On April 2, 2015, 147 students at Garissa University College in Garissa, Kenya were massacred by members of the Islamic terrorist group Al-Shabaab. As reports of the brutal killings flooded in through global networks, prime-time American news outlets were deafeningly silent.
In fact, I did not know of the massacre until I read an article about it in The New York Times.
Many people had expected the slaughter to be plastered over every news network in America, much like the executions of the French writers at the office of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, on Jan. 7, 2015. Many people took to social media sites complaining of the lack of coverage of the Kenyan massacre, comparing it with the seemingly unrelenting coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. However, I feel the main reasons behind this seemingly-unfazed attitude towards this particular massacre are the increased frequency of Islamic terror attacks in that region of the world coupled with a lack of cultural connection between the average American and Kenya.
I will start off by explaining the latter. Americans seem to have a cultural-dissociation with the rest of the world. This is not necessarily a bad thing and is most likely due to a history of isolationist policies by the U.S. government as well as a general inability to draw connections to people halfway around the world. But in the case of the Garissa and Charlie Hebdo massacres, it is far easier for us as Americans to identify with Paris than it is for us to identify with Garissa.
I would argue it does not have to do with race. Rather, I would argue that as Americans, France has constantly been in the forefront of our cultural consciousness. How many of us would like to visit France someday? Or how many of our favorite movies take place in France? Hell, we are taught about the history between France and America as soon as we can read. By contrast, few if any Americans have Kenya in their cultural consciousness, let alone be able to identify Kenya on a map. We, as a people, have no real history with Kenya, and the distance between us and Kenya both physically and culturally makes it difficult for us to identify with those in other parts of the world.
I think another reason for this indifference by the news networks can be blamed by the sheer number of terrorist acts committed in that general region of the world, as in Africa and the Middle East. Every few days, be it on the BBC’s website or a small portion of the daily news, I am informed of yet another massacre committed by Islamic extremists in a part of the world most of us know nothing about, committed by groups whose name we cannot pronounce, against people we will never know. By contrast, the Charlie Hebdo massacre was performed in a part of the world most of us can envision, against people some of us knew, trying to destroy ideals central to the American identity.
Please do not think this article is in any way a justification of the silence by news networks of this massacre. I stand with those in Garissa. Not only do I stand with them, but I mourn for them. They were just like you and me—college students, trying to better themselves through education. Like myself, they were Christians, and many were executed for their faith and their refusal to renounce it.
But most importantly, they were more than a number. They were not just 147 people. They were brothers and daughters, sisters and sons. They were students and friends, husbands and wives. They were doctors and lawyers, teachers and engineers. They were Christians and Muslims, Kenyans and Africans. Most importantly, they were human beings, just like you and me.
It is a true tragedy that these young men and women had their lives taken from them in such an abrupt and terrifying matter. I pray that their families can come together in this time of mourning and overcome the loss of their children, and that the souls of all those who lost their lives may rest in peace.