Monthly Archives: April 2015

Garissa Massacres

But it was not evil that had been born; it was Christianity. Humanity had never before heard such words: ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again… But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you… Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.’ And what did this doctrine of peace and love bring to humanity? Byzantine iconoclasticism; the tortures of the Inquisition; the struggles against heresy in France, Italy, Flanders and Germany; the conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism; the intrigues of the monastic orders; the conflict between Nikon and Avvakum; the crushing yoke that lay for centuries over science and freedom; the Christians who wiped out the heathen population of Tasmania; the scoundrels who burnt whole Negro villages in Africa. This doctrine caused more suffering than all the crimes of the people who did evil for its own sake…

Vasily Grossman in Life and Fate.

Whenever I go to that dark place in myself that tells me there is something wrong with, (and here is the truth that most of us struggle against so much because something in our souls tells us that we shouldn’t think that) Islam I seek out this quote and read it because it reminds me that even words like love your neighbour can result in actions like slavery and colonialism and genocide. These words remind me that the trouble we cause ourselves does not lie in anything divine. It is not in the best image of ourselves, in the ideal that humans everywhere have strived to create out of dreams, memories, dust and magic that the horror we visit upon ourselves lies. It is not the fault of our gods or of our modes of worshipping them that we do the things we do but something else.

I was brought up as a Christian and I can testify that the only holy book I know is not completely a book of peace. The Old Testament is a collection of horrid acts done by a people at the behest of their God or done against these people at the behest of other gods. It is a story of a God that most Christians would not embrace without being given the benefit of his other side. The side that forgives is the one they pray to while the one that burns down whole cities and floods whole worlds and orders complete genocides is one that they would rather forget. Yahweh of the Israelites is a warrior God approving of the war-like ways of his people promising to keep the sun up until his chosen people have slaughtered enough people to teach their enemies a lesson.

But Christianity is not a religion of just the Father. It is based on the teachings of the Son who told us to love. Taught us to respect. And whose teachings human beings interpreted to mean they could do whatever they wanted to people who were different from them. That they could do anything in his name. I always wondered how it was possible that we were made in the image of God if we still carried so much evil within us. Could it be that God had some evil in him too? The Cathars for example were a group of heretics who lived between the 12th and 14th centuries who believed that the God of the Old Testament was actually the devil.

Isaiah 45:7 –I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.


The devil had probably won his rebellion against God, and that he was the one who sat on the heavenly throne, without revealing his true identity in order to trap the unwary.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The church I attended for most of my life had at least one preacher who believed that Allah was a demon. They believed that Muslims who said their prayers to Allah instead of to Jehovah were pledging allegiance to hell. That it was a denizen of hell whose symbolic presence resided in Mecca. That five times a day our dear brothers and sisters all over the world sold a little of their soul in the service of this servant of Satan. For this amongst other reasons I stopped going to that church. I was later told that during the referendum for our constitution they preached that people should not vote yes because it was all a ploy by Muslims who wanted to reproduce so heavily that they would make up the majority of our population and then convert the whole country to sharia law.

You see how it starts. I can. The process of radicalisation is not something that none of us has never been subjected to. The endless propaganda telling us that the people like us are right and that consequently everyone else is wrong.

When One Hundred and Forty Seven students were killed in Garissa I feel that some of the people whose teachings I ran away from felt vindicated. That some of the people who resisted these very teachings became slightly more indoctrinated. One Hundred and Forty Seven people died in our country not too long ago. They were shot down by people who held anger close to their heart. By people who had stopped believing that these One Hundred and Forty Seven were anything that deserved just a little consideration.

When that few people kill so many with bullets and not bombs do they become numb to what they are doing? Is there a point where the bloodlust clears for just a little bit and they get concerned with the mundane things that having a body means they must experience. Things like how heavy the gun is. How hard the trigger to pull. How hot the muzzle. How loud the bullets. How much the blood. All the blood. Does the blood start to distract them from their task. All that blood. Gallons spilled on the ground. The screams of people dying and people waiting to die. And all the blood, the blood on the floor, the blood clotting, the blood congealing and darkening. The blood becoming almost solid. The blood smelling because of all the dirt in the human body it transports back and forth. Do they get distracted by the blood? The way it sticks to their shoes and turns the dust they had carried in into mud. Does one of them almost slip and fall on all the blood as he rushes to stop somebody escaping. Does one of them get distracted by the terrible beauty of red rivers of ruby flowing all across the floor. Does the blood bother them when the bloodlust runs its course. When they stop and inhale a deep breath because all this killing must surely be tiring, do they then think of the blood. Of all the blood.

