Sunday, August 06, 2006

# Posted 4:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HUNDREDS OF INNOCENT MUSLIMS SLAUGHTERED: No, this isn't a post about Lebanon. I'm just so despondent about the situation there that I haven't had much to say. Actually, this is a post about Nigeria.

On May 2-May 3, 2004, suprrisingly well-organized Christian mobs rampaged through the Nigerian town of Yelwa, killing approximately 600-700 Muslims. Roughly speaking, the massacre came in response to the slaughter of about 70 Chrisitians by Muslims in the same area in February. In response to the massacre, Muslims mobs hunted down and killed around 200 Christians the following week in the city of Kano.

The horrific details of these massacres, along with a significant amount of information about the religious and economic context in which they took place, is available in a report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) entitled Revenge in the Name of Religion. I found the report to be very credible and very well-written.

(When no Americans or Israelis are involved, HRW seems to do quite even-handed work. Although to HRW's credit, the top item on its homepage right now unequivocally states that Hezbollah's attacks on Israel are war crimes. The item just below it states that certain Israeli attacks have constituted war crimes.)

Getting back to Nigeria, one of the interesting things about the massacres in 2004 is that they took place at a time when I was actively following the news but I still knew almost nothing about them. I could've told you that there has been religious violence in Nigeria, but that was the extent of my knowledge.

Although my ignorance is clearly my own responsibility, it reflects a decision on my part to share with both the mainstream media and with other bloggers a collective sense of what is newsworthy. Thus Nigeria remained a footnote.

But now, at a moment when the death of hundreds of Muslims has led to a global outcry, I find it interesting to speculate about why one set of deaths remained a footnote while the other has become a dominant storyline.

Clearly, the number of deaths involved isn't the issue. In fact, HRW estimates that 10,000 Nigerians lost their lives as a result of religious and ethnic violence in the first half of this decade.

Nor do I think it is anti-Semitism or even liberal bias on the part of our media. Here's my explanation: First of all, anything that happens in the Middle East tends to be treated as much more important than what happens in Africa. That much reflects our historic and geopolitical ties to the region.

On a related note, the conflict in Lebanon is one in which the US and Europe are already involved diplomatically and may become involved military. Thus, Americans have a considerable interest in knowing more about this conflict than the recent one in Nigeria.

The word "interest" in the prior sentence is very important. It indicates that the US (and European) media allocate coverage on the basis of national concerns, not on the basis of global criteria about what is significant. That is not exactly a bias in the pejorative sense of the word, but it is a bias in the sense that highly subjective (albeit consensual, perhaps implicit) criteria are used to allocate coverage.

The result of such subjectivity, of course, is coverage that may seem skewed. If I were Nigerian, I probably wouldn't be too happy with the media's current emphasis on Lebanon or its consistent emphasis on the Middle East.

As a strong supporter of Israel, I find it somewhat irksome that civilian deaths in Lebanon are being presented as an emotionally searing crisis for the Muslim world. The deaths in Lebanon have been tragic and gruesome, but even the genocide in Darfur has never gotten such consistently vivid coverage.

For every Shi'ite killed unintentionally by Israeli bombs, dozens have been killed intentionally by Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Iraq gets plenty of coverage, of course, yet civilian deaths in Lebanon are so rarely put in the context of what is happening in nearby Iraq. If there is a great outcry now about the cruelty of war, it is Muslim on Muslim brutality that should be the focus.
(6) opinions -- Add your opinion

It's worth noting that Human Rights Watch did the best work cataloguing Saddam Hussein's crimes against the Kurds and the Shi'ites back in 1991. HRW is neither pro-American nor anti-American. Same with Israel. It doesn't surprise me one bit that HRW would blast Hezbollah for attacking civilians. You can accuse it of inaccuracies, and you can quibble with its definitions and its impossible standard of proper behavior in wartime, but I don't think you can rightly accuse HRW of "bias" against the US or Israel.
"For every Shi'ite killed unintentionally by Israeli bombs, dozens have been killed intentionally by Sunni insurgents in Iraq."

Of course, those Shia are not being killed by Sunnis in a civil war. It couldn't be a civil war because they just had elections about six months ago. And if it is a civil war, which it isn't, then why would we have troops in the middle of it?
Years ago having nothing else to do on a Sunday noon I drove from lagos to Kano. Suddenly I heard the pop pop of AK-47s, a distinctive sound I thought I had dispensed with. I stopped and asked what's what. A happy little fellow said: "O its Sunday and the Moslems are killing Christians." I turned around and headed back to Lagos.
Continuing the conversation I've been having with myself in the comments to Taylor's post about the strategic cost of civilian casualties, is there any mention of such a thing in the limited media coverage of Muslim v Muslim violence? Do such attacks serve to create a new generation of angry young Nigerians dedicated to resistance?
What Elrod said. David, it really gets tedious to constantly read any well-documented criticism of US or Israeli policy is anti-American or anti-semitic.

The annual DOS HR Report frequently references HRW and AI reports.
Religious violence is nothing in Nigeria, its been going on for years. There is the regular burning of chrches and mosques and people get killed in oubreaks of violence. It generally follows two year cycles. Quite a few from both sides were killed over the Mohammed comic farce. Speak to any Nigerian if they want to be hones, its really no big deal. Life is cheap over there. Hence the lack of international press interest. BBC did bover it though.
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