Tag Archives: terrorism

We’ve taken out tens of thousands of terrorists…


We’ve taken out tens of thousands of terrorists – including Osama bin Laden.- Barack Obama.


From Obama’s farewell speech to his country delivered on 16th January, 2017. It was  a wonderfully structured speech it could have been sub-titled “threats to our democracy.” He outlined 4 that was the speech. A structure, a theme, an end-point, (there could have been a mic-drop but by now he realises that dropping a piece of equipment doesn’t make a point any truer.)


Somewhere in there he talks about the above achievement. An achievement that makes the United States one of if not the most efficient and bloodthirsty of all the terrorist groups.  I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since then. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I read an article “the Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama.” It’s an article about the drone program that should be required reading for the rest of us. For the rest of us not in America who have to judge their presidents by what they export and he exported death. For the rest of us not in America and therefore in countries where their president can decide to drop bombs on you if he feels you are a threat, with nothing to protect you, not International Norms, not the ICC, not the UN Security Council, nothing but the conscience of the man in the seat. He dropped drones on Pakistan and Yemen killing, killing, killing but Barack is an honourable man. He defined any male between the ages of 15 and 45 in the vicinity of a terrorist as a combatant too but Barack is an honourable man. He personally demanded that he make the decision, that he see the names, that he have the nightmares because Barack is an honourable man.


In his farewell speech he named it an achievement, the killing of tens of thousands of human beings. It left me, it leaves me close to tears to think about this. We must first accept his numbers though we know that no government ever gives the right statistics about the deaths. But ok tens of thousands. That’s not ten thousand, that’s not twenty thousand that is something between thirty and ninety thousand.


Tens of thousands of lives snuffed out. This world of ours is tens of thousands of souls darker. And for what? I want to know what it was for? Is this retribution for the 3,000 American dead seven years before he became president? Weren’t the dead of Afghanistan and Iraq enough, more than enough to quell those fires of revenge? We know that 9/11 was not the work of tens of thousands of people. We know that the ones directly responsible for it put themselves out of the judgement of humans as they committed the act. We know that before he became president the Americans have been killing, killing, killing.


So it was a preventative measure for there have been no terrorist attacks on his soil during his tenure. What’s worth killing tens of thousands? What is it you are preventing? The deaths of a hundred thousand, the deaths of a million, ten million? How do you know what death will do? How do you know that killing that many people over the course of eight years actually helps? This really bothered me. Does he think he is god to play with human lives like this? Is he endowed with the divine agency to weigh them on a scale ? To say it is ok to kill this many in order to save that many? Who the fuck does he think he is that he can make decisions like that? That he can know what will come of such decisions?


But he was tortured I told myself. I said I’ve read his book and listened to him and he has a kind soul. In the Once and Future King an old man reminisces on a crime he committed while 18. He has nightmares about it. The ghosts of the dead haunt him, they weigh him down, he does all he does as atonement for his crime. It was the “necessary” killing  of the innocents prophesied to bring death and destruction that weighed on him. It was the biblical decision laid on King Herod. It was the exact same thing that the former president of the United States did.


This man though did not stand there contrite. He shed his tears later in a moment of love, letting this moment of mourning pass. He should have stood there and cried in pain. He should have said that it is a blemish on my soul and on the nation that I had to kill tens of thousands of people to keep it safe, the world is broken and instead of healing it all I could do was break it further so it wouldn’t break forever. Tens of thousands of people deserve a longer eulogy from their murderer than “we took out….”


In his private moments he may drown in despair for all I know. And I’ll never see the files he was shown, maybe he did save us all. Even if he did it deserves a pause. It deserves a tear. Tens of thousands were not all guilty, it’s not possible, it’s not. A cry for the lost sheep lost forever is the least they deserve. Not smugness “…including Osama-Bin –Laden.” Those were people. Those people had not yet committed crimes, they may never have, so it’s difficult to call it an execution. The problem with this pre-emptive strikes we can find ourselves in a horrid cycle where America kills other people to stop them killing Americans in the future and the only reason those other people are killing Americans is to stop the Americans killing them. The snake swallows its tail and eats itself alive.


