Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why we are not wining the "war on terror"

The word terrorism was coined in the 1790s during the French Revolution. Then the Jacobin Party executed a reign of terror against its opponents and used methods including the guillotine.  

But for much of the 20th century the term terrorism was applied to violence aimed, directly or indirectly, at governments in an effort to influence policy or topple regimes or cause political liberation; examples include, IRA, ANC and the anti apartheid movement, Mau Mau, ETA in Spain, secessionist movement in Chechnya, Palestinian Liberation Organization, the Sikh Punjab, the Ku Klux Klan, American Left-wing organization- Weather Underground etc.

Iddi Amin’s 8-year rule in Uganda has been characterized as a reign of terror; his Public Safety Unit and the State Research Bureau were state sanctioned intelligence death squads; effectively terrorist organizations.

Hence terrorism can be defined as the use of violence to advance objectives of race, ethnicity, nationalism, liberation, religion, power and political ideology. Terrorism has been practiced by private citizens, political organizations and state institutions such as the police, intelligence and the army.

But the world and how we understand terrorism was being re-defined in 1979, when the son of a Saudi construction billionaire joined the Mujahedeen, along with Pakistanis and Afghanis to fight the Soviets.

In 1998, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zahawiri, a surgeon, combined the prodigious wealth of his Saudi heritage with the formidable philosophical foundation of a leading Egyptian radical Islamist, Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (Dr. Gadl), and Al-Qaeda was born.

Osama attacked the Saudi Royal family over the use of Saudi Arabia territory to execute the first Gulf War. He fled to Sudan in 1992, where he lived until 1996, from where he directed the bombing on World Trade Centre and is he is associated with Black Hawk Down – which persuaded the US to move out of Somalia.

Bin Laden’s message when US troops pulled out of Somalia was, “we can defeat this great power because they're not used to hardship and tragedy, so if we can inflict that they'll retreat”.

Bin Laden moved to Afghanistan to support the Taliban’s Mullah Omar. He declared American citizens and interests legitimate targets for attack. De-classified documents show that US State Department analysts warned the Clinton administration in July 1996 that Osama bin Laden's move to Afghanistan would give him an even more dangerous haven as he sought to expand radical Islam.

And we know the story; August bombing of US Embassy buildings in Kenya and Tanzania; US retaliatory strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan; September 11 2001, when hijacked planes were flown into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

And the reaction was swift, reckless, and wrong headed and thoughtless.

On March 20th 2003President Bush invaded Iraq in a “Shock and Awe” attack, toppling Saddam Hussein. But Saddam's demise and The mismanagement of the occupation led to widespread sectarian violence between the Shias and the Sunnis, as well as protracted insurgency against the US and coalition forces.  

Here at home, after the Kibaki government launched Operation Linda Nchi, Al-Shabaab vowed retaliation against the Kenyan interest. But we did not listen. Like the US we displayed hubris and intensified conventional military assaults against “enemy ranks”.

Al-Shabaab has stepped up local recruitment, creating an active fighting cell referred to as “Kenyan Mujahedeen”, with 25% of its ranks drawn from recent converts of Islam population. These are largely poor unemployed disaffected youth, mindless foot soldiers who often blend easily in the local population.

Since 2011 terrorist attacks on our soil have escalated. Starting with an attack at Mwaura’s bar on Mfangano Street and numerous other attacks in Mombasa, North Eastern and in the densely populated, less affluent neighborhoods. As long as Al-Shabaab was killing and maiming the ordinary Kenyan it was not a big deal.

But things changed on September 21st 2013, when 69 people were brutally executed at an upscale mall. The Westgate Mall attack demonstrated the bold resolve and ambition of Al-Shabaab. The political, business elite and the upper classes of the Kenyan society listened up.

And, once again we got it wrong. The Kenyan government rounded up and brutalized innocent Kenyans and executed Muslim clerics.

And this year, April 2, the beastly attack on university students underlined the vicious cruelty of Al-Shabaab.

The response this time again was mindless. Close down Dadaab refugee camp and forcefully repatriate all Somalis by bus back to their country.

Decades after the US declared war on terror, Afghanistan is far from stable, Iraq is in a state of collapse; Somalia is unresolved; Al- Shabaab remains virulent; ISIS is on the march; Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the first caliph in generations.

All of this implies that world needs to begin to understand a new enemy and wage the right war; the war of hearts and minds.  

Radical extremism and the new form of terrorism is not a war in the traditional or conventional sense and cannot be countered militarily, with armies and airforce and naval fleets.

It requires that we understand and counter the ideology and the logic of radicalism.

It also requires responses that emphasize rationality over emotion. The first step to developing rational responses is to understand the nature of modern radical extremism or modern terrorism.

Military force can be used but only sparingly, and in support of law enforcement and active and inclusive socio-economic empowerment of youth and women. There is no psychological pattern of a terrorist and no single path to radicalization.

Rather, all types of people follow multiple trails to terrorism. One of the best tools in the anti-terrorist arsenal is to develop law enforcement agencies that act as extensions of neighborhoods.

And most of all, we must strengthen rather than alienate civil society organizations from across all faiths. They are the best weapon we could fashion against extremism.

There is no such thing as ethnic Muslims or ethnic Christians. We are all Kenyans and the demented ideology of violent extremism appeals to the most base urges of all humankind.


We are all in this together and must foster dialogue among communities and transcend the clash of ignorance and promote interfaith understanding and love.

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