Terra Incognita: It’s time to define Islamism as a crime against humanity

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.

Shopping mall attacked by terrorists in Kenya 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Shopping mall attacked by terrorists in Kenya 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 to.
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.
When the 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 Arabia.
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 kill Muslims.
Show us where the Americans and Westerners live.” The killers then came upon a US citizen from Iraq named Abu Hashem.
He later 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 American.”
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 wounded.
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.
“I hope there is no Muslim among them.”
“No, none,” replied the killer.
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.”
Then 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 the terrorists.
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 non-Muslims.
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 was.”
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 mercenary.”
Note how often Zakaria stresses that these were “boys” – he calls them “boys” twice, “kids” twice and “teenagers” once.
The only terrorist captured alive, Ajmal Kasab, was 21 at the time of the attacks.
The oldest attacker, Nasir Abu Umar, was 28, while the youngest was 20.
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 possible.
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.
THESE 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 Shi’ites.
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.”
The 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.”
The 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.
That’s just Iraq.
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.”