Who: Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group in Nigeria formerly infamous for the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping. The group’s name literally translates to “Western education is forbidden.”
When: Jan. 7, 2015 — notably the same day that gunmen stormed the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, killing 12 members of the satirical magazine’s staff.
What happened: Beginning in the morning on Jan. 7, members of Boko Haram launched massive military assaults on the towns of Baga and Doron Baga in a northern region of Nigeria. The attacks destroyed over 50 percent of the towns, displacing over 20,000 people.
A report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports that nearly 2,000 people were killed in a single day. That’s the same size as the entire student body of East, wiped out in 24 hours.
Soldiers charged with protecting the city — which lies in a region torn apart by conflict between Boko Haram and the government — fled their posts after an initial onslaught. The innocents left in the city, fearing the soldiers’ gruesome killing tactics, often chose to drown themselves by attempting to swim across Lake Chad rather than facing the terrorists. The city of Baga burned to the ground.
The victims were indiscriminate. Muslims and Christians, men, women and children of every race, ethnicity and religion were killed in the attack. Those who survived were left with nowhere to go, in a region quickly becoming a caliphate controlled by Boko Haram.
Why this affects Americans: This attack occurred on the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attacks. It stems from the same hatred that inspired the Paris attacks — a radical fear of Western civilization and a destructive desire to demolish freedom of expression.
The next day in Paris, over 3.5 million people took to the streets to defend free speech and show firm opposition to terrorist attacks. The next day in America, magazines and newspapers alike ran front-page headlines on the horror, the outrage and the disgust surrounding the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
The next day in Nigeria, 20,000 fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, mourned their 2,000 dead as they walked — often barefoot, carrying whatever they could grab before fleeing their homes — into the unknown, hoping for a better tomorrow.
And we said nothing.
The American press did not cover the Nigerian attacks. It took over a week for Americans to wake up, to realize the shocking, repulsive murders that took place in another continent. Although 2,000 people died, we looked the other way.
This is wrong. As a journalist, I am ashamed.
I am ashamed that our press did not give equal coverage — if not more coverage — to this Nigerian massacre. I am ashamed that our government did not issue a statement condemning the attacks of both Boko Haram and the militants in Paris. I am ashamed of world leaders for not recognizing that the two tragedies are connected, intertwined in this narrative of hate that radicals have been propagating for many years.
This has to stop. We — as a country, as a nation where free speech is heralded and supported — must cry out for justice against any terror attack. Any attempt to silence a voice, in any country, in any continent, must be taken as a personal affront to our own freedoms of expression.
As Americans, we are free. But our duties, as citizens of this Earth, extend beyond our own personal freedoms. We must take action, raise our free voices, to defend those who are not free, who are daily victims of terror and violence.
We were once silent about the murders committed by Boko Haram. We can’t be silent anymore. Most importantly, we can’t allow other voices to be silenced anymore.
Or what? What could happen? This is a third world country, teetering on the edge of collapse, so far from our luxurious lifestyle of Friday night football games and winter break cruises and early morning cups of Starbucks. Why should we care?
I’ll tell you what will happen. If we don’t speak for the voiceless, and fight for the weak, Boko Haram will keep killing. They will keep killing and burning and destroying that country until it doesn’t exist anymore. And they will be killing people, human beings, who have families and dreams about the future.
If you, as an American, don’t value those lives as much as the lives of the staff of Charlie Hebdo, then Boko Haram has already won. They have already succeeded in convincing the world that those lives are worthless and extinguishable.
We can’t allow that hypocrisy. We can’t allow that kind of evil. We must fight back against murder — wherever it is committed — if we can ever hope to see a world at peace.