Or do they think about something else. For a person to do this he must be devout. For a person to come out of their body in the way that this is needed they must believe with all their souls in something larger than themselves. God, country, family. This is not an individual task. This is something done by a person with purpose otherwise they would have been made sick by all the blood and stopped.

It has been hard for me to comprehend that one hundred and forty seven people died.it has been hard for most Kenyans. Many of us have become numb to pains that should have us screaming. What happened is the kind of tragedy that should have us shell-shocked. The proper reaction to losing so many of our countrymen in one go should be one of disbelief and anger. Days of people walking around dazed and confused because things can never be the same again. It should be a day stuck in our minds. A date that we remember with ease but whose remembrance is painful and brings hurt of the most existential kind to our hearts. It should have its own name, a day of remembrance , of that time when we were unable to protect our people and allowed them to be slaughtered like sheep, like mice, like mosquitoes. A day of our failure. A day of sorrow. Like 9/11 was for Americans. But quick without making a reference to anything can you remember the date on which the Garissa Massacre happened? 2/4 that’s our date.

It’s not our only date though. If you Google the Garissa Massacre you will instantly be reminded that much worse things happened in the same place and we forgot. In 1980 a massacre with eerily similar parallels took place in the place known as Garissa. There was a sifting, a separation of people based on their ethnic heritage some were allowed to leave without being harmed. It occurred at an institution of learning. After it life moved on. In 1980 3,000 Somalis died because they were locked up in Garissa Primary School without food or water. Those who weren’t Somalis were let free.

Of course the next question when we hear about such huge numbers of dead is what terrorist organisation carried it out? In one fell swoop taking down numbers that even Boko Haram did not manage with their 2,000. I remember hearing 2,000 or so people had been killed in Nigeria by Boko Haram and that number was unimaginable. Well 3,000 people were killed by the Kenyan Government in Garissa Primary School at a time when the population of our country stood at 16.27 million.

To go back to the 9/11 parallel just to make it clear how important a day that should be in our history. The casualties of the 9/11 attacks were 3,000 people at a time when the population of their country was 285 million. 17.5 times the population of Kenya. To let it settle can you imagine the outrage of America if they had lost 52,550 people.

In Kenya though this is not taught in history books, this is the subject of independent historical inquiry. Something unimaginable that you have to imagine before you can find out about it.

The devil whoever he is resided in the hearts of those who could with such violence, anger and rage with such passion, faith and conviction kill One Hundred And Forty Seven students who had done them harm. The devil whoever he is also resides in the souls of those who could cold-bloodedly allow 3,000 human beings to starve to death, in the minds of those who gave the order, in the hands of those who enforced it.

Many religious books remind us that our actions have consequences.

The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.-Numbers 14:18

Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. The children who lost their parents in the first Garissa Massacre are in their thirties and forties now. They are now men of wealth and position and influence in the society. They are people with a deep grievance against the government of Kenya and against the Kenyan people who turned their backs on them again and again.

This may be part of the answer I was seeking when I began writing this. I remembered my quote about Christianity about how words of love have only ever resulted in fields of corpses. I remembered all the Christian propaganda I get exposed to because most of the people I know are Christians. I remembered the intolerance and lack of understanding that lives in the words of many Christian leaders. I remembered all these things and wondered why there were not as many massacres in the name of Yahweh as there were in the name of Allah.

The difference lies in huge things like the fact of the Wagalla Massacre. I don’t know what the death of 3,000 of my community members at the hands of my government would do to me. The stories passed down of people crowded into this tiny space and forced to wait to die. To wait until death came down with a sickle and picked them off one by one, taking the sick and the ones who were not sick, taking the very hungry and the very thirsty, taking men and women, taking the very old and the very young indiscriminately until there was nobody left. When death was done with his task and the government and its agents left with a feeling of having done what was right of course those left behind were sure that the devil had visited them. That the acts done by an almost uniformly Christian government (fully Kenyan) using its almost uniformly Christian soldiers(fully Kenyan) was an act that deserved to be visited upon their children unto the third and fourth generation.

