Does the world feel for Somalia?


Mogadishu, Somali, was devastated by a truck bomb explosion over the weekend, with a death toll of over 300 and hundreds more injured. The most lethal terrorist attack to ever strike Somalia has been claimed by extremist, Al-Qaida aligned Al-Shabaab, Somali government officials say. The violent organization vowed earlier in 2017 to attack more frequently in response to both the Trump administration and Somalia’s recently elected president promising to invigorate military efforts against Al-Shabaab.

The capital city of Mogadishu, once thriving and seemingly entering a time where war and large scale terrorist incidents were matters of the past, was left a gruesome site. Where hotels, restaurants once stood, bodies burned beyond recognition were being pulled from the wreckage. Force from the blast felled the Safari Hotel, mangled vehicles that had been caught in a traffic jam, partially destroyed neighbouring buildings, and destroyed a school bus filled with small children. The Aamin Ambulance service, the city’s first responders, took to social media, tweeting, “We haven’t seen anything like this”.

Unsurprisingly, Somalis had to watch on as the most lethal terrorist attack to ever occur in their country received sparing news coverage. The details of the Mogadishu bombing failed to make major headlines or strike a global emotional chord like attacks that strike in the United States or Europe. There were no social media icons with the Somalian flag superimposed upon it, no viral hashtag of solidarity and grief. The tragedy was treated as if it was a typical event for the Somali population. When the bombing did receive news coverage, most outlets followed a clinical, formulaic format. They were objective recountings of what had unfurled, missing a sense of compassion or first-person accounts from witnesses and victims. Somalis were not humanized as living, breathing beings with emotions. These articles communicated the sentiment that such a thing is to be expected in a place like Mogadishu.

Where is the empathy for Somalia?

Many like to argue that it is easier to feel for those who look like us, are near to us geographically, or share our values and concerns. There is a prevalent narrative that it is much too difficult to identify with those who are seemingly different. As a Somali-American myself, I see no merit to this concept. I, along with the rest of the world grieved at the Paris and Las Vegas attacks. The victims of these attacks did not look like me or necessarily share my ideologies, but I felt compassion for their circumstances – simply because they were human. I grieved again at the news of the bombing in Mogadishu. These victims looked like my sisters, my brother, my aunts, uncles, and cousin. They looked like my mother and father. They were Muslims, like me, and shared my culture and heritage. And I empathized with them all the same.

What stories news outlets choose to report – and how they report them – have the power to influence our abilities to feel for all walks of life. If coverage of stories like Mogadishu’s become less alienating and more human, they can convey the truth that Somalis – and other non-Westerners – are multi-dimensional, complex people, with hopes, dreams, and emotions. Stories like Mogadishu need to be treated with the same sensitivity and care as Western tragedies if we are to reach a point of global, indiscriminate empathy.

Ayan Goran