Home / General / Does Racism Influence Our Response to Terrorist Organizations?

Does Racism Influence Our Response to Terrorist Organizations?



Probably. Boko Haram is as if not more deadly than ISIS. But because it is strictly in Africa, the media hardly covers it at all. Yet ISIS is the epitome of terrorism because they kill white people. This is reflected in policy as well, with far more political attention paid to ISIS than Boko Haram.

On November 13, 2015, ISIS members coordinated a bombing attack throughout France that brutally massacred 130 innocent souls from Paris to Saint-Denis. The world sat in disbelief at the audacity of the attacks, and prayers everywhere went out to France.

On January 31, 2016, just earlier this week, the Nigerian terrorist faction Boko Haram savagely killed 86 people in Dalori Village by firebombing huts and burning innocent children alive. Just 5 kms outside of northeast Nigeria’s largest city, a survivor recalled hearing unimaginable screams as their flesh was burnt away from their bodies.

Yet, days later, the executions of these same innocent victims of extremism have not garnered the world’s attention. While the mainstream media response about this tragedy has been underwhelming, the added calamity lies in how the Obama administration has seemingly neglected to treat Boko Haram and the victims of their maniacal violence with the same resources and attention that has been provided to ISIS and victims throughout Europe.

This past October, President Obama deployed 300 U.S. Armed Forces personnel to Cameroon to surveil Boko Haram, but it all seemed ‘too little too late.” The Pentagon recently asked for $7.5 billion dollars to take on ISIS in 2017. Despite the fact that Boko Haram and ISIL are responsible for half of all terrorism deaths, the response to both is clearly uneven in many ways.

We prayed and mourned with France. Global leaders pledged swift justice to those responsible. Every presidential candidate had to address the Paris attacks, including Donald Trump, who used the moment to promote prejudice against Muslims. Most American politicians took a stance on whether or not ground troops should be sent to confront ISIS on the battlefield.
-Boko Haram burns kids alive in Nigeria-

Yet the continual slaughter of innocent Africans has not elicited an equal response from the nation or from the Obama Administration, when in fact Boko Haram is the most deadly Islamic terror group on Earth. This is no exaggeration. In 2014, Boko Haram killed 6,664 people, while ISIS was responsible for 6,073 deaths. Boko Haram is also the faction that kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from Government Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria, which prompted the viral #BringBackOurGirls hashtag.

I know the story here is more complicated than just racism, but this scenario sure reinforces the fact that the United States and its citizens simply care less about Africans than any other people in the world. And then gets reflected in both media coverage and foreign policy priorities.

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  • CrunchyFrog

    Well, racism sure influences media coverage. But for policy my impression (please correct if wrong) is that ISIS, Al Qaeda, etc. are all in what PNAC labeled the “Arc of Instability”, which of course was of great interest to PNAC because of the abundance of fossil fuels. By contrast, my impression is that Boko Haram’s sphere of influence isn’t nearly as interesting to energy companies.

    And to be clear, energy companies are a prime driver of the US foreign and military policies.

    • rea

      Boko Haram’s sphere of influence isn’t nearly as interesting to energy companies.

      Nigeria is one of the biggest exporters of crude oil in the world–comparable in production to Iraq.

      • joe from Lowell

        The oil produced in Nigeria comes from the delta region in the south. Book Haram is nowhere near it.

        There has been some oil found in the Lake Chad region, but there is little to no infrastructure producing there.

        • joe from Lowell

          I should also add, Boko Haram is also nowhere near overthrowing the Nigerian government or taking the capital. There were people talking about ISIS going to Baghdad.

        • DrDick

          However, Boko Haram is active in Niger and could threaten a major source of uranium.

          • joe from Lowell

            But does the nuclear industry actually count as “energy companies (that are) a prime driver of US foreign and military policies,” as Crunchy Frog was discussing?

            Are there really uranium wars, as there are oil wars?

    • farin

      Isn’t Nigeria a fairly large oil producer?

    • Thom

      Boko Haram is based in Nigeria, a major oil-producing state. They are not in the oil-producing region, but US petri-interests certainly include Nigeria.

      • DrS

        US petri-interests certainly include Nigeria.

        I’d love a post where we could just dish.

        • Thom

          Ha. Yeah, I meant petro-interests.

    • Arouet

      That rather overstates the case. Energy policy, which includes and affects energy companies, is one driver among many of U.S. military and foreign policy. And the linkage between fossil fuel companies and foreign policy is further related to the level of U.S. dependency on fuel imports. Which is at its lowest level in a generation.

      You could far more readily argue our involvement is a legacy we can’t shake of the stronger linkage in the early days of the Bush Administration, and perhaps even the H.W. Bush Administration.

