There is never a shortage of tragedies. The race to annihilation, anarchy and terror draws contestants from countless groups from around the world; from the less acknowledged white terrorists – who hate everything from foreigners to Mondays – to jihadist terrorists who have, exploiting the mess the world powers have created in the middle east, carved out a state for themselves where they get to make fantasies come true. Consequently, there are daily reports of mass shootings in schools and communities, suicide blasts and insurgent attacks. There has never been a greater need for empathy. However, empathy is a thing that one needs to be very careful about.
Often you will hear – closely following a tragedy in a foreign country – people chastising those who cry too loudly about the bereavement of a foreign people. So, for example, there will be people right after say, the Paris shootings, who will be so moved by sadness and shock in this otherwise peaceful capital of the Western world that they will put up the French flag on their very Nigerian profiles. Then there are people who will notice this shamefulness and write whole articles denouncing them and telling them how horrible they are for daring to share a very French pain. These later group of people are the subject of this article. Let us call them the empathy militia.
I will open by being unequivocal about the fact that we need the empathy militia. We need them to scour the internet from those in breach of the empathy code, especially when they are Africans. And the empathy code is very simple. Let me summarize it:
1. To qualify for any sort of non-African public empathy, an African must first promptly show extreme public grief in writing as soon as an African tragedy occurs, especially taking care not to let foreigners and non-Africans show empathy first. This includes but is not limited to using hashtags on Twitter (eg. #NeverAgain #PrayforYola #BornoLivesMatter #IStandWithKano #HowCan), changing your profile picture to the flag of the country involved, or doing a long series of numbered tweets to show more nuanced empathy. You can never go wrong with numbered tweets.
2. An African who has previously not shed tears and blood and other bodily fluids in mourning when an African tragedy occurs shall not shed tears when a non-African faces a tragedy, no matter how extreme that tragedy may be.
3. An African who has shown local empathy as and when due shall be entitled to denounce other Africans who show foreign empathy too loudly, accusing them of not doing the same for local tragedies. This doesn’t have to be accurate. You have the right to accuse and you should use it.
4. An African who has the right level of local empathy is also allowed to denounce foreigners who speak of their own tragedies, reminding them that every week, you also face similar, if not worse tragedies.
At the heart of all of this is the principle: s/he who does not wail for my brothers and I does not deserve to wail at all. Prepare to attack with tweets like: “Did you put up the Nigerian flag when scores of boys where slaughtered in Borno? Why put up the French flag?” It will not matter that in Maiduguri, the frequency of attacks in the ongoing war makes it practically impossible to be shocked every single time there is an attack. That is not your business. The faithful member of the empathy militia doesn’t care about complicated arguments, like why an ongoing, protracted and bloody war is different from an unexpected attack in an otherwise peaceful city. Complicated arguments are for traitors.
We need the empathy militia to regulate mourning. If you allow Africans they will show unnecessary humanity. And being concerned about humans who share physical and genetic characteristics is far more superior than showing empathy to everyone who faces tragedy. Who needs humanism when you have patriotism and nationalism. Humans should not spread themselves thin by being capable of feeling empathy for everyone. One must suspend empathy until one has ascertained the victim in a tragedy. This works in many scenarios. For example, if you have reserved empathy for say the abducted Chibok girls in Borno, you are not allowed to be too excited and create hashtags for rescued girls who turn out not to be from Chibok. You are only allowed to be briefly happy and resume hoping for the real subject of your empathy to be free. Just one tweet. Strategic empathy is what I call it. Life is too short to empathize equally.
My point is, we must all encourage the empathy militia. Retweet their tweets when they denounce those who show unnecessary empathy. Tell them they are right. Be disappointed with them at those who are at once capable of mourning for Paris and for Palestine, for Raqqa and for Maiduguri, for American school kids shot by someone who hates Mondays and for dead school boys in Borno, for Chibok girls as well as the thousands of other kidnapped women and boys. No one should empathise that widely. Because a moment of empathy, is a terrible thing to waste.