Bloody photos of violence

On Thursday morning, gunmen attacked a university in a Kenyan town. 147 people died in the attack, which was claimed by the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab, who are responsible for more than 400 deaths in Kenya in the past two years. It was a horrific attack, motivated by Kenyan military actions in Somalia against al-Shabaab.

I heard about this yesterday in passing, and promised myself I would research it further in the morning. Before I could do so though, my Facebook provided me with more details – and two bloody, gory photos of the victims of the attack.

This was unpleasant for me, but that’s not the main reason I’m not happy. This voyeuristic gaze into the rooms of death inflicted by the gunmen indulges an unpleasant human desire to stare at horrors, and it shows no respect for the dead. One hundred and forty-seven human beings died, and people want to gawk at their corpses? How sick is that?

The images were accompanied by a caption decrying the lack of protest in the vein of the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ campaign. World leaders, even African Union leaders, are silent, states the writer. I would say that world silence is wrong in the face of such a tragedy, but the two crimes are very different. The one is a religious attack on a magazine’s free speech, while the other is retaliation for military action. The former is something that a Western individual cannot stomach, while the latter is (not very fairly) seen as the consequence of the global war on terror. People accept retaliation to military action far more than they accept retaliation to expressing ideas.

I’m not saying that ignoring the Garissa massacre is right, and so much more should be made of it. Of course, there is also the sad element of racism – it’s ok when it happens to Africans, they aren’t like ‘us’. When 147 people die in a terrorist attack, the world should sit up and take notice, and it has failed to do so. But trying to awake sympathy by publishing atrocity porn is not ok.

I want to live in a world where we don’t splash photos of the newly dead on social media (or any media for that matter). Where their blood on the floors is not used as a tool for gaining sympathy. Where we allow that dead their dignity, and use other images to elicit a response, rather than catering to the basest of human desires to observe another’s suffering.

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