World Views: Not just in France but in Nigeria and Yemen too

For the past six days the west’s attention has been transfixed by the murderous attacks in Paris that left 17 people – cartoonists, security guards, police officers and Jewish hostages – dead at the hands of extremists. The outpouring of grief and the huge rally in France on Sunday were an uplifting and justified response to the savagery witnessed in the French capital.
By contrast, there has been a more muted reaction in the west to a series of savage jihadist attacks in Africa and the Middle East. In northern Nigeria last week, several hundred people – and possibly as many as 2,000 – were slaughtered by the Islamist group Boko Haram. In Yemen, 37 people were murdered in a terrorist outrage conducted by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on the same day as the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. The fact that these events have received a lot less attention in Europe and the US has brought expressions of concern. “Compare what is happening in France and what is happening here,” said Ignatius Kaigama, Catholic Archbishop in Nigeria last week. “There is a great difference.”
In the west, there should be no apology for the attention accorded to the violence in Paris. The first duty of any government is to protect its citizens on home territory. These were unforgivable assaults on innocent civilians that raise profound questions about security policy and community relations across France and Europe.
Still, the world needs to respond to the anxieties expressed by the Archbishop and others. In the US and Europe, governments and the media often seem indifferent to attacks when the victims are non-westerners in African or Arab states. This not only risks creating a sense of injustice in Africa and the Middle East. It also ignores how jihadism is now well established as a global phenomenon.
Western leaders need to do more to address this discrepancy. Some far right leaders in Europe assume that the jihadist challenge can be met simply by tightening national borders and adopting tough counter-terrorism measures at home. But, as the US and its allies – including France – have recognised, these threats have to be tackled at source by military means. Their recent decision to assist the Iraqi government in its war with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – or Isis – testifies to that.
There is another reason why the violence in places such as Nigeria and Yemen must not be ignored. Many politicians are tempted to define assaults of the kind seen in Paris as evidence of a “clash of civilisations” between Islam and the west. Yet last week’s jihadist attacks in Nigeria and Yemen killed large numbers of Muslims. The assaults by Boko Haram and AQAP are another reminder that the confrontation we are witnessing is not between western and Muslim values but between moderate and radical Islam.
When it comes to assisting regional governments in their fight against militants, the US and its allies face difficult challenges. In Iraq, the US may have to back the Baghdad government militarily for years before Isis is defeated. In Nigeria, the UK is providing intelligence and training advice to help fight Boko Haram. But the militants will only be defeated once Nigeria acquires a far more competent government.
That may take time. What is important for now is that, in their words and deeds, western leaders view the jihadist challenge as a global one. The focus of politicians and the public in the past few days has rightly been on the havoc wreaked by militants in a great European city. But the jihadist threat covers a swath of territory from west Africa through Syria to Pakistan. The danger is global – and so are the victims. Editorial, Financial Times, MDT/Financial Times exclusive

Categories Opinion