After the initial shock and horror I experienced in reaction to the shootings in Nairobi last week, I have taken some time to think about violence and how our collective reactions to it are dependent on who commits it and against whom it is committed.
I first became aware of this phenomenon last year as I watched the non-stop CNN coverage of the Newtown shootings. I, like many people in America and the world, was shocked and saddened, moved to tears by the violent loss of such beautiful, innocent lives. As the weeks went by and I had time to absorb the national reaction to the shootings, I could not help but to think about the steady epidemic of murders that occur in inner city America. These shootings consistently claim the lives of hundreds of black children across America each year. Equally beautiful, equally innocent children. Yet there is never any national outrage, no calls for gun control laws, no fundraisers for their families.
In the same manner, when 2,000 Kenyan troops invaded Somalia in October 2011, not much attention was payed to the civilian casualties that resulted from such an aggressive military action. The international community has for a long time declared Somalia a failed state characterized by lawlessness both on land and on sea. The images of Somali people that the world recognizes are are consequently only those of militant jihadist and pirates. We don't view Somalis as average men, women and children with the same desire for peace as everyone else in the world. So when Somali civilians died under Kenyan sieg, there was no outcry, no international condemnation. With the help of the Media, we collectively declared that their lives were not worth mourning.
When Somali militants (who said they were avenging the deaths of Somalis killed by Kenyan occupation) murdered wealthy Kenyans and foreigners, however, the condemnation was swift and serious. The violence was declared senseless and the attackers ruthless terrorist. As the hostage situation came to a close, the stories we heard were the ones of the wealthy, the famous and the White. Valuable people whose deaths are presented to us as more tragic than the lives of average Kenyans killed during the attack and of the Somalis that are killed by the Kenyan occupation of their country.There is no question what happened in Nairobi last week was tragic but the way in which we responded to it illustrate that our perception of tragedy is subjective. Both nationally and internationally, violence is only seen as tragic when the people who die from it are those whom we have deemed valuable and worth mourning. Sporadic violence against white children in America is always grounds for a national discussion on gun control while the steady insidious murdering of black children goes completely unnoticed. Furthermore, groups committing violent acts are called military when they are sponsored by a state apparatus, revolutionaries when they are fighting against dictators and terrorist if they have any affiliation with Islam whatsoever.
Violence, is violence. All violent deaths are tragic and the fact that we don't collectively accept this fact is in my opinion, the main reasons why our world is plagued with so much violence. We can not sanction the deaths of some people while mourning the deaths of others. If we are serious about creating a peaceful world we must be able to condemn all violence no matter who is committing it or whom it is committed against.