We all know that almost two weeks ago now, France experienced one of the most prolific terror attacks in recent years during the Charlie Hebdo attacks. But the media frenzy and international solidarity witnessed after these attacks exposes the silver lining in an extremely grey cloud – our beautiful power to unite. But should it stop at Charlie Hebdo?
The ‘Je Suis Charlie’ campaign erupted onto our news feeds and eventually saw 1.6 million people march alongside 40 world leaders hypocrites(?) in defiance. But what are these people trying to express? I am Charlie Hebdo – an arguably racist magazine that was attacked by two extremists – ending with a tragic but small-scale death toll? Why such a huge response?!
Take the recent Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria, which were going on at a similar time to Charlie Hebdo -these attacks were largely ignored by the media until recent criticism. The attacks saw 2,000 innocent people slaughtered, over a million people displaced and many towns left devastated and deserted. That is 1983 more deaths than in Paris and the figure is rising; almost definitely the greatest tragedy of the year.
Perhaps African lives are considered of less value than their Parisian counterparts. Or maybe news providers saw a greater opportunity for online traffic in OTT coverage of an attack on our imagined Western safety bubble.
Surely if we are compassionate enough to stand so firmly against the realistically tiny and localised events of Charlie Hebdo, we are compassionate enough to stand for the thousands of innocent lives lost during the Boko Haram attacks? So let us announce ‘Je suis Nigeria!’ But our compassion should not stop there.
Turn your thoughts to the millions of ordinary Muslim people who have been subject to vicious demonization, even before these attacks. Thanks to the actions of extremists that fall vaguely under the umbrella of their spiritual beliefs, they now face constant public scrutiny.
Even wearing religious clothing on the tube will attract cautious glances – and this is no new problem – it has just been magnified by these recent events. Yet so many stand adamantly in defence of the freedom to say what you want. What about the freedom to wear what you want?
Should we too hold all people of Catholic heritage responsible for the child abuse scandals of the church? What about the peaceful Jewish communities of North London – are they responsible for the Israeli settlements on the West Bank?
If we cast our minds away from recent events and consider the sheer scale of wrongdoing happening around us all the time – it is clear that our media is very selective of how and what it presents to us.
How many issues are used to rile up the public in the way the Charlie Hebdo story was? The media provides us with little opportunity to unite over things that are, arguably, of greater concern
What about American drone strikes, corporate monopolies, environmental decay and on-going poverty? The media places less emphasis on these issues and as a result, those who speak out about them are considered extreme.
But is it really extreme to stand up for the well being of the planet and its inhabitants? No human life is more important than the other and our lives depend on the health of the planet. If we are going to see change, we need to look at the bigger picture.
As people who care, with the help of our local communities and the Internet– we have an opportunity to create our own media – one that could rally people against the more pressing issues that humanity face. Could you imagine if there was such a huge response over fracking, or over single mothers taking the flack for claiming benefits when corporations evade millions in tax?
We have the power to create these reactions if we inspire people in the right way. We are connected to more information than ever, and social media allows us to reach out to a lot of people.
So what positive message can we take from the events following Charlie Hebdo? There is no denying their tragic nature – but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The events of Chalie Hebdo show us that with the right level of encouragement – people will rise and stand as one. If we can individually help direct that energy towards issues that really need attention – we can help change the world for the better and bring about a more conscious way of living.
Je suis Planet Earth.