With coverage of the presidential campaign in full swing it’s unlikely to continue to receive much mainstream attention here in the U.S., but Boko Haram, a terrorist group that has pledged allegiance to ISIS, attacked a village in northern Nigeria on Saturday, killing dozens, including reportedly burning children alive in their homes.
Nigerian government officials said the militant extremist group Boko Haram was responsible. Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency said 86 villagers died in the attack, and another 62 are being treated for burns. One witness told the Associated Press that he saw the extremists “firebomb huts and heard the screams of children burning to death.” The New York Times reported that other children “were abducted and carried off into the bush.”
The attackers rode into the village in cars and on motorcycles firing indiscriminately and setting homes and other buildings alight, according to CNN. Suicide bombers also set of blasts into a large crowd trying to flee to a nearby town.
Boko Haram has killed nearly 20,000 people and driven 2.5 million from their homes in the last six years. And in a report issued in November, the Institute of Economics and Peace found Boko Haram to be the world’s deadliest terrorist group, as it was responsible for 6,664 deaths in the previous year, compared to the Islamic State, which killed 6,073.
Despite these figures, much of the media attention in the United States is comparatively more focused on ISIS. While the #BringBackOurGirls campaign briefly brought awareness about efforts to find nearly 200 school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014, some have wondered why, for example, a Boko Haram attack that killed 2,000 civilians went largely unnoticed a week before the ISIS-inspired Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris last January.
“[A]fter the overwhelming global show of support for France in the wake of the Paris attacks,” Time’s Charlotte Alter noted then, “many are asking why there wasn’t similar widespread solidarity for Nigeria where far more people were killed.”
One difference, she says, is perhaps that the Hebdo attack was largely unprecedented and the Boko Haram massacre was part of long violent campaign that wasn’t necessarily “news.” Yet, she adds, “The only terrorist attacks in non-Western countries that got significant American attention were attacks on destinations that attract affluent visitors”:
“We tend to empathize more with people that we feel are more ‘like us,’” says Marco Iacoboni, a psychiatry professor at UCLA. “I think in this case, cultural, anthropological differences can play a big role in how much we empathize with others. I jokingly call this the ‘dark side’ of empathy.”
Whether or not it’s morally right, that cognitive disconnect is exactly what the terrorists are betting on. When terrorists kill villagers in non-Western countries, it feels like one of many bad things that happen to poor people in far-away places. When terrorists attack Western cities Americans might live in, hotels Americans might stay in, or nightclubs Americans might dance in, it feels like a bad thing that could happen to you.
In fact, Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper reported on Tuesday that suspected Boko Haram attackers razed another village in northern Nigeria, killing 6.