  • Nobdy

    I think race definitely plays a part, but there is also an element of how welcome we feel our “interference” would be.

    The U.S. has strong ties to France as a NATO ally (and our oldest ally from the revolutionary war, at that) and there are incredibly strong trade and diplomatic ties. The countries frequently share intelligence, and we think our help and offers of aid would be welcomed by the French basically universally.

    On the flipside, American/European involvement in issues in Africa is often viewed (rightfully) with suspicion and neo-colonialism. We could send foreign aid in the form of money, and sometimes we do send advisors, but I think there’s a perception that they don’t really want us there.

    There’s also the fact that the tactics and targets in France are much closer to how they’d look in the U.S. A few armed militants attacking public places in large cities (and in fact I believe the Paris attack was partially against a venue where a U.S. band was playing and U.S. citizens were in attendance.) If the terrorists can infiltrate Paris they can infiltrate New York is how the thinking goes.

    Compare this to Boko Haram attacks which are frequently large groups of armed men basically invading villages and kidnapping large numbers of people, directly challenging the government. This looks more like an armed insurgency than small surgical strikes of carnage. The U.S. has no memory of that kind of terrorist insurgency (Y’all Qaeda doesn’t count since they never targeted civilians and the only person who got killed was one of theirs) so it’s just a different kind of terrorist attack that’s harder to wrap our brains around. Now it DOES look similar to ISIS in that way, but there are special reasons why ISIS scares us.

    Think about it this way. How much did the U.S. care about the Taliban (which was in many ways similar to Boko Haram) before 9/11?

    We cared about them so much we armed them and they were praised by Rambo in Rambo III.

    • Just_Dropping_By

      The level of media coverage is also clearly strongly related to the availability of media assets. Paris and London have massive international media presences independent of anything to do with terrorism. Refugee camps and rural villages in Nigeria, not nearly as much, and such local media presences as might be in those area are quite likely to be fearful of both Boko Haram and the Nigerian military/law enforcement.

    • Ronan

      Imo We don’t really need complicated arguments for why a Group that arises out of a western war in a region with an on going terror threat to western interests, and that explicitly hits western targets for strategic and recruitment purposes, manages to develop attention in western countries.
      Is racism a part ? Perhaps, but probably a trivial one.

      • DrDick

        You just described Boko Haram to a T. Why don’t we hear more about them?

        • joe from Lowell

          Which western war did Boko Haram arise from?

          • joe from Lowell

            This isn’t a gotcha. I’m curious if you are attributing this conflict to, I dunno, some colonial war. Or maybe just missed that item in Ronan’s list. Or what?

            • DrDick

              That would be the one exception, but otherwise I stand by my stateement.

              • joe from Lowell


                No, I’m kidding. No biggie.

        • Ronan

          Don’t be disingenuous. I really can’t believe you can’t see the historical, political, strategic and geopolitical reasons isis gets more attention in the west than boko haram. I acknowledge racism could have something to do with it, but burden of proof is on those (imo) claiming an important causal role to show it.
          And this would take an argument more than eight lines about isis killing white people, or how we’re all too comfortable in our bourgeoisie white world, it would take (you know) an actual argument. An argument that also accounts for why we concentrate more on some conflicts than others (including why boko,haram gets more attention than many other separatist movements inside and outside of Africa)
          Why, for example, did the ira get more publicity than eta in the anglo world? Because they were white? Or because they were attacking Britain, in a conflict that resonated with a significant enough part of the anglo worlds popukation, and had institutional support in those political systems and Societies ?
          “Because racism” is a lazy argument

          • DrDick

            “Because racism” is a lazy argument

            It is certainly not the whole story, but it is definitely part of the story. Ignoring it is disingenuous. at best.

            • Ronan

              I explicitly said race was probably part of it, but even on this narrow ground I don’t see how what you’re talking bout is only race . It’s also about incomprehension built on poverty and cultural difference, and life experiences we can’t meaningfully associate with

              • DrDick

                Say what? We are talking about why ISIL gets more attention from the US press and policy makers here.

              • Pseudonym

                It’s also about incomprehension built on poverty and cultural difference, and life experiences we can’t meaningfully associate with

                But enough about the Irish…

      • Pseudonym

        I think the media and political attention that ISIS gets compared to Boko Haram can be explained by many factors other than racism, e.g. the threat they pose to the U.S. But the popular reaction and outpouring of sentiment in the U.S. that occurred in the wake of the Paris attacks made it clear that as a people we identify much more with the French victims of terrorism than the Nigerian ones, just as we identify much more with the French victims of ISIS than the Iraqi or Syrian ones.

