The Media’s Disappointing Reaction to the Attack in Somalia

It is no shock that 2017 has been a painful year for the world. Twenty-three people were killed in an attack at a concert in Manchester, United Kingdom, in May. Fourteen civilians were run over and killed by a van in Barcelona, Spain, in that same month. Fifty-eight people were shot and killed in the Las Vegas massacre in October. Each of these atrocious attacks received extensive media coverage. In the weeks and months following the attack, if you turned on the news channelĀ  or browsed social media, you came across multiple stories about these attacks . On October 14th, at least 358 were killed in a terrorist attack in Somalia. Is the world reacting the same way?

On a Saturday afternoon, a truck containing hundreds of kilograms of powerful homemade explosives detonated next to a fuel tank in the center of Mogadishu. There were at least 500 dead, with the Somali government still unsure about the final number of casualties due to the mass scale of the atrocity. This is the deadliest terror attack Somalia has ever seen. Although no group has officially claimed responsibility, it is presumedĀ  by the Somali government that it was committed by Al-Shabaab, which has terrorized Somalia for years. The New Yorker describes, “First responders arrived to an apocalyptic landscape: bodies burned beyond recognition, buildings crumbled into ash, survivors running away, relatives looking for loved ones, and a zone of a few football fields.” A school bus was near the site of the bomb explosion, leaving fifteen school children on their way home dead.

Major media outlets such as CNN, ABC, and NBC have covered the attack in Somalia. However, these sources mostly cover only the facts of what happened, and then move on. They do not don’t discuss the identities of the people killed or the emotional effect of a large scale terrorist attack. They explain that chaos is typical of Somalia, and in almost every article they mention the “Black Hawk Down” incident that occurred in Somalia in 1993. Eighteen American troops were killed that day in 1993. Although it has been over twenty years since that incident, reporters continue to mention it in order to illustrate Somalia’s violent past. The New York Times reported, “Rescue workers began the grim search for survivors that has become all too common as Somalia battles an Islamist insurgency.” The word “common” is used in most of the news reports, giving the impression that vicious attacks of this nature are normal in Somalia.

Social media also had a lackluster response to this attack. While two hashtags were created, #PrayForSomalia and #IAmMogadishu, neither of them ever trended on any form of social media. There was never a Facebook profile picture filter for Somalia, as there was for France after the terrorist attacks that occurred there. The average Somali citizen does not have access to the internet but that means that the international community has a responsibility to make sure that the world does not forget this tragedy.

If you include the family and friends of all those killed in Mogadishu on October 14th, far over a thousand people were most likely affected by the attack. However, the media fails to tell their stories.

In contrast, after the Las Vegas mass shooting, emotional stories immediately flooded media outlets . CNN published profiles of the victims only four days after the attack. There are countless articles dedicated to remembering those lost .

While there are a few stories online about individuals killed in the Somali most of these have not been picked up by major news outlets. African news source Daily Nation reported that Ayanbadan Ina Mohamed, the director of the gender office in the Federal Government of Somalia’s Ministry of Planning, was one of the people killed. BBC does mention in its reporting that Maryam Abdullahi, a student about to graduate from medical school, was among the victims. However, right after describing her father attending her funeral instead of her graduation, the reporter wrote, “Heartbreaking stories like this are not dissimilar to those shared after violent attacks and natural disasters around the world when people lose their lives.” While it is true that heartbreaking stories do follow tragedies, stating it blatantly like that within the article acts to minimize the experiences of grief within Somali communities

When fifty-eight people were shot down at a music festival in the United States, it was easy to empathize with the victims and their families. There is an assumption of safety in the United States, so it is very surprising for people when there is a large-scale attack. However, people do not assume that Somalia is a safe place, and so when a heartbreaking attack kills hundreds, the media does not take as much notice of it. People become desensitized to violence that occurs against those with whom they cannot relate. The media sources cover what they believe their target-audiences care about, and unfortunately that assumption does not extend to the people of Somalia. However, they also are not giving their audiences the opportunity to learn about the Somali people affected by this horrendous act of violence.

If the media made an effort to tell the stories of those killed in the Mogadishu attack, then it is likely that Western audiences would gain the ability to sympathize with the victims. They would understand that while Mogadishu seems like a far off place that is inherently different than their own communities, it truly isn’t. This senseless terrorist attack killed university students, professionals, parents, aid workers, activists, and even children. They deserve the same level of mourning and grief that the international community would give to victims in the West.

Imagine the horrible scenario of a truck bomb exploding in the capital in the middle of the day in any Western country. Wouldn’t we still be hearing about it today? Every major news outlet would likely be covering every minute detail of the attack for months after it happened. It has been a little more than a month since the bomb in Somalia, yet its presence on mainstream news channels is virtually absent today.

Sarah Jurinsky

Author: Sarah Jurinsky

Originally from Tennessee, Sarah Jurinsky is a sophomore in the Elliott School majoring in International Affairs with a concentration in Conflict Resolution and minors in Arabic and Psychology. She is especially interested in peace efforts in the Middle East. She\'s hoping to find good books, good people, and a lot of traveling in her future. She spends her free time watching too much Netflix and browsing too many news sources.