Last Saturday, the al Shabaab militant group stormed a local shopping mall in Nairobi Kenya killing more than 72 people, 61 of them civilians. After a lengthy standoff between the Kenyan defense forces and the militant group, that involved hostages and the use of automatic weapons, it finally ended this past Monday. This attack left over 200 people injured, with still much of the country in mourning over the tremendous loss of life. Many analysts recognize this attack as a calculated retribution for Kenya’s military involvement in Somalia, Shabab’s country of origin.
When I heard of this incident from my friends at school, I immediately felt a sense of frustration, which then turned to anger. Just a few weeks ago, was the 12th anniversary of 9/11. For the first time, I was not only away from home, but living in a predominately Muslim country. Though it has been some time then, as a nation I don’t think we will ever fully recover from it. 9/11 will always represent a day of fear, grief, and ultimately so much loss. I truly believe in preserving the memory of those lost and creating a world that would honor them fully. Like Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The only thing you have to fear is fear itself”. After any tragedy humans have evolved to isolate themselves from the “Other.” We fear those around us in order to protect each other from the unknowns and the uncontrollable. It is unfortunate when people use that fear to harbor hate and distrust over an entire people, whether it be for race, gender, or religion.
Though much of this political insurgency and extremism in Africa stems from politics, poor leadership, lack of resources, and land; much of the agenda of al Shabab is carried out under the veneer of religion. There are more than 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. That is about 1/4th of the world’s total population. It is a tragedy when anyone decides to carry out an act of terror, but it is just as sad that people would pigeonhole an entire religion. Islam does not endorse this senseless killing and violence; in-fact most learned scholars of the Quran would tell you otherwise. The reality is, I attend a school where most of the girls wear headscarves and yet still feel safer here than in a lot of the US. These two factors should not be related.
Terrorists are people who use fear to attain power and influence. Terrorists are people who hide behind Internet usernames and twitter feeds. The same way the Shabaab group announced the involvement of prior U.S and British citizens in carrying out this attack, they are looking to create fear. It is those individuals who cause us to reevaluate our cultural autonomy and stop us in our tracks from exploring the world for our selves.
The other day I was talking to a Somali kid at my school. At the time we were nothing more than a couple of likeminded kids getting to know each other. As a Somali citizen it is much harder to represent your self in higher education opportunities abroad. When people see your Somali passport, they immediately associate you with piracy and radicalism and are far more hesitant to provide scholarships. It is actually the aim of these terrorist organizations to perpetuate this notion as well, and, in this twisted system, it is their desire that we as a nation buy into it. Terrorists look to create divides in our daily lives.
It is important for any country to take precautionary measures in protecting their people, but it is just as important to get to know people for who they are rather than how the media portrays them to be. After all, this is my first step in breaking down my own misconceptions.