We Are Not Kenyan

2015-04-06 14:41

It is not possible to react with real emotion to every tragedy that we are introduced to. Some capture our imagination and our hearts. And some, although unarguably more tragic, leave us saddened but not adequately moved. Last week’s massacre by Islamic extremists at Garissa University College in Kenya, where students were sorted by religion and then butchered if they were not of the Moslem faith is one such example. The incident was reported with the objective distance we would have expected from news agencies of old and the box checked in terms of covering stories of importance.

But most the reporting lacked heart. And most of the reporting failed to ignite real emotion and real outrage. And so, a few days after one of the more tragic events of the year, the death of these students has already receded steadily and obstinately and soon will be an occurrence that is vaguely familiar, but not quite clear in our minds.

Compare that to the 150 people who died in the GermanWings air disaster a few weeks prior. Ask us what we know about that event and we will tell you in detail the name of the pilot and that of the co pilot and details of the co pilot’s girlfriend and all the events that lead up the tragedy. And we can name the school that the children on board were attending and we can recount the tweets that were sent prior to the flight. And we read about leaked reports and conspiracy theories and we won’t forget the event. Not for a long time anyway.

Compare that to Charlie Hebdo where the murder of less than twenty inspired and corralled leaders around the globes to protest. And where millions of people marched against the murder of the journalists and the assault on freedom of expression. And where we knew who “RSVP”d” if they would or would not attend. And we still use “Je Suis Someone” when we can and we knew the weather in Paris on the day of the protest. And we will never forget the event. Not for a long time anyway.

And as comfortable as it would be to do so, I am not sure that we can blame the muted response on the reporting of the Kenyan slaughter. Because we have seen many examples of the social media tail wagging the mainstream media dog. We are able to follow the trends and see what people are talking about. And measure the outrage. And we are able to ascertain what it is that they are not particularly moved by. But we are unable to determine why. And this is the challenge.

Africans will tell you that its because the world doesn’t care about those on the continent. And would certainly have historic basis to feel this. But that doesn’t explain why South African media follows the same patterns as their global counterparts. Nor does it explain the shameful response to the Syrian crisis where hundreds of thousands have lost their lives and millions their homes. It’s not an African problem; it seems to be one of subject matter. It seems to be one where the issues are so complex and the answers so unfathomable and so uncomfortable that moving on to the next story is the only option. And if the names of the dead are to be forgotten in the crossfire of our unease, then that is simply the cost of business in this very expensive world.

It is more than a little shameful that is seems possible that we can hear about and read about an afternoon when 150 students were murdered because of a religion that they didn’t practice by those who did. Or claimed that they did. And that we are able to shake our heads, that we are only momentarily sad, but then we are able to return to wondering what medication Andrea Lubitz, the GermanWings co pilot was meant to be taking when he flew his plane into the Alps. It is more than just a little shameful, in my view.

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