The attacks at Nairobi, Kenya’s Westgate shopping mall follow a familiar pattern
to other attacks that occurred in the last few days: in Pakistan, where 81 were
killed in the bombing of a church, and in Nigeria where 159 people were
slaughtered by Islamists near Maiduguri.
The media and political
reactions also follow a neatly crafted script we have all become accustomed
First Islamist terrorists attack civilians, attempting to sort out
the Muslims from the non-Muslims so as to kill only one group. There are the
condemnations of “senseless acts of violence” and appeals for “calm and unity.”
Then all is forgotten.
Those terrorists captured alive will be put on
trial and perhaps executed. And life goes back to normal with the refrain,
“terrorism will not prevail.” The problem is that this script misses a central
facet of Islamist terrorism: We must stop treating it as a simple isolated
crime; even the word “terrorism” has begun to downplay its actual horror; rather
it must be defined as a worldwide crime against humanity.
al-Shabaab attack began in Kenya, witnesses related that Muslims were permitted
to leave. “They came and said: ‘If you are Muslim, stand up. We’ve come to
rescue you,’” Elijah Lamau told the BBC.
The Muslims put their hands up
and walked past the gunmen. “One man with a Christian first name but a
Muslim-sounding surname managed to escape the attackers by putting his thumb
over his first name on his ID. However... an Indian man standing next to him who
was asked for the name of the Prophet Muhammad’s mother was shot dead when he
was unable to answer.”
Similarly, in 2004, 17 al-Qaida terrorists
attacked the Oasis compound housing oilcompany employees in Khobar, Saudi
Upon entering the compound, the terrorists waylaid the first Arab
looking man they saw and said: “Are you Muslim or Christian? We don’t want to
Show us where the Americans and Westerners live.” The
killers then came upon a US citizen from Iraq named Abu Hashem.
told reporters that the attackers were polite; “They gave me a lecture on Islam
and said they were defending their country and ridding it of infidels.” “Don’t
be afraid,” they told him, “we won’t kill Muslims, even if you are an
The murderers then proceeded to hunt down non-Muslims from the
US, South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines, Egypt and Sweden. After a
24-hour siege, 22 of the residents were murdered and many others
In another instance, on November 27, 2008, in the midst of the
Mumbai terror attacks, the perpetrators received a call from their
Pakistan-based masters, asking, “How many hostages do you have?” The terrorist
responded that they had killed a Belgian hostage but had others.
there is no Muslim among them.”
“No, none,” replied the
Later the Pakistani handlers called the terrorists at the Oberoi
Trident Hotel and spoke to those located on the 10th floor. The intercepted
conversation goes as follows: “Kill all the hostages, except the two Muslims,
keep your phone switched on so we can hear the gunfire.”
They reply, “We
have three foreigners, including women from Singapore and China.”
the terrorist can be heard telling the hostages to line up, asking the two
Muslims to stand to one side. Gunfire reverberates, followed by cheering from
IT IS interesting how quickly reports of these attacks
downplay the guilt of the attackers and filter references to the focus on
non-Muslims and the allowing some Muslims to escape the carnage. In November
2009 Fareed Zakaria at CNN did a special on the Mumbai transcripts. Zakaria
claims the men were sent from Pakistan with “instructions simply to kill.” After
playing one clip in which any reference to letting Muslims live is absent, he
notes that “they were told to go to Mumbai and kill as many people as they
could.” Actually they were told to go to Mumbai to kill
Zakaria emphasizes that the terrorists were poverty-stricken
children. “These are peasant boys,” he says. To his credit, he does play a
transcript from the terrorist attack at Nariman house, where the Chabad center
was targeted. The CNN host mentions the “animus against Jews” but then claims,
“in the ’60s and ’70s most Indian Muslims would not even know where Palestine
He compares the actions of the terrorists to “brainwashing... it’s
sort of the Manchurian Candidate writ large.” Later in the program the presenter
again attempts to emphasize how young the terrorists were “these are peasant
boys... these kids seem like teenagers... it [their action] seems almost
Note how often Zakaria stresses that these were “boys” – he
calls them “boys” twice, “kids” twice and “teenagers” once.
terrorist captured alive, Ajmal Kasab, was 21 at the time of the
The oldest attacker, Nasir Abu Umar, was 28, while the youngest
Why the conscious effort to redefine these men as children? Why
the conscious decision not to include the part of the transcript including the
instructions not to kill Muslims, and to paint the attack as indiscriminate? The
real story was that these men set out to kill as many non-Muslims as
The media seeks to hide this facet to foster the narrative of
“unity,” yet presenting Muslims and non-Muslims as the victims of terror
obscures the genocidal nature of the crime. When the radical, right wing Golden
Dawn party gained popularity last year, the media highlighted the “antiimmigrant
violence” it was involved in.
There was no downplaying the members as
“peasant boys” or obscuring of who the violence was directed at.
THREE examples – Mumbai, Khobar and Nairobi – are only the tip of the iceberg.
From southern Thailand, to Mindanao in the Philippines, to Syria and beyond, the
Islamist or jihadist mentality leads to the mass killing of either non- Muslims,
or sometimes to the sectarian slaughter of Muslims, usually
Hundreds of Shi’ites are massacred every year in Pakistan by
the Taliban, for instance.
In many cases the terrorists separate Shi’ites
from non-Shi’ites, usually identifying them by their first names. For instance,
on August 17, 2012, it was reported that “gunmen wearing army uniforms checked
the identification cards of the passengers, lined up the Shi’ite passengers on
the roadside, tied their hands and then opened fire on them.” Sound familiar?
Many over the years have identified Islamism as “Islamo-fascism” and argued that
it champions a form of genocide. But it has not sunk in. We don’t prosecute
terrorists as war criminals committing crimes against humanity. Instead, we
often obfuscate the nature of terrorist attacks, pretending that terrorists are
“misguided youth” who “set out to kill as many as possible.”
genocidal nature of this type of terror is downplayed. The New York Times
described the Nairobi perpetrators as “Shabaab militant attackers.” Really? When
they killed 78-year-old Ghanian poet Kofi Awooner and Kenyan radio host Ruhila
Adatia-Sood, was that part of a “military” operation? The scenes of piles of
dead women sprawled on the floor of the mall; is that “militant?” In a Times
article on the anniversary of the Ku Klux Klan bombing of a church in 1963 the
perpetrators are not called “militants.” Yet the objectives and methods of the
KKK were no different than the Shabaab or Taliban: the killing of specific
groups. No one pretends the KKK “set out to kill indiscriminately.”
KKK is estimated to have killed 4,743 people between 1882 and 1968. The number
of primarily sectariantargeted killings in Iraq in 2012 was 4,574.
Adding up the number of victims from attacks patterned along
the lines of the one carried out in Kenya, or the ethnic cleansing of
non-Muslims in places such as Egypt and Northern Nigeria, would bring the number
up to tens of thousands in the past decade – millions in the past century. This
is a “soft” genocide, embodied by the firebombing of a church in Egypt or the
shooting of Alawite truck drivers in Syria.
It is time to stop hiding
what connects Mumbai to Westgate and Khobar. It is a worldwide campaign of
ethnic cleansing and murder, and the world community must define this as a crime
against humanity and not just as “terrorism.”
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