Malicious Pity, Selective Grief and the Broken Hearted Taxi Driver


On Thursday, we woke up to some disturbingly gory pictures circulating on whatsapp. A young undergraduate girl in one of the universities in Accra had been hacked to death by her heartbroken boyfriend who feared a breakup. The story had it that he had covered the upkeep of the girl from high school all the way to her third year in the university. With the university being one of those charging high tuition fees, the taxi driver probably divested his daily sales and occasional tips into the girl’s education. So he felt a sense of entitlement. Was he justified in killing her because of the imminent break up? Hell no. There is no need to go into the moral arguments invalidating any claim of ownership of a person due to some financial spending on the latter. So why then did we hear blame pouring in from some quarters of society on to the girl?

It speaks to our very patriarchal society. Where the female victim gets blamed for the actions of the alpha male. Where we break down the thought process of the male and say “had she not done so and so, it will not have happened”. The more reason why we ask the rape victim “why she did not keep her legs crossed” or “why she wore miniskirts”. And so the ridiculousness of those who ask why the victim of the stabbing incident continued to take the money of the taxi driver when she did not love him is explained. But what is saddening is the lack of empathy or inadequacy of it. When people refuse to walk a mile in the shoes of the victim, spewing equalization and rationalizing every act of the perpetrators, you know a part of our humanity is lost.

The events of Friday the 13th of November made it clearer that we indeed are beginning to lose our humanity. It is a given that ISIS followers and fanatics are bereft of any emotion. This is a group which tweets pictures of its members kicking severed heads around like soccer balls and shares videos of beheadings like normal people circulate funny vines. So the loss of faith had nothing to do with the perpetrators but with those who were supposed to be mourning the victims. The larger human race which is supposed to be empathetic.

In the aftermath of the coordinated attacks on Paris, we all trooped to the various social media platforms as usual, to follow the developing news. Within seconds, #PrayForParis was trending, celebrities and world leaders sent in their condolence messages and Facebook initiated a French flag filter for profile pictures and a “Mark Safe” button. That was where everything went downhill. A day or so before the attack on Paris, ISIS had struck at the heart of Beirut, killing dozens and injuring hundreds more. The world was silent on the matter save for a couple of stories and tweets on the attack. Why the selective show of concern and empathy? Did all lives really matter?

And so the mourning pitted two sides against each other. One side clamored for an equal show of concern whenever something of this nature or worse hit any part of the world. This side pointed out the supposed silence of the world over the sufferings of Gazans at the hands of the Israelis, the gassing of civilians by Assad, the bombardment of innocent bystanders by American drones, and the thousands who have died at the hands of Al Shabab and Boko Haram in Kenya and Nigeria. To them, the selective grieving of victims was unfortunate and had to be called out. Before we #PrayForParis, we must first #PrayForBeirut, #PrayForMaiduguri, #PrayForNairobi, #PrayForCentralAfricaRepublic and a plethora of others

The other side was happy to use Facebook’s filter for the tragedy. To them, there was nothing neocolonial about a call to #PrayForParis. Human lives had been lost and our collective human conscience demanded us to commiserate with the dead. In all truths, they had no concrete answers to the charges of the other side. If they did, it was to simply term as “malicious pity”, the links drawn between the need to need to not mourn the dead of the French and the years of French subjugation of black people in Africa and the Caribbean.

But in all this, we forgot the common enemy. A merciless group of people which saw any non-sympathizer of its cause as a legitimate target. So even though it claimed to follow the Islamic creed, it has killed thousands of Muslims since it grew to prominence a couple of years back. Our frustrations were supposed to be vented on this group which is aiming for our heads and not directed towards each other’s throat. Most importantly though, we missed the plot in all our arguments.

Yes the selective show of humanitarianism had to be vocalized but was a day after people had been shot and some blown up into pieces the best time to do so? Asking people to #PrayForParis was not the same as asking them to pray for the foreign policy of France or sending blessings to the colonial era of the country. It was a call to empathize with the relatives of the dead. For it is worth mentioning that most westerners do not agree with their country’s exploitative actions overseas.

In the end, we collectively failed to be there for our fellow humans when they needed our moral support the most. Imagine being the mother of a victim and scrolling through your timeline and seeing a post like “I will not #PrayForParis. France brought this on itself”. If you chose not to use the Facebook filter for France that is cool but what is not is you calling people out for choosing to do so. Also, if you were never bothered about the casualties in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Myanmar, C.A.R and other warzones around the world, then please get off your high horses and do not for a second think tweeting #PrayForParis or using the filter makes you a Noam Chomsky or politically woke!

Shafic Osman

Posted by Shafic Osman


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