On Saturday afternoon, I watched with growing horror as a series of inexplicable events unfolded at the Westgate Shopping Mall, virtually in front of my eyes, on twitter, the Nairobi Facebook group I still belong to, and on the social media pages of my friends still in Kenya.
What may have initially been interpreted as a robbery gone wrong, or as an in-and-out attack, quickly morphed into something more appalling (Today’s NYT article seems to be one of the most comprehensive, as many of the earlier reports were hurried and largely conjecture: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/24/world/africa/kenya-presses-assault-against-militants-in mall.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130924&_r=0). In our increasingly interconnected world, marked by an almost dangerous social media obsession, my senses were assaulted by live video feeds, gruesome pictures from inside the mall of men, women and children who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a barrage of misinformation and rumors via twitter.
I sat there, in a coffee shop a continent away, feeling helpless, angry, and yes, partially relieved to not be in Nairobi. Had this been two years ago, it’s likely I would have been sitting at my favorite café on the ground floor of that mall. A café that had long been a security concern, due to its Israeli ownership. Had I not come to Jordan for my practicum, I would have been doing an internship with UNICEF in Nairobi this fall. My thoughts immediately turned to those who were still there, and I began to learn, one by one, that nearly all of them were safe and accounted for. However, in the following days, others would learn they were not so lucky. With a death toll breaking 60 people, in a mall frequented by wealthy Kenyans and the expatriate community, in a country I lived in for just about a year, statistically speaking, my Kenya network is big enough that someone would be affected. And they have been. Friends of friends have been shot, were trapped in the mall but escaped, and at least two have lost their lives.
I mourn the loss of freedom and comfort that many of my friends are likely feeling this week, and know that many of them fear additional attacks, or an upsurge of retaliatory violence against the large Somali population in Kenya.
I was prompted to put my thoughts on paper after – stupidly – reading the comments present below many of the news articles I’ve been inhaling. I know better – for some reason, almost without fail, the most ignorant, uneducated, racist and bigoted people dominate the comments section of news stories, political pieces, and even lighthearted Buzzfeed posts. Often, you can spot these people based on their grammar and spelling alone. Reading the comments section of any internet post often leaves me seething with anger, or depressed about the future of our world, or both.
In case you haven’t perused the interwebs lately for comments that make you want to slit your wrists, I’ve taken the trouble to collate some real winners.
“Kill 10,000 Muslims for every soul the jihadists kill. This is a issue that must be played by the rules laid down by these dogs…”
“Yep. Death to all of them.”
“Any ‘god’ who orders his followers to murder is no God. Any religion that thrives on blood and domination is no religion. Any person too politically correct to call out Islam for it’s evil it’s no human being.”
“Death to Islam. This is the only way to solve this scourge.”
“maybe these loyal followers of the pedophile Mohamed were looking for a wife. The guns and grenades were only for Infidel parents who might object.”
“when are you people going to learn muslims hate americans, even the ones in America who act like they don’t have a problem. trust me on this.”
Okay sir, I’ll “trust you on this…….” I’ll trust you, since I’ve spent the past four months living in a country that is primarily Muslim and have been greeted with nothing but warmth, and with open arms, and with kisses and hugs and smiles and “Welcome to Jordan”s. I’ll trust you on this, that ALL Muslims hate ALL Americans.
I know that most people who read this blog, by virtue of the fact that they are friends with me, are reasonable, open-minded people, however I felt I needed to say this once and for all:
Acts of terror committed in the name of religion, and in the name of that religion’s god, are almost never acts that are mandated by that religion. Rather, it is those people who take the tenants of peace and charity that so many of the world’s religions advocate and twist them to create a new meaning, to fit their own political agendas.
I urge people who are quick to paint a religion and those who practice it with a broad brush to take a step back, and understand that as is so often the case in “religiously-motivated” terrorist attacks, religion has very little to do with it.
The al-Shabaab terrorists who seized Westgate Mall are no more representatives of mainstream Islam than the members of the Westboro Baptist Church – who protest military funerals and applaud mass killings like Newtown as God’s retribution for homosexuality – are representatives of mainstream Christianity. Anyone can take the pages of a book and twist the words within to fit their agenda. Every religious text has statements that, when taken on their own, and out of context, and at the convenience of a particular agenda, can sound cruel and can preach hatred. There are plenty of versus from the Bible that I’m pretty sure everyone is very happy to skip over, just as I’m sure the Koran has some passages that, when taken out of context, can be twisted to fit an extremist dogma.
So to summarize – terrorists who commit terror in the name of religion are not true representatives of that religion. The comments that claim we should eradicate Islam, or kill all the Muslims are ignorant and foolish, and make us all look bad. Okay? Got it? Moving on.
In a similar vein, I want to urge these commentators and those with peas for brains to cease their generalizations about the ethnicity or country of origin attackers stem from. In this case, the fact that al-Shaabab is a Somali terrorist organization does not mean that by default, all Somalis hold these values. In fact, there is a fear among the large Somali population living in Kenya that there will be retaliation by Kenyans against them, merely for hailing from Somalia. While there are certainly situations where people living abroad continue to support and shelter the terrorists from their home country, the idea that this is common practice is as ludicrous as assuming that all Americans like the same brand of shampoo, or genre of music (I don’t know…it’s late, and I’m reaching here).
We have terrorists in the US – we have mass murders that kill indiscriminately. We have virtually unregulated access to firearms and a soaring mental health burden, yet people do not make sweeping generalizations that the US breeds mass murderers (let’s for argument’s sake, forget about the other, perhaps more accurate, sweeping generalizations made about the US). Let’s afford other countries the same benefit of the doubt and generosity that they time and again offer us.
I guess I was motivated to open up a blank word document today by a desire to get my feelings on paper, and to explain the reasons for the panic that I feel when I read comments like the ones that have been assaulting my senses these past few days. It terrifies me that there are so many people in the world who refuse to educate themselves about the things that scare them, and instead choose to go on the offensive. The 60+ people that died were victims of a terrorist attack. They may well have been killed by men (and reportedly some women?) who call themselves Muslims, and who may invoke the name of Allah in their attacks, but these cowards were not true representatives of Islam. They are not representative of the majority of Muslims, and for the world to turn on a generally peaceful people because of (admittedly several) isolated acts by extremists would be letting the extremists win. Don’t allow that to happen.
Let love win. Let peace win. Let acceptance win. And remember that today, we are all Kenyans. Pamoja.