        • Ronan

          Well yes, but there are other non racial common identities at play there as well

          • Pseudonym

            Technically, yes, we are valuing lives based on their nationality rather than their race, but I don’t see that as a substantial improvement morally, even if it’s completely explicable.

            • Ronan

              Well most people don’t instinctively value all life equally, or at least feel each death equally. We move outwards from those we most associate with. This happens here all the time (as joe) mentions below) People who explicitly state they value the security and prosperity of their community (look at the trade threads) over communities they don’t live in. So this argument in the form it takes here (I’m not saying from you specifically) doesn’t really work, for me, as anything beyond a bit of rhetoric to signal righteousness.
              I agree we should do better, and try to correct those parts of our perspective that devalue life elsewhere (and not only race and nationality, but culture and poverty), but it’s never the point in these threads or types of conversations, where the point is to show moral righteousness , to the political convenience of the author, rather than to convince the reader

              • Pseudonym

                but it’s never the point in these threads or types of conversations, where the point is to show moral righteousness , to the political convenience of the author, rather than to convince the reader

                That’s not fair; Loomis has actually written some very important and well-reviewed books about these subjects, although he’s loath to ever bring it up in these contentious threads.

              • DrDick

                Not true at all. Loomis merely points out obvious and uncomfortable truths and challenges us to broaden our horizons. I agree with him that if we are willing to ignore slavery in SE Asian fisheries or the lethal working conditions of Bangladeshi workers and buy the products they produce, then we are complicit in their fate. He certainly never assumes that we are aware of these things before he posts them.

    • Jake the antisoshul soshulist

      Remember the scene at the end of Rambo III where Rambo waved at OSB.

  • rea

    Boko Haram is less of a threat to American citizens than ISIS.

    • joe from Lowell

      This is a good argument, however: there hadn’t been any attacks on America when we started spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fight them. There had, however, been the erasure of an international border, and military defeats of Kurdish and Iraqi forces.

      • Arouet

        Good analysis, but just to add some more points:

        1) Initial U.S. involvement in the fight against ISIS is probably strongly linked to: a) the efficacy of the group – Boko Haram doesn’t present the same existential threat to, say, Nigeria, that ISIS did to Iraq when they were driving on Baghdad, b) past U.S. experience with Middle East-based terrorism is extensive and so we fear a repeat, while the same can’t be said of African non-state actors, who don’t tend to strike overseas, and c) our policy role in creating the conditions for the Syrian civil war and our sense of responsibility for the political future of Iraq.

        2) One could argue we’re deploying resources in each case to match the scale of the threat to state authority and the regional order. We’re doing a fair amount in Africa in partner-nation support, but while Boko Haram may kill just as many people they’re not necessarily more threatening to regional stability. The Syrian government kills way more people than ISIS, but we’re not bombing them either – that’s not an accident.

        • Nobdy

          We were invested in propping up the Iraqi government, in part to keep Iraq from becoming a breeding ground for terrorism, in part for the oil.

          ISIS was (and sort of remains) an existential threat to that very government we had spent billions upon billions propping up and were still dedicated to supporting.

          We don’t need a direct assault on U.S. citizens or territory for them to directly attack our interests in a way that Boko Haram never has.

          • Arouet

            The political credibility factor was sort of my point – it wouldn’t look good for anyone in the U.S. to “rebuild” Iraq, leave, and have it collapse wholesale 2 years later. Don’t know if I truly believe “for the oil” was a serious part of it. But agreed otherwise.

            • joe from Lowell

              Certainly, the oil makes us care enough to support that government and not want it to collapse.

              If only by making the region strategically important.

              “For the oil” doesn’t necessarily mean “Let’s kick his ass and take his gas.”

              • Arouet

                Sure, we care what happens to any country that has energy resources, but in a vacuum some danger to the relatively small portion of the oil market controlled by Iraq would not have warranted a large-scale U.S. military intervention at a time when the U.S. is pumping more oil than ever and prices are generally low. We probably would have tried to solve it with other policy tools, or a smaller-scale application of force.

                I read the original comment as closer to the “kick his ass and take his gas” implication than to what you’re talking about.

          • JonH

            “ISIS was (and sort of remains) an existential threat to that very government we had spent billions upon billions propping up and were still dedicated to supporting.”

            Um, not just the government. ISIS isn’t Bernie Sanders.

    • Not just less of a threat — they have shown no interest in acting outside of their locality. They don’t appear to pose any external threat whatsoever. Also, they are unsophisticated, uneducated, very lightly armed, and dirt poor.

      No comparison with IS whatsoever.

