After the highly covered terrorist attacks in Paris, Nice, Berlin, Orlando, Manchester, London, and Las Vegas in recent years, hashtags such as #PrayforLondon or #JeSuisParis quickly trended on social media. People added frames to their Facebook profile pictures to show solidarity with victims and their grieving cities. Many even launched online campaigns to raise money for the victims of these attacks. With the media, and consequently the world rallying behind them, these cities received funding and support in their path to recovery. Somalia, a country in the wake of one of the most tragic terrorist attacks in its history, has not elicited slogans claiming global solidarity. There are no inspiring images or viral videos of celebrities talking about the tragedy with soft piano music in the background. There is no television special. No emergency fundraisers. No viral hashtags. Western media has no desire to talk about a Muslim-majority country in Africa that suffered a horrible terrorist attack because such a country does not fit the West’s go-to terrorism narrative.
The attacks last Saturday targeted a busy street close to several ministries near the Somali capital, Mogadishu. With a death toll of over 358 and dozens still missing, the attack is one of the worst terrorist atrocities in the country’s history and has been labeled a “national disaster” by Somalia’s government. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declared three days of mourning following the tragedy. Meanwhile, civilian protests condemning the attacks ensued. The Somali government blamed Al-Shabab, a terrorist group with an enduring presence in Mogadishu.
A spokesman for Somalia’s army confirmed offensive plans, involving thousands of troops, to push Al-Shabab fighters out of the Lower Shabelle and Middle Shabelle areas where many attacks have been launched in the recent past. In January, 28 people were murdered when a car bomb drove into a hotel close to Parliament which was followed by the detonation of another device upon the ambulance’s arrival. Another attack in June resulted in the loss of 31 civilians in a local pizza restaurant.
Turkey allowed for over 100 wounded people to be flown into the country for medical aid. Kenya and Ethiopia have also offered to send medical aid to Somalia. The U.S. has recently stepped up military involvement in the area after President Donald Trump approved expansion of operations against the group earlier this year. Since January, the United States has carried out at least 19 drone strikes in Somalia, as reported by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The United States’ drone strike on Friday is confirmation of its continued fight against Al-Shabab.
Despite this military assistance, the media’s silence in the wake of the attack has been deafening. Unfortunately, ignoring terrorist attacks in Muslim countries is the rule rather than an exception in the West. The perpetual neglect from the West of ‘the rest’ is indicative of the West’s habit of ignoring that which does not fit our Euro-American narrative—a narrative that portrays the West as the sole and unprovoked victim of Islamic terrorism. This narrative surrounding terrorism is at odds with the undeniable fact that the overwhelming majority of victims of such terrorist attacks are Muslim. Thus, through the lens of this narrative, Somalia’s nearly 99% Muslim population is deemed undeserving of global solidarity despite the unprecedented severity of the attack.
The attack in Somalia is by no means the only incident in a Muslim-majority country that has been ignored. Many lives were lost in a double suicide attack in November 2015 in Beirut, Lebanon. However, this attack was overshadowed days later by the attack in the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, France. The implicit message rendered by the lack of coverage is that this brand of terror is indigenous and commonplace in places like Somalia—places that have Muslim majorities and are non-Western.
In particular, there persists a Euro-American perception of anarchy as an African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian novelty. The predominance of this idea is largely due to the fact that these regions are not allowed to tell their own stories in Western media. The agenda for news from these regions is generally determined by exactly one American or European foreign correspondent responsible for news across an entire region or even a continent. With this in mind, it is no surprise that these reports lack necessary historical and social context. Thus, global subscribers of these Western narratives define Africa by its tribalism but know nothing about how European colonists neglected tribal history when they divided Africa into colonies and countries that served their economic interests. They know of the Middle East as being a breeding ground for international terrorism, but know nothing about how Western powers’ support for dictatorial regimes has been instrumental in the creating, arming, and oftentimes even radicalizing these groups. Thus, our media reports on the world from its Euro-American lens that is impermeable to a counter-narrative.
The same media channels which encourage us to change our Facebook statuses to “I am Manchester” or “#PrayforOrlando” are the very ones which prevent Africans from sharing their story, and thus, are the same channels perpetuating and reifying distortionary Western narratives.