The dawn of April 2, 2015 will go down in history as one of Kenya’s darkest moments. Garissa University campus was choked with the stench of death and drenched with innocent blood. Hundreds of young men and women were murdered. Scores were injured. A nation is grieving.
Al-Shabaab, a Somali group affiliated to Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the unspeakable horror. This despicable and cowardly attack comes just months after Al-Shabaab killed 36 quarry workers. We still remember Westgate. In a brazen attack on a church an Al-Shabaab militant’s bullet killed a mother and lodged in a baby’s skull. In November Al-Shabaab gunmen attacked a bus and murdered 28 passengers.
The unrelenting, sustained assault by Al-Shabaab militants has left us befuddled. The political grievance behind these attacks is lame. Al-Shabaab has not put forth a coherent or compelling ideological front to justify the scale of violence unleashed upon innocent Kenyans. This is not to discount that fact that Al-Shabaab militants have often claimed that terrorist attacks have been provoked by Kenya’s military presence in Somalia and the crack down on radical Muslim clerics.
Terrorism, especially the kind executed under the pretext of preserving Islam is now the biggest threat to global peace and development. This is the Jihadist ideology, which holds that the rest of the world is comprised of unbelievers whose sole mission is the destruction on Islam. Moreover, Jihadists claim that the only morally correct form of governance is the Caliphate, under the supreme law of Sharia.
Images of burqa-clad women, the plunder of Islamic shrines and beheaded infidels in Islamic State (IS) controlled territories have led many in Christendom to believe, out of ignorance, that Islam is inherently hostile to modernity and human rights. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The attacks in Kenya and the barbarism of IS in Iran, Syria and Yemen are perpetrated by a small but potent minority of evil human beings, heretics, who claim to be custodians of Islam. They must be condemned in the strongest terms. In my view, mainstream Muslim clerics and scholars have been passive and too slow to respond to the orgy of unspeakable decapitations and other despicable horrors promoted by jihadists.
The relationship between peace loving people of Muslim and Christian faiths must not be defined by ignorance and bigotry. Such a clash of ignorance will embolden potent minority groups such as Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab and IS who sow conflict, hatred and death. It would be unfortunate for religious leader to suggest that the Garissa attack or other previous attacks constitute a systematic persecution of Christians by their Muslim brethren.
Terrorism, as advanced by the Jihadist ideology is a complex existential global problem. It is certainly not a religious war pitting Christians against Muslims. In Kenya, it is not ethnic Somali people against other Kenyan ethnic communities. Elsewhere, Shi’a Muslims have had their Imams murdered and their followers persecuted, accusing them of failing to enforce Islamic law or even the proper veiling of women.
We must halt the march of violent extremism. We must apply new tools, build new coalitions and advance more peaceful means to resolve conflict and promote pluralism. For over two decades now we have used military methods to prosecute the so-called war against terror. The idea that you can torture and blast terrorist groups out of existence has run its course. Boko Haram is alive and well. IS is on the march. Al-Qaeda affiliated groups are emboldened.
To win the war against Al-Shabaab Kenya must not resort exclusively to the use of military force. Heavy-handed approaches such as raids in Somali neighborhoods and indiscriminate mass arrest of ethnic Somalis fuels resentment and give ideological ammunition to demented Jihadists. Extrajudicial, gangland execution of Muslim clerics plays into the hands of violent extremists and fuels resentment among moderate Muslims.
President Kenyatta acknowledged that the “planners and financiers of the Garissa University College attacks are deeply embedded in our communities”. Moreover, radicalization that breeds terrorism does not happen under the cover of darkness. The point is that Jihadist extremism is not always imported. The deranged murderers are our fellow citizens.
I hope this signals the dawn of a new approach in the fight against terrorism. We need an approach that wages a blistering propaganda war to win the hearts and minds of segments of our society who are susceptible to radicalization.