  • Marc

    There was a lot of publicity about the kidnapping of hundreds of girls and young women, and there has been regular news about their massacres. I reject the premise. There is less news here because they aren’t exporting their killing directly to the first world. Also, Nigeria isn’t exactly covering itself with glory; the corruption and incompetence of the state there has enabled BH to survive for so long, and it has made it fruitless to send aid – which is simply embezzled.

    What response are we supposed to have? I have to confess that pieces like the one linked annoy me because they’re hectoring without any actual action plan. And on top of that, we’re supposed to be ashamed because we care more about a group responsible for 6000 killing than one with 6600? Is the next piece why we should care more about car crashes?

    • Just_Dropping_By

      Actually, we should care far more about car crashes, since literally a few thousands times more Americans have been killed in the last five years by car crashes than have been killed in attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS combined. imagine how safe our roadways would be if we’d spent the 100+ billion dollars we spent on security theater, military aid and adventurism, etc. during that same period of time on improved signalling, traffic calming measures, divided highways, grade separated rail crossings, etc.

      • joe from Lowell

        Should we care more about car crashes than police shootings? The former cause at least 20x the number of fatalities as the latter. There is more worth considering than the number of fatalities last year when we consider public policy priorities. That’s why “What about black-on-black crime?” is such a terrible argument.

        Also, when thinking about spending on reducing auto fatalities, you have to consider the additional money spent on cars because of safety features. That may not be the government directly spending the money (although much of it is because of government regulatory mandates), but it’s still society spending it.

      • Thom

        Also helping with road construction and repair in Africa would do more than just about any other type of aid to make things better for ordinary people. Traffic accidents take a huge toll in terms of death and injury in Africa, and lousy roads are a huge inhibition to commerce.

    • Lost Left Coaster

      There is less news here because they aren’t exporting their killing directly to the first world.

      Yeah, I’m pretty sure that this was one of the points of the post. People in places like North America don’t care because the people affected by Boko Haram are mostly people whose lives are valued much less in the global order.

      • Nick056

        This is sort of a weird and misleading thing to say. People have pledged allegiance to ISIS and committed horrific crimes in the US. That’s obviously going to be more of a story in the US than events that don’t touch our shores so directly.

        That’s a separate conversation from whether people are too invested in or afraid of ISIS as a threat to the US. Pretty obviously I think those who view ISIS as an existential threat are ridiculously misinformed. But it is a threat to the US in a way that Boko Harem is not, in terms of both lone wolf terrorism and regional stability of the Mideast. In terms of media discussion, that’s the driver. To talk about lives valued much less in the global order just brings it into a realm where Americans are implicitly calloused because they pay more attention to events that are more clearly directed at them.

  • joe from Lowell

    Probably. Boko Haram is as if not more deadly than ISIS. But because it is strictly in Africa, the media hardly covers it at all. Yet ISIS is the epitome of terrorism because they kill white people.

    Almost. You were doing so well until that last part. You might remember, ISIS was strictly killing Kurds and Arabs when they became the epitome of terrorism.

    The racism angle here is about geopolitics. If Africa goes to hell, that’s sad, but it doesn’t really matter much to the United States. If the strategically-vital Middle East goes to hell, that’s a big problem for us.

    The story is more complicated, but not so much because of reasons other than racism. Rather, because the role of racism is more complicated than the white people/black people theory expressed in the article.

    • Lurker

      There is also another angle. We Europeans like to think that we are your most important allies. The war in Syria is a direct threat to Turkey, and causes a massive influx of refugees to Europe, destabilising the EU. ISIS is a pretty straight-forward threat to us, and this may cause some bias in media coverage. If the BBC covers something well, the American media is pulled to follow.

  • Cassiodorus

    When I saw the title of this post, I assumed it was going to be about how right-wing militia groups have killed far more Americans than ISIS, et al. have. Still think that ties in, but from the opposite direction.

    • alex284

      And can you imagine the facile commentary if the media did care more about BH than it does about ISIS? “The media looooooves to portray black people are murderers, but not people of other races! Racists!”

  • Brownian

    I did my part by changing my Facebook profile pic from the French “Je Suis Charlie” to the Yoruba version: “Mo wa Charlie.”

    • Just_Dropping_By

      Now that is quality Kinja LGM!

  • Nick never Nick

    There have always been massive disparities in which remote tragedies are noticed and which are ignored. At the turn of the century, Leopold’s Congo was infamous; the French regime right next door which used the same practices, right down to cutting off the hands of slaves who failed to meet their rubber quota, was not. The Indonesian genocide was ignored; the Khmer genocide was not. Many things determine these (a lot of them listed above this comment), and some of them are in the same realm as ‘What makes a song a hit?’ Inexplicable fashion, style, and trend govern news as well.

