WASHINGTON, May 21, 2016 — On May 11 and 17, terrorists launched a series of attacks in Baghdad, killing more than 254 Shia Muslims and injuring more than 300 others. The attacks took place mostly in busy areas of the city, where markets are located.
Attacks against Shia Muslims are ignored by the Iraqi government, the media and almost everyone else. Iraq has led in Shia rights violations for the last several years, but such violations are widespread in the Middle East and Africa.
On Dec. 12, 2015, the Nigerian army attacked Shia Muslims in the city of Zaria, killing more than 500 men, women and children and kidnapping 400 more.
Some of those were later found in mass graves, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
In Bahrain in April and May, the government arrested 21 people, including two children and one woman, and sentenced 86 others to a total of more than a thousand years in prison for their pro-democracy activities. Arrests and imprisonment of pro-democracy Shia Muslims are so frequent in Bahrain that they are the norm, no longer covered by international media outlets.
In Azerbaijan, a Shia majority country, government forces have destroyed Shia religious schools and arrested more than 150 Shia activists, including 18 clerics. They have been held without charges. Attacks on Shia populations in the Middle East and Africa have left thousands dead in 2016 alone.
Yet mainstream media outlets, social media, governments and even human rights NGOs do not do much of a job in covering and publicizing their stories.
Yet when attacks target Christians in Iraq or Syria, the international community and the United States express much more vocal outrage. This has been the case with the Yazidis who, betrayed by the Kurdish Peshmerga and targeted by Daesh, have taken refuge in the mountains of Sinjar.
When thousands of Christians were attacked by Daesh in Maaloula, Syria, the United States and its allies defended them. When Shia Muslims in the Syrian cities of Foua and Kafaria were put under siege by Daesh for more than six months, the were ignored.
The human rights violations were almost on top of each other in space and time, yet they were treated differently by the press. No one bothered to raise the alarm or send any medical help or food supplies to help the 80,000 Shia in Foua and Kafaria. Yet for days, the case of Christian Syrians was front-page news.
When it comes to attacks on Shia in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, most countries, human rights activists and media outlets go silent. Only a few organizations cover news of attacks on Shia, and even that comes with no analysis or context. News of attacks on Western or Western-rooted populations dominates news updates. Witness coverage of the bombings in Paris and Brussels.
By ignoring their abuse, torture and deaths, human rights organizations and media outlets are suggesting that Shia Muslims’—indeed, all Muslims’—lives are less important than those of Christians and Europeans. In the past year, 1,500 Shia killed in MENA went unnoticed; 200 deaths in Europe got weeks of news update attention. Is Christian blood redder than Shia blood? Are western lives more precious?
This is not to minimize the value of lives lost in Europe, but to remind everyone that human lives in other parts of the world are important as well.
History has shown us that, if we do not raise our voices against injustice and inhumanity, there will be a day when we will be subjected to the same crime without having anyone to support us. Or as Martin Niemöller wrote, “Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”