We Western Christians Fail Our African Brothers

But we do remember all about the Charlie Hebdo attack.

By David Mills Published on April 11, 2015

None of the world’s famous and powerful marched for al-Shabab’s 148 victims at Garissa University, just as none had marched in January for Boko Haram’s 2,000 victims, as they had done when the editors of the leftwing newspaper Charlie Hebdo were killed in Paris. Far more people were murdered in Africa than in Paris, but their deaths weren’t followed by days and days of statements, analysis, paeans to the victims and gestures of solidarity.

No one expected it. The Hebdo murders, suggest the editors of the Jewish Daily Forward, “were horrifying and impactful not because of the number, but because of where they took place — in the heart of cosmopolitan Europe — and who was killed and why. And, perhaps, because the victims were white.”

The editors publicized and protested the inequality, for which they deserve praise, but I don’t think they saw all the reasons for the Western elites’ different responses. Race is certainly part of it. Many liberals are not nearly as color-blind as they believe they are and they think of Africa as a place where such things happen, so what do you do?

More to the point, the Paris attack struck close to home. The victims were journalists and journalists write the news. The terrorists hit a major Western city like the ones where the political leaders and opinion-makers live. The victims were aggressively secular. In marching for the victims, the famous and powerful were marching for themselves and their own.

Which does not apply to the victims in Nairobi and northern Nigeria. They were black Africans, not white Europeans; students, not journalists; living in the developing world, not Europe; and Christian, not modern and secular. No high official is going to fly to east Africa and march for them. The Kenyan and Nigerian victims are not their people.

They are ours. If someone could measure the amount of time American Christians spent reading about the three attacks, and the depth of of our emotional reaction, he would almost certainly find our time and emotional investment nearly as tilted to Paris as the secular Americans’. The more successful in the world, say in academia and publishing, the more this will be true. As a test, ask yourself what details of the Nigerian massacre you remember, compared with how much you remember of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. I remember a lot about the Nigerian massacre, but only because I read about it while writing this. Western journalists, even anti-Christian ones, are “our” people, Africa’s Christians a little less so.

Who Really Cares?

The Forward‘s editors noticed the relative silence of Christians about the Islamist attacks on Christians in Africa, and tried to give us an out. “Race and geography explains some of the indifference, but not all,” they said.

Christians come in many denominations and from many cultures, and don’t necessarily share the affinity that, say, Jews share worldwide — especially because, at 2 billion strong, Christians may not feel as vulnerable as 15 million Jews. So something like the Kenyan massacre “is doubtless deeply upsetting and troubling, but, we’re told, not necessarily seen as existential in the Christian world,” notes David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, who used his weekly radio spot to decry the “barbarism” of the attack.

Jews, the editors then explain, feel drawn to speak for the victims from their own historical experience. “That impulse to rescue a person from the anonymity of victimhood is something Jews know all too well. We know, too, the terrible price that is paid by global indifference to suffering and genocide.” They quote a Kenyan activist, Kennedy Odede, who said,  ‘If there is any group of people who understand what has happened to Kenyans in the Garissa attack, I would say it is the Jewish community.”

No, it is the Christian community. Or it should be.

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