    Racism can be implicated in very specific practices that affect Americans on a daily level: their voting, their housing, their schooling, their employment. I’m not sure if it’s useful to try and extend it into the airier realms of international news fashion — not only is the causation not clear, but most people really don’t like being told that they are racist because they care about an international atrocity, and not another international atrocity. In America that argument is associated with someone who reads Noam Chomsky arguing that something the rest of the room has never heard of is an atrocity on a par with the invasion of East Timor. The world is a large place, and Americans notice when a white family in Texas drowns in an SUV, and they don’t notice when a thousand people on a ferry drown in Bangladesh. I think that there is an argument to be made that this is racism, but it’s an academic argument and probably not worth making elsewhere, if you value the category of ‘racism’ as ‘something that needs to be identified and stomped out’.

    • Thirtyish

      I think that there is an argument to be made that this is racism, but it’s an academic argument and probably not worth making elsewhere, if you value the category of ‘racism’ as ‘something that needs to

      Why can’t we walk and chew gum at the same time? We can work to stamp out everyday racism as well as point out disparities in our global sympathies that, yes, do point to a disturbing tendency to not view black African casualties as “innocent victims” (and therefore, seen as worthy of receiving retributive justice) in the same way we do with white casualties.

      but most people really don’t like being told that they are racist because they care about an international atrocity, and not another international atrocity

      Yeah, well.

      • Right–this gets back to the housing arguments. Why should I care whether people like being told things that make them uncomfortable? Are people so unwilling to be challenged in their comfortable lives of selective outrage amongst the usual forgetting about the horrors of the world?

        • Nick never Nick

          For me, the reason is this — racism is a powerful argument when looking at police behaviour, housing policies, lending policies, voting laws. Being able to identify it is something that needs to be done, and is an effective argument for change. Do I want to dilute that for the purpose of challenging people about the news that they watch or don’t watch, particularly when they can raise good arguments that their focus on Paris and ISIS and not Nigeria is not based in racism?

          Now, if you want to argue ‘racism’ when specifically talking about the choices that news organizations make, that might be useful.

          • Why should I care about being “useful,” in your meaning? If you want to fight racism, you have to include fighting that racism inside yourself.

            • Nick never Nick

              For the same reason that Democrats should vote for the Democratic candidate, regardless of their policies — it’s not useful to insist on purity, when you have one thing that is slightly impure (the Democrat) and one thing that is foul (Candidate Trump). To call them the same thing — corrupt, say — is absurd.

              Take two examples of racism. One is Trayvon Martin being shot by Zimmerman. The other is my generally non-racist family being upset by the terrorist attacks in France and not thinking of the terrorist attacks in Nigeria. Is it really that productive to label both of these behaviours ‘racism’? I think it is very likely that to make a case for this would simply dilute the power of the word ‘racist’, in the same way that conservatives have reduced the importance of being ‘politically correct’ by constantly finding slightly extreme examples of its application.

              To me, the only way this would make sense is if the weaker one led to or enabled the stronger; personally, I don’t think that’s the case.

              Edit: and I agree that fighting racism includes fighting it within yourself, this is absolutely true. Note that in my arguments, I’m talking about fighting the weak form in other people.

              • This comparison makes absolutely no sense at all.

                • Nick never Nick

                  Look, you yourself say that the causes of this are more complex than simple racism — if you don’t understand what I’m saying, which is fine, why don’t you unpack your own thoughts around that, then? If it’s more complicated above, why do you see it coming down to fighting racism within ourselves here?

              • joe from Lowell

                We’re not competing with anyone here, like in an election.

                There’s a reason not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good when selecting a candidate on a ballot. There really isn’t when we’re trying to understand how racism is involved in our response to terrorism.

              • UncleEbeneezer

                Take two examples of racism. One is Trayvon Martin being shot by Zimmerman. The other is my generally non-racist family being upset by the terrorist attacks in France and not thinking of the terrorist attacks in Nigeria. Is it really that productive to label both of these behaviours ‘racism’? I think it is very likely that to make a case for this would simply dilute the power of the word ‘racist’, in the same way that conservatives have reduced the importance of being ‘politically correct’ by constantly finding slightly extreme examples of its application.

                Personally I think the best approach to the definition of any “ism” is to listen to: 1.) the people directly oppressed by it and 2.) the academics who study it. Because 1 will have insights that I can never possibly have due to my privilege and perspective giving me blind spots, and 2 just know way more about it from a studied perspective than I can ever hope to know. The other reason is because there will always be a natural incentive for members of the majority to favor the most narrow definition possible, for many reasons, most pertaining to the goal absolving themselves from complicity in the oppression. You can see the most extreme examples of this anywhere Confederate Flag Tea Partiers are shouting about how X is not really racism because racism is only lynchings or slavery etc. Or where MRA’s/anti-Feminists do the same with sexism.

