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The division between the West and the rest

by Ben Fraser October 31, 2017
The division between the West and the rest

The media’s late response to the attack in Somalia highlights our sense of disconnect

When a truck bomb in Mogadishu, Somalia, detonated on a busy street on Oct. 14, it claimed more than 300 lives. It was the country’s deadliest attack in years, according to Al Jazeera. Despite this, there was a severe lack of response from Western media. It is a reaction I believe to be common when a deadly attack happens in a country far away from our own.

I consume a lot of news, and yet I didn’t hear about the attack in Somalia through mainstream news outlets until days later. Now compare the media coverage of the violence in Somalia with attacks in places like England, France or the United States. In the latter cases, Western mainstream media often talk or write about the topic for weeks, whether it’s to condemn the violence, commemorate the victims or investigate the root cause. Stories about the Las Vegas shooting, for example, are still being told by the news media almost a month later. Yet our extensive local coverage was not only because four Canadians were killed in the attack, but because it happened in the West.

News stories thrive on tragedies, but more importantly, on the connection the audience feels to those tragedies. It may seem unfair that attacks in the Western world get more coverage than similar events elsewhere, and it is somewhat. That being said, I don’t believe it is because the Western world values certain lives over others. I believe it is about feeling more sympathy for those we relate to more.

Unlike after the attack in Paris in November 2015, there was no Facebook campaign allowing you to make your profile picture filter the Somalian flag. To me, it seems simple why this did not happen. The Paris attack quickly became worldwide news, while Mogadishu did not. It’s a shame the Somalia attack didn’t receive the same attention on social media, but I don’t believe Facebook would devote their resources to a cause that isn’t considered major news in the Western world.

According to the Global Terrorism Database, the vast majority of terror attacks occur in the Middle East and North Africa. When war-torn or unstable countries like Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq appear in the news, it is often through stories of casualties caused by war or terrorism. Since tragedy is all we hear about in these nations, we have become desensitized to the violence taking place there.

In comparison, the type of stories we hear and read about from countries like England, France and the United States are more varied and highlight our shared cultures. As such, hearing about major terror attacks in Western countries is like hearing about one here in Montreal—it feels like home.

Now don’t get me wrong: it isn’t a good thing that the Western world is like this. I do believe we should care for the well-being of people around the world. However, it is also not surprising that we tend to disregard regions that are plagued with harsh political climates. The bottom line is, when we believe violence is common place in particular countries, we are less likely to mourn when these attacks happen.

It hurts me to write this, but it is one of the ugly truths of our society. In the Western daily news cycle, there is no time for events that the audience shares no connection to. When the local connection to the story is lost, so is its ability to resonate with us. As unfortunate as this is, it’s what leads attacks in the Middle East and Africa to be depicted as minor stories.

It is a terrible shame that terror attacks claim the lives of people in those regions. It’s a shame that the lives claimed in future attacks will not receive much air time in the Western news media. However, that is simply the way the world works. We sympathize with people who we connect with.

At the moment, our connection with people in troubled regions of the world is severed. In order for this connection to be re-established, we need to understand that violence isn’t and shouldn’t be the norm anywhere in the world. Regardless of the fact that we are different as human beings, our compassion for one another must bring us together in dark times.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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