It’s easy enough to understand why the attention of the Western world has been fixed in recent days on France. It’s less easy to understand why the attention of the world has not been similarly trained on Nigeria. Americans and others were stirred last year by the kidnapping and subsequent disappearance of nearly 200 girls from a Nigerian school. But since then our gaze has turned elsewhere, closer to home, as our anxieties about terrorism in America and Europe have overshadowed those about terrorism in Africa.
While we were watching the streets of Paris, a ten year old girl killed herself and some 19 others by detonating explosives (strapped to her body) in a busy Nigerian market. Moreover on the same Wednesday that the Kouachi brothers murdered some of the staff of Charlie Hebdo, the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram massacred an estimated 2000 in Baga, a city in Northern Nigeria.
This is not a game of numbers. Is killing 2000 people ten times worse than killing 200? A thousand times worse than killing 2? The point is that there is no obvious distinction between terrorism in France and terrorism elsewhere, including in Nigeria. In fairness, with France one has the sense that President Francois Hollande will attack terrorism with all the forces that his strong state can marshal. Nigeria, in contrast, is a weak state, with no evidence that President Goodluck Jonathan has the will, the skill, and the resources effectively to address the relentlessly growing terrorist threat.
But I wonder why the distinction, why the divide in American minds between terrorism in Europe and terrorism in Africa. From where I sit they are of a piece, the one as much of a threat to security in the 21st century as the other. The fact that Abuja, Nigeria seems so much further from Washington than does Paris, France, does not mean that what’s been happening in the former is any less of a threat than what’s been happening in the later. I would argue, in fact, that in this super-small, hyper-connected world terrorism anywhere is terrorism everywhere.