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Cowards with guns

Al Shabaab claims to be fighting for Allah and Somalia, but it is fighting for itself

It has been a number of days since Garissa, and the overall response, though intense in Kenya, has been largely muted internationally. When Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, was attacked in January, there was an international outcry which went far beyond official condolences from government authorities.

The world took to social media, and the slogan ‘je suis Charlie’ covered Twitter from one end of the world to the other. Instead, in response to Garissa, ‘I am Garissa’ or equivalents are lacking on social media and no international outcry has taken the world by storm.

All this, when everyone knows the staff of Charlie Hebdo had at least a finger, if not a whole hand, in their own deaths, while the Garissa students only made the mistake of going there to study, not mocking Al Shabaab, Somalia or Mohammed. But then again, around the time the magazine was attacked, up to 2000 people were killed in Northern Nigeria by Boko Haram.

However, this is not the time to bemoan a world which champions loose provocation and doesn’t mourn real martyrs, which is what the 147 people, mostly students, who died at the hands of the terrorists were.

Kenyans are growing exasperated with the country’s Muslim population, whose complacency is being viewed as complicity in the attacks. All the terrorists in the Garissa attack were Kenyan citizens. Many are considering attacking mosques in response to the attacks, and a number have vowed to do so if another attack takes place.

As the militants launch more attacks into Kenya, attacking civilians instead of trying military installations, while trying to convince the world they are fighting the Kenyan Defence Forces, more and more bad blood will continue running between Kenyan Christians and Muslims.

The results could be catastrophic for the country, which is 7% Muslim. Muslims are a minority, but a significant minority, and they are gaining more attention the more Al Shabaab launches attacks into the country.

If, and when, things boil over, Al Shabaab will not have lost. People, many of them Muslims, will lose their lives, but Al Shabaab will have gained its objective; destabilizing Eastern Africa’s largest economy and perhaps Somalia’s only hope of recovery from the debilitation it has experienced since the civil war 20 years ago.

And so here is another paradox; Al Shabaab claims to be fighting for Allah and Somalia, but it is fighting for itself, and that is why it can afford to attack civilians so brazenly. Killing students is not war. For it to be a war, the targets would have to be terrorists or military personnel who could fight back.

And even then, the warring parties would have to have jus ad bello, the right to wage the war. By all counts, Al Shabaab doesn’t have such rights. Somalia would have these rights if it wasn’t cooperating with the Kenyan forces, since Kenya invaded Somalia, not Al Shabaab.

Kenya, on the other hand, had every right to launch a foray into Somalia in pursuit of Al Shabaab, after persistent attacks by the terror group on the Kenyan coast started eroding tourist and investor confidence in the country.

Al Shabaab is a problem that has to be solved. Politicians, trying to cash in on the apparent blow on the current government, have impetuously advanced that the country’s forces should withdraw from Somalia. It is easy to establish their rationale for this; they want to gain political ground.

They seem blind to the fact that withdrawing would mean surrendering to a band of terrorists, leaving a fragile country in the hands of predatory criminals, and abandoning AMISOM allies, all without surety that the terrorists wouldn’t attack again. It is not just a short-sighted proposal, it is a most painful illustration of the intellectual malaise afflicting the politicians who proposed it.

While the military campaign in Somalia should continue until the cancer that is Al Shabaab is effectively cut out of the region, Kenyans should hold onto the golden rule. It is easy, especially in these sensitive times and with the apparent complicity of the country’s Muslim community, to rationalize violence against Muslims. But the solution doesn’t lie here.

Such a reaction would only make matters worse, and play right into the hands of Al Shabaab. Kenya has a few very powerful cards to play in this tussle; one of the most important of which is the same Muslim community.

Cooperating with the government; taking visible and severe measures against imams gone bad, who radicalize young people; issuing regular injunctions against Islamic terror; frequently submitting lists of suspected radicalised members and generally taking an active role in the anti Shabaab effort, will gain credibility for the community and go a long way in easing tensions.

But the solution will ultimately have to come from a marriage between reason and Islam, which will necessarily invalidate entire sections of the Quran, almost all of the Hadith and centuries of Islamic teaching. Unless this is done, however, even the measures already mentioned will not make much sense in the long run.

Feature image: Voice of America.

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