I have not lived my life in such a place. As such a person. Completely invisible and disposable. Many of the people I have grown up with have not. So when a preacher comes up and says that Allah is the devil or when a church preaches that Moslems want to reproduce and take over the country this is largely a theoretical sermon. Christians know the devil exists but not really. We haven’t seen him face to face. When a person who grew up in a place called Wagalla, a place that the devil visited barely 35 years ago is told that Yahweh is the devil he will take it more seriously. To him the devil is not a concept, the devil is not an idea. The devil is a time and a place. The devil is 1980 when the first Garissa Massacre happened. The devil is something and someone you can hurt, someone you can take up arms against. The devil is real.

I know that it is not that Christianity is the superior religion that there are less massacres by Christians. It’s not even that there are less massacres by Christians just less massacres directly attributed to the service of the Christian God. It is many things. It is also the fact that all those people were killed in the Wagalla Massacre just a few decades ago. It is the fact that until I sat down to write this I didn’t know it happened at Garissa Primary school. It is the fact of so much pain stretching back, so much inhumanity wrecking havoc, so much vengeance waiting to be served and so many things i will never understand. We are all soaked in blood. In all this blood and if we don’t make an effort to see it so that we can wash it away the smell of all this blood will stick to us forever.

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lines

Every morning Maina Kageni gives out a lot of money on classic fm. As long as you call the money is yours, it’s an advertising gimmick that is open to whatever corporation is willing to provide the five thousand shillings up for grabs and pay whatever the rates are for having your name come out of his mouth every morning. He asks a simple question, so simple that you have to try to lose, “I am thinking of a place full of men in suits.” Obvious. “what makes you feel safest in a building’s construction?” not so obvious but there are so many answers that could be right… the deep foundation, strong pillars, thick walls, the reputation of the builders etc.

I would have gotten the latter question wrong because the thing that makes me feel best about a building’s construction is none of those, for me it’s that green sheet that reaches down from the highest point to the pavement at the time that the building is being fixed.

I took a video of this thing the other day because I love silhouettes (then i lost the video. Sad things). Things outlined in shadow and darkness have a pull for me. And these things (the sackloth)make me feel safe because I know that there is no stone coming from the heavens towards me. Nothing will suddenly strike me down like lightning from the lord. I remember when I lived in Norway these huge icicles would gather on people’s windows. Daggers of frozen water weighing kilos and kilos. As long as it was really cold this was ok but with time the weather would get warmer and some of the ice would begin to melt off, slowly, slowly. The foundation of the ice-which was at the highest point of the icicle- would get weaker and more watery and then all of a sudden the base would not be able to hold up this ice dagger. When this thing became weak enough the ice would break free and fall to the ground. A huge piece of ice hurtling to the floor cutting through the cold night air. It would crush on impact with the ground and scatter into a million little diamonds that would then harmlessly turn into little droplets of water. This was the best case scenario however if you were walking under this building it could kill you or crush your spine, I was told that there was a guy who was permanently paralysed by one of these things. So in addition to darkness, cold and slipperiness a winter is also immensely dangerous.

That’s just ice and it can do that, kill you. A boulder can slip as a building is being brought up, stones are passed between the calloused hands of workmen all day, it takes time for mortar to set into the hard glue that keeps buildings together. You see, even though it doesn’t seem like it a building is an amalgamation of moving parts that before they are put together are single compact pieces of their own and it is not unknown for these parts to come hurtling to the ground. If you find yourself under one then that’s it for life or for life as you know it.

The solution to this is that during construction of a building especially in a heavily populated area it is dressed in green sackcloth creating a perimeter of danger that most people know instinctively not to walk below. I don’t know what material is used to make this because I have never touched it but it looks rough. I’m not sure what sackcloth is but that it was used in biblical stories to signify mourning. I’m using this name because it refers to a material that looks roughhewn as if made not to be worn but to warn.

This material is also semi-transparent. During the day you can see through it and on the day I took the video there were people hard at work inside. All you could see was a line of men passing a stone forth and then another one, an endless assembly line bringing a behemoth to being. Because it is a silhouette it looks two dimensional. All silhouettes look vaguely two dimensional. Shadows after all are not solid; they are paintings that light makes on a surface containing height and width but no depth. No real depth because they have the depth of an abyss especially when very dark. They seem inscrutable then as if they are sunk into the middle of the earth and it’s just our eyes that refuse to see all the way down.

