Game Changer in the War against Terror
#368 – January 1, 2016
African Great Lakes Initiative of Friends Peace Teams
Children look at the Makkah bus that was attacked by Al-Shabaab militants on December 21, 2015. PHOTO by MANASE OTSIALO from NATION MEDIA GROUP
For me, these folks reclaimed Islam as a religion of peace in the most profound way. And this could well be the game changer in the war against terrorism in the world over.
Gakiha Weru, columnist, Sunday Nation, December 27, 2015, page 22.
Infrequently average people in a simple action do something that changes the course of history. For example, on December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks refused to move from the white section of the bus in Montgomery, AL; on August 14, 1980 what grew to become the Solidarity movement in Poland began when workers went on strike at the Gdanst Ship Yard; and on December 17, 2010 when Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia began the Arab Spring. There are many others. On Monday, December 21, one such incident occurred in Kenya which has changed the zeitgeist in Kenya and has the potential to change Islamophobia so prevalent in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. Let me relate the story in detail so the world can understand its significance.
On Nov 23, 2014, a bus with 60 passengers was leaving Mandera for Nairobi when it was attacked by al-Shabaab terrorists from Somalia about 30 miles from Mandela. The attackers made everyone get off the bus and then divided them into Muslims and Christians. They made the 29 Christians lie on the ground and then shot them to death. One man in the middle played dead and survived to relate the story.
Mandera is 682 miles from Nairobi by road and El Wak is 110 miles from Mandera.
I am sure that on December 21, 2015 all the passengers on the Makkah bus knew about the November 2014 attack and massacre of Christians. Mandera, a town near the northeastern border with Somalia and Ethiopia, has a population of about 30,000 people. The eastern part of Kenya is inhabited by Somali who number around 2.5 million and are the sixth largest tribe in Kenya.
The night bus left Nairobi on Sunday and arrived in El Wak Monday morning. As the map shows, the El Wak is right next to the Somali border so it is easy for al-Shabaab militants to cross the border and attack vehicles. The road is in poor condition and at a place a few miles from El Wak where the bus had to slow down because of large potholes, the al-Shabaab attackers stopped the bus.
Hajib on Somali woman
Buibui, a dress worn by Muslim women, usually black.
As soon as the Muslim women in the bus realized what was happening they gave hajibs and buibuis (see pictures), traditional Somali Muslim dress, to the Christian women so that they could “pass” as Muslims. The attackers ordered the men out of the bus. I assume that the reason attackers only ordered the men off the bus was that they saw that all the women were dressed as Muslims. They told the men to divide between Muslims and Christians. The Muslim men refused to divide themselves, placing the Christian men in the middle, and refusing to separate. According to Sabdow Salah Farah, who was injured and is pictured below, “We started quarrelling with them and told them they were not doing the right thing. We then asked them to kill everyone in the bus or leave us alone.” They were putting their lives on the line to protect the Christians. Al-Shabaab is noted for being brutal and it was quite possible that they would kill everyone. One man from Kisumu, a welder who was on his way to Mandera to work on a project at a school there, panicked and tried to run into the bush – he was shot and killed.
Salah Farah and his family at the Mandera District hospital on 22nd December 2015. He was among the three people hurt and two killed in the al-Shabaab attack. (PHOTO: MERCY ORENGO/ STANDARD)
This refusal of the Muslims to separate from the Christians confused the attackers and they were uncertain what to do. A truck was heard in the distance and the passengers said it was a police truck. The attackers retreated into the bush, the men climbed into the bus which sped away, although three were wounded by gunfire from the attackers. Later the attackers killed a person on the truck which was not a police truck.
What is amazing about this story is that all the Muslim – without consultation ahead of time – had to agree to this rescue plan with all the men putting their lives on the line. If some had backed out or if there had been uncertainty or dissention among them, the plan would not have worked.
Why is this incident a game changer in the war on terror in Kenya? Kenya, like the US, France, Nigeria, and almost every other nation with Muslim-based terrorism concludes that the military solution is the only one available. Although Imans and Islamic scholars continually reiterate that al-Qaeda, ISIS, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and all the other Muslim-based terror groups have deviated from the peacefulness of Islam and the Koran, the world’s Christian community ignores this. Even after more than twenty years since al-Qaeda was formed in 1988, the war on terror has been a military response. It is clear that killing one terrorist, like cutting off the head of a hydra, produces many more “terrorists.” A terrorist who is killed has brothers, uncles, parents, friends, school mates, neighbors and so on some of whom are going to become even more vicious terrorists. When a wedding party is targeted by a drove and many killed, more “terrorists” will spring up from the bloodied ground.