                I think teaching people that racism includes a bunch of stuff they probably never thought about it did, is actually a very good thing. A more expansive definition of racism doesn’t dilute it’s power at all. Quite the opposite. It shows that racism is a much bigger problem than we thought because it sits at the core of just about everything. Accepting the narrow definition allows people to pretend that racism is much less endemic than it actually is.

                • Ronan

                  Right, and what about when other academics disagree with the academic. Or the oppressed disagree among themselves . Or, as happens here at times, the oppressed with the academics. And then the academics ban the oppressed? Outsourcing having an opinion to academics and select demographics is (1) unfeasible, and (2) a waste of a brain.

                • Ronan

                  And come on, teaching people (1) Africans can be the victims of racism is hardly earth shattering, and (2) calling racism when it’s not a great answer does absolutely dilute its power

  • XerMom

    Boko Haram is probably not the best example of this, given how little attention they got within Nigeria itself for many years under Goodluck Jonathan. It’s also not of imperative importance for U.S. interests in Nigeria (which are mostly in the south), or for Nigerians in the United States (who also come mostly from the south). If Russia’s main western military base just happened to be in northern Nigeria (I know, an impossibility) instead of Syria, and if Boko Haram was active in a country that the U.S. just had tens of thousands of troops in, there would probably be more U.S. attention paid to it.

    American foreign policy interests have a lot to do with the threats that are most likely to impact the global economy (and rural, northern Nigeria isn’t exactly central to the global economy) as well as threats that involve regions with ties to American immigrant groups. On that last one, ISIS is a double whammy. Not only is it a major threat near Israel (and we certainly have a large population of people with an interest in Israel here), but it also creates huge streams of refugees to and attacks in Europe (another region that has produced a lot of American immigrants). Nigeria was able to mostly ignore Boko Haram for years without it impacting their oil industry or shutting down Lagos or Abuja. It’s not surprising that the U.S. also largely ignored it.

    That’s not to say that there’s not a horrifying lack of interest in what happens in Africa. We certainly were more focused on genocide in the Balkans than in Rwanda. And the Second Congolese War got almost no reporting at all. There’s also very little reporting today about Central African Republic, mostly because the “religious” conflict there doesn’t fit nicely with our preferred narrative of terrible Islamists vs. nice Christians/animists. Complicated situations in places with very few Americans just aren’t going to make the front page, I’m afraid.

    • Downpuppy

      I doubt any of us can keep West African wars straight, but at least there’s a good song.

      • Thom

        It’s a great song, but Congo is in Central and West Central Africa, not West Africa.

        • Downpuppy

          The timing of the song, & verse 1 suggests it’s about the Biafran war of 1966-1967. Anyhow, nobody (even Zevon) has claimed any expertise on the last 60 years of wars from Angola to the edge of the Sahara.

          Which is kind of significant to the whole “Why don’t we care about one guerrilla group in this endless string of atrocities?” theme.

          • Thom

            Zevon’s song goes all over the place, you’re right. But wars in Africa, West or otherwise, while complicated, are no more complicated than those in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. If we recognized this we might be more open to news about them.

    • JonH

      As I note in another comment, the French intervention in Mali and Chad is a useful counterexample. France did most of the work but a variety of other Western and African countries pitched in to help, mostly with things like air transport between France and Mali, and airborne refueling of French aircraft.

      If nothing else, it suggests that the problem might not be race, as much as it is that Nigeria specifically is a mess and thus difficult to help.

      Does Nigeria want much help on the ground? Does Nigeria admit that it needs much help on the ground? Does Nigeria prefer to pretend it has everything under control, which the citizenry would question if suddenly there were American battalions being unloaded at the docks and heading north?

      If helping Nigeria, would Boko Haram sympathizers in the military undermine the effort? Would corrupt officials and generals divert money and sell military hardware on the black market? Would weaponry provided to Nigeria be used on not-remotely-terrorist civilians?

  • libarbarian

    This seems like a Damned If You Do & Damned If You Don’t scenario.

    We take ISIS more seriously than Boko Haram and this shows how we don’t take African lives seriously? Ok. Let’s switch it up. Let’s take Boko Haram more seriously than ISIS.

    Oh wait!

    Now we’re taking a bunch of Black terrorists who have yet to attack us or seriously threaten our interests more seriously than Arab terrorists who have killed Americans and are a greater demonstrated threat to our people and interests. Obviously this shows our racist fear of Black men causes us to prioritize the distant but Blacker threat over the much closer, but Whiter, one.

