for this. “People sympathize more with victims they can identify themselves with. The victims in Paris are more similar to us as Europeans. Not only on the outside, but the places we live in are also alike. We can relate to a Frenchman more easily than to a Nigerian.” Another obvious explanation is the difference in geographic distance. The closer to home something happens, the more shaken we are. On top of that, there is another factor, according to Bodelier. “In the west, it is not done to shoot a journalist. Maybe we expect it to happen more in non-western countries.”
Us against them
That the Charlie Hebdo attack has a terrorist nature, also contributes greatly to our feelings of sympathy, according to victimology professor Anthony Pemberton. Terrorism makes us scared for our own situation. A terrorist attack like this is a symbolic attack on the values of our society. It goes further than a ‘normal’ crime. “The attack in Paris was an attack on the freedom of press and freedom of speech. With that, it was an attack on the essential values of Europe. This makes it even worse for us.” On top of this, there is a very unpleasant detail: “The impact of the attack would have been different if the terrorists were two white men. Now, it really is ‘us’ against ’them’. This also plays a role in why we are less interested in Nigeria. It is less clear in that situation who ‘we’ and ’they’ are.”
Isn’t it a sign op hypocrisy to care more about the victims in Paris, just because they are more like us and our own values are at stake? According to Bodelier, it isn’t, it even makes sense that we care more about people that live near us. Pemberton agrees: “People just care more about the people around them.” According to him, there is only a small group of people that can call themselves ‘world citizen’. “The vast majority of the population is rooted somewhere and is a ‘we’. We may pretend that this isn’t the case, but we do behave like it is.”