Kenya has been targeting Muslims and Somali as the cause of the terrorism in Kenya, forgetting that the precipitating factor was Kenya’s invasion in Somalia in October 2011. The Kenyan military, police, and government considers all Muslims and particularly all Somali as suspects and has treated them harshly. Muslims are about 10% of Kenya’s population and 5% of the population are Somali – Kenyan population statistics are extremely inaccurate so Muslims and Somali feel that their numbers are undercounted. Since then, al-Shabaab from Somalia has conducted almost 150 terrorist attacks in Kenya killing more than 600 people with more than double that number wounded. With each attack the Muslim/Somali population bears the brunt of retaliation by the government. At the Friends Committee for National Legislation annual meeting, I heard, Hussein Khalid, Executive Director of Haki Africa, a Mombasa based human rights group, report that in the last few years, his organization has investigated at least 300 extra-judicial killings of Muslims in Mombasa by shadow groups organized by the Kenyan security forces. After the al-Shabaab Garissa massacre of 147 students at a university in April 2015, the Kenyan government did extensive brutal security checks in Eastleigh, the Somali section of Nairobi, and put thousands of them in preventative detention in a football stadium under horrible conditions. These kinds of reactions to al-Shabaab attacks are commonplace.
After each massacre the Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims issues statements in condolence and stating over and over again that what al-Shabaab is doing is not according to the Muslim faith and the Koran. Islam is a religion of peace. Muslims, including Somali, collect relief for victims, hold Christian-Muslim dialogues, and otherwise try to show that all Muslims are not suspects of terrorism. These acts seem to fall on deaf ears as far as the Kenyan government and security forces are concerned.
Since the December 21 attack, the Kenyan media has been filled with praise for the Muslims who put their lives on the line to save these Christians. They are called “heroes.” Even President Uhuru Kenyatta had to acknowledge their heroic action: That spirit was shown by the Muslim Kenyans who stood with their Christian compatriots against attackers near Mandera a few days ago,” Uhuru said. “This is the Kenyan spirit that we must uphold and honour. As some commentators in the incident have said, this has raised the bar – all Muslims and Somali cannot be suspected as terrorists. The prevailing zeitgeist against Muslims in Kenya has been broken. This may be the game changer that will change the military solution to one of working with the local Muslim and Somali populations, the vast majority who want to live their lives in peacefulness without government harassment. We will see how this plays out.
I have just finished reading, Karen Armstrong, Holy War: The Crusades and their Impact on Today’s World. The Crusades are where western Islamophobia began. When the first Crusaders conquered Jerusalem on July 15, 1099, they slaughtered approximately 40,000 Muslims – men, women, and children. According to one source, “men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reigns. Indeed it was just and splendid judgement of God that this place should be filled with the blood of the unbelievers.” (page 179) This was only one of many, many massacres that occurred during the Crusades.
If this Kenyan incident is reported widely in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, it could have the same effect in negating the Islamophobia that has been rampant in Western culture since the Crusades. Can this incident become a symbolic incident such as Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus? Sub-Saharan Africa gets short shift from the western media with emphasis on negative items such as the conflicts in the continent and the AIDS crisis. In this case, though, this incident seems to have received a considerable amount of western media coverage – did you read about it or see it on the news? This is where I ask you help. Broadcast this story as widely as you can. I have purposely included all the details so that the story makes good sense. Tell this story to Donald Trump and the other Republican candidates for US president, the State Department that recently refused visas for a Muslim family in England to go to Disneyland, and everyone else that you know. We want to make this incident a precipitating factor to counter the Islamophobia that has been around this the First Crusade. Can this become a “game changer” in the worldwide vicious war on terror?
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Since 1998, David Zarembka has been the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. He is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region (available at www.davidzarembka.com).
David Zarembka, Coordinator
African Great Lakes Initiative of Friends Peace Teams
P. O. Box 189, Kipkarren River 50241 Kenya
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