    It’s turtles racism all the way down.

  • Crusty

    Pretty typical Loomis post. Rightly or wrongly, ISIS has been cast as a threat to the U.S.- to the mainland, in the sense that they’ve been cast as the successor to al qaeda, and to U.S. troops/interests, to the extent they’re actually engaged in fighting in Iraq. Maybe there is racism behind the focus on one vs. the other. But to say that’s the primary thing is just kind of stupid and classic Loomis intentional provocation. And don’t forget stupid. It isn’t racism to be more concerned with the person who’s trying to kill you. You get a pass to care more about that. Maybe that makes you selfish, or at least not selfless.

    I for one, don’t believe we need to tell black lives matter protesters that all lives matter. I think its ok that that is their unique concern.

    • alex284

      I believe that you’re forgetting that the only reason you don’t like this post is because Loomis is a clear-sighted truth-teller who makes you uncomfortable!

      I mean, if that weren’t true, then Loomis would have to actually take the constant criticism that his blogging is lazy seriously, and that would make him uncomfortable. And we can’t have that, now can we?

      • I’m trying to decide which part of this is more ridiculous. Is it:

        A) That the attack here is on me instead of the piece I linked to?

        B) That people who receive free content think they can complain about “lazy blogging.”

        or C) That my blogging is lazy even though it already lead directly to one book which John Nichols called one of the 3 best books of the year in The Progressive and is leading to a 2nd book that I am finishing up this spring. In both cases the material comes directly out of my years of blogging here. If that’s lazy blogging, what is hard working blogging?

        The answer of course is that you jokers are pathetic. When I write my book on liberals and structural racism, I look forward to quoting a lot from these comments.

        • Thom

          When I write my book on liberals and structural racism, I look forward to quoting a lot from these comments.

          Nicely done.

        • Pseudonym

          Is comparing the result counts of this search to this one evidence that LGM is racist, structurally or otherwise?

          • Oh, there’s no question that we, like everyone else, have focused on ISIS over Boko Haram for these same reasons I am decrying in this post.

  • AMK

    Liberal interventionism and neocon interventionism are a race down the same rathole. The neocons are a far more noxious bunch because treasonous Likudnikism is the animating force there, instead of a genuine desire to help people as equal human beings (“responsibility to protect,” etc..). But wasting American blood and treasure chasing lunatics in West Africa–when West Africans do next to nothing themselves–is no better than wasting the same in the Mideast for the sake of equally apathetic Arabs.

    • joe from Lowell

      when West Africans do next to nothing themselves

      This is grossly unfair. Tens of thousands of troops from throughout West Africa have been fighting Boko Haram, and they’ve suffered hundreds if not thousands of casualties.

      People who’ve fought the good fight and laid it on the line shouldn’t have their efforts denied or denigrated even if you think doing so would be helpful for a political purpose you consider important.

      • Pseudonym

        Blaming the problems of those regions on “West Africans” and “Arabs” as people, rather than the governments and political powers that are products of Western colonialism and funded largely by Western thirst for oil, doesn’t exactly strengthen the anti-racist cause.

        • joe from Lowell

          I’m not sure if you read the comment that appeared below yours, but I don’t think AMK would be terribly upset by that.

      • AMK

        Nigeria has over 182 million people….that’s Japan plus California plus Texas. Boko Haram has under 10,000 fighters. I realize that the Nigerian state and military institutions are among the most corrupt on the planet, but even after all the generals and colonels and bureaucrats get their skims off the top, there should still be plenty of resouces to even the odds.

        They don’t have to engineer a stealth fighter or coordinate D-Day. They don’t need West Points or Sandhursts, or Navy SEAL training programs. If there was any will to fight, they would just have to find a few thousand of the millions of unemployed, listless young men; hand out rifles and camo, point them in the right direction, and make sure they can visit an HIV-free brothel “have some fun”. Alas, this has yet to happen.

        • joe from Lowell

          You don’t know a whole lot about guerrilla warfare, apparently. “The army has a lot more people; why isn’t the war over?”

          they would just have to find a few thousand of the millions of unemployed, listless young men

          Ah. I think I see where you’re coming from now. Please leave and don’t ever come back.

        • Pseudonym

          If that’s true, why do you think they haven’t? What do you believe that says about Nigerians, particularly all those unemployed, listless, horny young bucks men?

          • AMK

            Oh come on it has nothing to do with race….it has everything to do with even a shred of will to actually fight for the country, even after thousands have been killed and chucks of territory siezed.

            What allows groups like ISIS and Boko Haram to remain effective and cohesive for years on end? Is it because their members have advanced training or high-tech weapons? No. It’s because they give listless, unemployed young men with few options something to fight for, and give them an opportunity to “let off steam” along the way.

