Somalis Know They Are Invisible

Naomi Klein, in her 2001 book, Fences and Windows, writes:

“When I was twenty-three, I had my first media job as a copy editor at a newspaper. The newspaper closed at 11p.m., but two people stayed until 1a.m. in case a news story broke that was so significant it was worth reopening the front page. On the first night that it was my turn to stay late, a tornado in a southern U.S. state killed three people and the senior editor on duty decided to reopen the front page. On my second night, I read on the wires that 114 people had just been killed in Afghanistan, so I dutifully flagged own the senior editor. Remember, I was young, and it seemed to me that if three people warranted reopening the front page, then 114 would surely classify as a major news event. I will never forget what the editor told me. ‘Don’t worry, he said, “‘those people kill each other all the time.’

Since September 11, I’ve been thinking again about that incident, about how we in the media participate in a process that confirms and reconfirms the idea that death and murder are tragic, extraordinary and intolerable in some places and banal, ordinary, unavoidable, even expected in others.

. . . I still think the idea that some blood is precious, some blood is cheap is not just morally wrong but has helped to bring us to this bloody moment in our history.

That cold, brutal, almost unconscious calculus works it way into our shared global psyche and twists and maims us. It breeds the recklessness of those who know they are invisible, that they are not among the counted.”

This weekend a bombing in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, killed over 300 people and left hundreds more seriously wounded. It was so lightly reported on, it’s understandable if you know Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collar bone Sunday, but were completely unaware of the massive loss of life in the Horn of Africa.

After 9/11, a friend of Klein’s wrote to her:

“Compassion is not a zero sum game. But there is also undeniably something unbearable in the hierarchy of death—1 American equals 2 west Europeans equals 10 Yugoslavs equals 50 Arabs equals 200 Africans—which is one part power, one part wealth, one part race.”

Last night I traveled to Somalia through the pen of Alexis Okeowo. Okeowo introduced me to 17 year-old Aisha, a young basketball obsessed woman living in Mogadishu. I wish I knew her in real life so that I could support her and cheer her on. Her harrowing but inspiring story is inextricably linked to some of our planet’s most pressing challenges.

The more I got to know her, the more I wondered about her future. Then a deep sadness. She could have been among the dead.

4 thoughts on “Somalis Know They Are Invisible

  1. So glad you illuminated the double standard the developed world has about the value of life in some parts of the world. That attitude prevailed then, and still persists today, sad to say. And you are right, it is one of our planet’s most persistant challenges.

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