This looked like a greenhouse because to the back of the mass of humanity you could see vegetation and this image just took my breath away. Later in the day as I waited at a bar near my stage for the line of traffic to clear I looked and saw another line of people. This was not a productive line, it was a frustrated one. Due to the traffic that cripples the city as rush hour approaches there is almost always a line of people waiting for a matatu from 5 till 7 or 8. This line reaches far back and the sun sets on it.

At first there are the shadows painted by the sun on these people and they shuffle forward ever so slowly as yet another matatu battles its way through the traffic. As the line is reduced at the front more people are fed into it at the back, its appetite is inexhaustible and like any living organism it keeps growing and growing until it reaches its peak. At that point the fight and the fire leave it and it begins to diminish becoming at the end a haphazard mass of people standing and milling about and then nothing.

There was a difference between these two lines that struck me. I’m still not sure what it was. Both signified productivity, they were both made possible only by economic growth and people engaged in economic activities. One was active though. One was alive, making something. The other was passive. A matatu would come and people would shuffle forward ever so slightly and shuffling was what they did, barely lifting their feet from the ground. Tired and ground out after another long day at jobs that most of them did not like and did not feel properly compensated for. The workmen from before would have fit in this line but the truth is that at the end of the day most of them probably walked home because a 50 bob saved is a 50 bob earned and we do not pay manual labourers nearly enough. I’m not sure what struck me so forcefully about either line but something did.

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the levite and his concubine

There is a story in the Bible, the story of the Levite and his concubine. It is a horrible story spanning three chapters of the book of Judges at a time when the lifetimes of many of the greatest leaders of the tribes of Israel were dispensed with in less than half a chapter.

A Levite, the tribe that were consecrated as priests, marries a woman. The woman is unfaithful to him and eventually she leaves him and runs back to her father’s house. The man does not want to live without her and goes back to ask for her back. He does that noble thing that in many conversations with women I hear that men cannot do, that no matter how much they love or who they are they cannot go back to a woman who was unfaithful to them. As if the capacity for forgiveness only exists in women as if male ego obliterates all that is good in each of us. He has that thing we try and try to see in God’s image a capacity for renewal and second chances. However this man is not a role model, this is the last noble thing he does in this story.

He gets back his concubine after a strange couple of verses where her father offers him food and drink to make sure that he doesn’t leave. Eventually he does and because he timed it too late and night-time falls he has to stop at a stranger’s house to seek food and shelter. This stranger gives him space to make himself comfortable. However another band of the homosexual rapists that periodically rove through the bible show up. They knock at the house and demand of the host “bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.” The host is understandably horrified and tells his neighbours that he will do no such thing, he will not allow such blight brought upon his home.

The host is also understandably protective but overreacts by offering not just his own virgin daughter but also the man’s concubine in exchange for the safety of this man. With just a piece of dialogue the bible does something that only a great book can do. It shifts the whole paradigm of the narrative. At first we were witnessing a lone hero standing up to a gang of men who take what’s not theirs. A man who feels that this is not right and will not easily give in to such intimidation. A sentence later we are in shock at the old man. The old man who offers up in exchange for the safety of this man his own virgin daughter and the man’s concubine, he is willing and ready to give up a person he should love above all else in order to protect a perfect stranger. But the Old Testament never put much stock in daughters. They were expendable and forgettable. The Levite’s concubine has meantime lost all guest status just because she is a woman.

What happens next is horrifying too. The Levite sends out his concubine to the men. “…and they raped her and abused her throughout the night and at dawn they let her go.” Judges 19:23. The man takes the woman who he had gone back to win from her father’s house and sends her out to these men to do with as they please. He stays and cowers indoors, soundproofing did not exist back then and the horrendous sounds she makes as they rape and abuse her throughout the night come back into the house. He hears them all and when they let her go at dawn she comes back to the house, staggers to the door, falls down near it and lays there till daybreak. Which is when the Levite thinks to come out and see what is wrong. He sees her on the floor and….ok there may be people who still think that this Levite will gather her up in his arms and nurse her back to health racked with guilt and pain at doing what he did. The romantics will still hope that he spends his life in the wilderness attempting to win back the favour of the woman he betrayed. But let’s not forget what book this story is drawn from we get instead one of those lines of dialogue that the bible should really be more famous for…