I mourn the deaths of all those people. The blood of my brothers and of my sisters. Maybe this was for the best, but I still mourn your deaths and I hope that the man who acted a god mourns you too. You deserve that much.


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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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On this dirty patch
a tree once stood
shedding incense on the infant corn:
its boughs stretched across a heaven
brightened by the last fires of a tribe.
They sent surveyors and builders
who cut that tree
planting in its place
A huge senseless cathedral of doom.

-Poem by Kofi Awonoor who died in the Westgate siege and massacre.


I’ve been lost for words since Westgate happened. Since the name of a place became the name of an event and wrote itself forever not just in space but in time and history and the way we think of ourselves as Kenyans. The way we think of ourselves in relation to our world and our actions. I’ve been lost for words since Westgate. Thankfully Uhuru Kenyatta was not…



I remember needing to hear my president speak and being so proud of what he said, of how he said it. How presidential he seemed in the aftermath of Westgate, doing what we needed him to do and doing it well.


I’ve been lost for words because of how close it was. I could have been at Westgate Saturday morning. I had lost my phone and I needed my sim-card replaced. I wanted to leave the house at 10 in the morning, get to sarit and replace it so I could go to the museum for the story-moja festival. This was not to be, my father sat me down with some work that I slogged at till 1. On Monday I went to sarit and was told that the offices for celtel had moved to Westgate. When they said this I was lost for words.


When things like this happen, things like Westgate, things like my story crop up. Death in large unforeseen numbers seems to exert some kind of gravitational pull. There will be so many stories like this all over the city. Stories of people who would have been there except for this and except for that. Big death has big effects. It has sadder effects than missed connections. The degrees of separation between anyone here and anyone in Westgate doesn’t stretch past 3. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who was there, who was shot, who was killed.


I’ve been lost for words and I still am. There is a need to write through things like this. There is a need to express in words what you feel inside when things like this happen. But I had nothing new or valuable to add to the discourse that has happened about Westgate. There are no fresh insights inside me and there is nothing I can say that can make us feel whole. It’s ultimately a very selfish exercise this post, it’s about me and thinking through things. It’s about doing what I feel I have to do in order to deal with the trauma that Kenya has been dealt.


On Saturday I heard that 100 people had died at Westgate. This was not just an exaggeration but as it turned out almost a prophecy, the changing facts of rumours morphing into the harsh truths of life in just a few days. I was sad when I heard this. A silence came over me, a darkness. I was sure that no one I knew was at Westgate and the day doesn’t pass when I’m not thankful that I haven’t been proved wrong on this assumption. But I felt sad. There was something broken in the air, something not right in knowing that so many people who are my countrymen had died just a few kilometres away from where I was standing. I felt hurt as a Kenyan and I felt it because I was Kenyan, because I was human and because I could feel more for these people than I could for people worlds away going through these issues all the time.


I don’t know why I did but I did. I remember an old episode of the west wing where the president is asked why an American life is more important than any other life in the world. He paused for a moment and considered this, he let out a heavy, hard sigh and said, “I don’t know but it is.” I have no idea why a Kenyan life is more important to me than any other life in the world but it is. An attack like this makes you have to think about things you never would have. It make you question your principles and whether you just held on to them because they were easy.


I didn’t want those terrorists to live. I wanted the Kenya defence forces to open up fire on each and every one of them as soon as they were sighted. I didn’t care about due process or the fact that I am vehemently against the death penalty. What I wanted was death to those who would have visited death on us. Asked then, hell, asked now I would call for a drone program on the people who organised and ordered these attacks. I would want them rooted out and killed. I wouldn’t ask for evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, all I would need would be a reasonable suspicion.


How could they do this to us. What makes them think that a country like mine is open to them to attack, is open to them to come into and kill in the name of misguided interpretations of religion, in the name of a false sense of patriotism, in the name of geo-political consequences that our country walked itself into. I read an article in the guardian by Samar Al-Bulushi . It asked how the world decides which lives are more important. It asked why there was not such a hue and cry over the Kenya Defence Forces and their incursion into Somalia and the subsequent pain and suffering they had visited over there. I read the article past the first line because he did not have a name that marked him as a westerner. Before I began reading it I looked to see who this was who could deem to comment on the actions of Kenya on its neighbouring country. Already discrimination, on my part, had peeked its ugly head, it felt like qualified discrimination but nonetheless there it was.