          • AMK

            And I should have made clear that I think the lack of will to fight for “the country” ultimately exists in Nigeria for the same reason it exists in Iraq and Syria…because these are not organic “countries” but artificial, colonial-era collections of ethno-religious groups. In that sense I totally agree with your earlier comment upthread.

            Where I disagree strongly is that I don’t think those historical hangovers constantly justify American blood and treasure to try to resolve.

            • Pseudonym

              I think there’s a reasonable argument to be made that American blood and treasure would be worth expending, or at least owed, if they could put out the fire. It’s the latter part I’m less sure about.

              • AMK

                There’s vanishingly little our military or state department can do to make “Nigerian” or “Iraqi” or “Syrian” actually mean something to the people there that’s worth fighting for. “Nation building” has to happen between the ears of the people who would be living in the nation. This happens in three ways:

                1. A grinding, bloody, centuries-to-millenia-long process of ethnic homogenization (China, Japan, Russia, Turkey)

                2. A grinding, bloody, decades-to-centuries-long process of anticolonial struggle uniting different groups (Indonesia, India, Mexico) in combination with #1

                3. Unity based on universal ideals, like those of proselytizing religions (ISIS) or democratic/ Western enlightenment principles (the Anglo-American democracies, France).

                In none of these cases is the nation building deliberatey imposed from the outside.

        • Gareth

          even after all the generals and colonels and bureaucrats get their skims off the top, there should still be plenty of resouces to even the odds.

          There’s a joke about this. A European politician shows his guest a bridge, gestures at his expensive suit, and says “one percent”. An Asian politician shows his guest a shoddy, dangerous bridge, gestures at his expensive car, and says “ten percent”. An African politician shows his guest completely empty wilderness, gestures at his expensive house, and says “one hundred percent”.

        • JonH

          The Nigerian military might have the weapons and equipment they need, and they might have the troops needed, but are the troops sufficiently trained and disciplined to not drop weapons and run, like the Iraqis did when ISIS came knocking?

          Then add in the problem of tribalism and sectarian differences. Troops from the north are probably Muslim, and might well sympathize with Boko Haram. Troops from the south are probably Christian, and may not be trusted by northerners. (Might not even speak the local languages? Dunno.) Nigeria may not want to have southern troops and northern troops switch places, lest Boko Haram sympathizers in the military be stationed in the south and make mischief there.

          Then there’s the human rights record of Nigeria, which interferes with our ability to assist them. Sales of Cobra helicopters have been stopped by State multiple times because we couldn’t be certain the Nigerian military wouldn’t use them against civilians.

  • joe from Lowell

    How can one approve of people caring more about their neighbors jobs than those of people on the other side of the world, but denounce people for caring more about their lives?

    FWIW, I don’t think the greater attention you give to American jobs is racist at all. People have a particular responsibility for their own society. I don’t expect people in Nigeria to demand that their government treat the well-being of Vietnamese people with the same priority as the well-being of Nigerians.

    • joe from Lowell

      This is also not a Gotcha. Is there some principle or set of facts I’m missing here?

      • Ronan

        I don’t think so. Though you could argue, I guess, that the trade threads were over a distribution of harm, and that people had to make a choice between harming poor Americans or the global poor. In this case that choice is less obvious, and so the dilemma less acute

      • Crusty

        No. Erik’s reasoning is incoherent. If he wants write that Americans must do more to help Bangladeshi garment workers, he does. If he wants to write that Americans have a duty to their suffering fellow American over and above a duty to someone suffering elsewhere, he does.

  • JonH

    I think part of it is that West Africa is sort of Europe’s territory. For example, France generally intervenes in its former colonies, as it did in Mali starting in 2012, and as it is doing throughout the Sahel region since 2014.

    The 2012 operation in Mali was multi-international. The US provided transport plane flights between France and Mali, as well as in-air refueling.

    I’m not sure what the deal is in Nigeria. The military is something of a basket case, but they may not be quite willing to admit they need as much help as they do. They’re the most populous nation in Africa, after all, with all that oil money. Plus the military might have been infiltrated by Boko Haram sympathizers, which leads other nations to be wary of providing information which would be useful to the group.

  • Sebastian_h

    “Does racism influence [to ANY degree] our response to terrorism”.

    Sure. “Influence” has wide bounds.

    Is it an important factor in our differential response as outlined above? Almost certainly not. Is it worth talking about in this case? Only if you like talking about unimportant influences instead of important influences.

    Racism warps lots of things about how people in the US treat other people in the US. Absolutely. But like all useful insights you can take it much further than is useful.

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