“Get up; let’s go.” Judges 19:28

When there is no answer he puts her on his donkey and goes home. Once there he cuts up her body into twelve pieces. A thankless task that has him cutting through bone and gristle, muscle and tendon so that he can quarter her instead of giving her a decent burial. He then sends one of the twelve pieces to each of the tribes of Israel. The Levite is a horrible man, this cannot be denied. However he is resourceful. He can somehow send out rotting pieces of a woman’s body to all the different areas that the tribes occupy and make sure that they are delivered to the leaders of the said tribes. He is also a master of propaganda because once the people lay their eyes on this they ask what happened.

The Levite using satellite TV or twitter or whatever you could use in those days to speak to everyone at the same time tells the Israelites what happened. He obfuscates because he knows if he tells this story as it happened then he may be in pieces. In his version of events the men had come with the intention of killing him then they raped his concubine and she died. In the version that he tells he seems to have been unable to do anything. A gang of men. His life on the line. The rape of his concubine and her death. Nowhere does he say that he sent her out to be raped on his behalf or that when they were done he got up from his night of rest and without first offering her even a cup of water told her to get up and go.

The men who had raped the concubine were from a place called Gibeah and of the tribe of the Benjamites. The Israelites being a warlike people immediately responded the only way they knew how, by taking ten men out of every hundred from all the tribes of Israel and going up against Gibeah in order to give that town what it deserves. Remember these are the same people who call their warlords judges so this is not too surprising. The benjamites are not game with having a town of their people wiped out because maybe some of them were innocent of this crime and the example of Sodom and Gomorrah has to be stopped at some point.

So there is war 26,000 Benjamites including 700 left-handed who could sling a stone at a hair and not miss against 400,000 of their fellow brother Israelites. The Israelites mass up and go to battle and lose. They lose heavily, they lose 22,000 men that day. The ground is slick with blood because this is hand to hand combat. The sand in the plains turned into the thickest, foulest smelling mud you ever saw. You can also be sure that the 700 lefties proved themselves in battle, maybe this is where they lost.

They weep to their Lord who is the same Lord that the Benjamites are thanking right at that moment. They ask with all the seriousness this question deserves whether they should take up arms against their brothers again. Answering as if his throne had been usurped by a Greek god of war who wants only chaos and blood the “Lord answered “go up against them”” Judges 20: 23.

18,000 Israelites are killed the next day.

They regroup, they weep, they fast, they pray. They get an assurance from the Lord. “Tomorrow.” And tomorrow slaughter happens. There is military manoeuvring, fake retreats, slippage past their enemies and a complete routing of the Benjamite forces. The math lays it all bare. The Benjamites had 26,700 soldiers. 25,100 are struck down by the Lord in front of the Israelites that day. 600 escape. This means that in the preceding days the Israelites lose 40,000 men to Benjamin’s 1,000. Shit all we need in wars are left handed people with slingshots.

Their victory is complete. In the grand tradition of Israelite battles they have killed not just the men but the women and the children too. Now though they have a problem, where to find wives for the remaining 600 Benjamites. They took a solemn oath not to allow any of their daughters to marry a Benjamite and they don’t want a whole tribe to disappear from amongst them that we can all agree would be a horrible solution. They show a little mercy. They gather together and ask which of the people of Israel had not shown up for their war council. It is found that the people of Jabesh Gilead had not shown up. They had therefore not made the oath forbidding their daughters from marrying the Benjamites.

The Israelites not having learned from their rash and warrish actions send 12,000 men to put this town to the sword. They kill all the men. They kill all the children. They kill every woman who has ever had sex. Then they take the virgins, 400 in number and offer them to the people of Benjamin. A very ironic twist to what had begun this dance of death way back when there was a Levite his concubine, a man and his virgin daughter. These are not enough women so the Benjamites are instructed to abduct women during a religious festival so that they can settle and repopulate.

So the story comes to an end. One of the most gory stories ever written. There are no good guys, nobody to support, no happy endings. The chapter and in fact the book ends without endorsing any of these actions. “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” Judges 21:25.

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