On the 14th of October 2017 the world witnessed the largest death toll from a single terrorist attack in a decade. The attack was in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. 358 people are confirmed dead and hundreds more injured. This is 53 times the number of people killed in terrorist attacks in the UK from 2010-2017. The attack took place at a busy crossroads and destroyed shops, cafes, government buildings and vehicles.
After the event, Somali social media was filled with the sad and sadly familiar messages we have come to accept as normal after a tragedy; desperate attempts to locate loved ones, anger at the perpetrators and calls for solidarity. There was another theme, though, which is less common. This was a sense of abandonment by the international community in a time of crisis. Not, specifically, by governments (though there has been criticism on this front too), but by regular social media users. Much of the anguish focused on the limited use of twitter hashtags like #IamMogadishu. For many this seemed to confirm what they had suspected: the international community does not care about Somalia or its people. And they are correct if this is measured by social media- many noted that hashtags in support of Mogadishu were not ‘trending’ following the attack in the way they have done for attacks in Europe and America.
In the face of such a terrible human tragedy we must ask ourselves why there has been such a muted response from the international community, and particularly from those in ‘the west’ where social media usage is high, as is interest in world events. One explanation is there are underlying racist and Islamophobic elements to our worldviews. Perhaps a less severe way of putting this is that people are tribal, and we care more about those who are closest to us (geographically and culturally). The ‘tribal’ explanation may be somewhat true, but it is neither a defence nor universally evident. When the terrorist bombing occurred in Manchester on the 22nd May 2017 (resulting in 22 deaths), Somalis from across the world showed their support. With an estimated 2 million ethnic Somalis living in the diaspora, they do not consider attacks in western countries attacks on a disconnected group. Manchester has a thriving Somali community. Muslims, Africans and Somalis are part of societies across the west. They have minimal trouble overcoming divides like race and religion when we suffer terror attacks.
What can we do about this disconnect? It is an incredibly hard question, in part because it requires us to challenge underlying prejudices which lie deep beneath the surface. A common technique for engaging the ‘average westerner’ is to personalise the tragedies of the Global South. We can and should talk about the individuals who lost their lives in the bombing, for example Maryam Abdullahi, the medical student whose father had flown to Mogadishu for her graduation and instead witnessed her funeral. But there is something sad in holding up these stories as pleas for the international community to listen. We do not need to know the names of the Manchester victims to feel their families’ pain.
In the current climate of ‘fake news’, the rise of populist right-wing parties, the election of Donald Trump and so on, highlighting the flaws and prejudices of those in the west (especially in relation to Islam) is likely to create a storm of outrage. One regularly comes across anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim material on social media. How we counter this disturbing trend is a question we should be asking much louder than we currently are. The only way to defeat extremism is to support local communities. Recent events emphasise this starkly; not only were Somalis the victims of extremism here, they looked to us, their ‘allies’ in the war on terror, for support in their condemnation. How can we be the standard bearers of anti-extremism if we do not stand with those who have suffered from it?
There is a time for public debate over immigration, over religion and its role in extremism, and over development policies such as foreign aid. However, when a bomb kills 358 civilians there is no debate. It is a tragedy, and we should all stand by Mogadishu.
Featured image | At the villa : cts now | flickr
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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