Once I had established his ethnic bona-fides I read on. He talked about the 700 Somali “militants” who had died at the hands of our army since 2011 and about how it is Somalia that is the epicentre of a war and not the Westgate mall. He had me thinking. He had me thinking about all the feelings I have about America’s drone program and their, sometimes, senseless-seeming war on terror. It had me thinking about the fact that a generation of children in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan are growing up thinking that America is represented by a noise in the sky that drops bombs and how radicalised these children could become. It had me thinking of the biblical proverb, “you sow what you reap.”


But a Kenyan life is more important to me and so rationalisations are easier to come by. After all we did not breed terrorists by exporting oppression and democracy for decades in the past. We are not as guilty of as many sins as they are and so our war with its deaths could not possibly be justification. After all we aren’t nearly as bad as they are. Look at Kenya now, look at all the messages bounding up and down social media that remind us we are one country. Look at all the commentary that says Islam is not terrorism and that not all Somalis are al-shabaab. Look at the pictures we quickly circulated of Major Hussein Ali’s son as he went to Westgate gun in hand and saved his fellow Kenyans. Look at how united we all are.


I think of this and then I think I am naïve. Is it horrible of me to say that I see Muslims more than I used to. I make a mental note now and even though it’s the right mental note I still make it. Consciously I seem to have to remind myself that they did not do this. Maybe that’ too harsh on myself, maybe I don’t have to remind myself that they did not do this. I mean, I know they didn’t. but then I see them. I’m no longer relligio-blind. And though it doesn’t make me sit in a different seat on a bus or even have a hateful thought it’s still something that has changed. Perhaps I’m being naïve in thinking that everyone else has gone on in their non-discriminatory ways. Maybe right now there is someone spreading hate speech, maybe right now there is someone not being let into a matatu and maybe right now there is someone being made to feel as if they are not Kenyan. Maybe…but then I think we are better than that. Because we are Kenyans and Kenyans are exceptional and great. Except we have a capacity for hate and revenge that is as unquenchable as that foundanywhere in the world. I just have to cast my eyes back to the last great disaster and I know that Kenya isn’t all peace and unity. I know that we aren’t all one.


Perhaps I shouldn’t write things like this. Perhaps I should only say things that speak to our indomitable spirit, to our tolerance and our capacity for forgiveness and reconciliation but that would not be honest. What would be honest is to say something about our anger. We are angry now, we are angry at everyone. We are angry at al-shabaab for carrying out this terror attack, we should be. We are angry at the government for letting this happen, we are angry at them for not stopping it sooner, we are angry at them for giving us such conflicting pieces of information that it made more sense to look to social media for facts and figures.


But we are also angry at social media, we are angry at all the thumb-tap analyst who would dare say anything against our armed forces, we are angry at the nation media group for printing such a gruesome picture on Sunday, we are angry at the security at the Westgate for not being tighter than it was. We are angry at the NSIS for not warning us about what happened but we are more angry at the police if it turns out that they were warned and did not stop what had happened.


I was angry at a friend of mine who wanted to know how I was doing. I was angry because I told him and he asked me again. I was angry because there was a general current of anger running through the country at that time and I just needed something tangible to be angry at. I saw a post on Facebook telling people from other countries not to condescendingly express sympathy about what had happened. What we forget is that when this angry there sounds like there is a tone of condescension in the most sincere of sympathies. What we forget is we are not alone in all this.


My friend’s father said that these things have happened before in the world. That we only have to think about what Britain went through with the IRA. Urban terrorism is not an invention of la-Qaeda or their jihad. It’s something that has been happening. I don’t have all my emotions in check enough for this to have been logically cohesive but i had an endpoint in mind and this is it.


Norway 2011-car bomb and shooting. Death toll-77 lives.


Kampala 2010-two suicide bombs. Death toll-74 lives.


Mumbai 2008- shootings and bombings. Death toll-168 lives.


London 2005-suicide bombs. Death toll-52 lives.


These too are our brothers and sisters as are the men, women and children in the epicentre of a warzone that life in Somalia can be.




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