Saturday, November 1, 2014

The last thing this country needs is a religious conflict that will not only disrupt our existing harmony but also plunge the nation into a bloodbath. Regrettably, some of our utterances and actions implicitly fuel this perception, particularly among the youth. For those who do not know, they may ask, so what? A conflict premised on religion would make the 2007 post-election violence look like a child's play and blast this nation into oblivion. It is the last thing anyone should contemplate, and must do everything to avoid. If it happens, may God forbid, the criminals who longed to give the anti-terror war this spin would have won it hands down. And we would have lost it big time!

With the Westgate attack, we stood together as one nation, defying all attempts by the terrorists to divide us. In the recent incidents, the indifference to religion and profiling seems to have been preciously little. The Masjid Musa incident provided much of the fodder. To the Muslim rank and file, raid on the mosque was unnecessary and provocative, and amounted to desecration of a holy place that led to the deaths of seven youths inside the mosque. They believe the police bungled the operation as they could have stopped the convention beforehand. No one resides in the mosques and they are usually shut after Isha prayers at 8.30pm, meaning police could pick up any faithful they wanted to interrogate from their homes. After that incident, the focus then shifted to mosques, imams and Islam, away from the individual.

Utterances after the Likoni incident also did not cool the situation. The government, including the president, immediately concluded that the perpetrators were Muslims and openly warned against the use of religion to  commit heinous crimes. Even after the Deputy President announced that two of the attackers were gunned down, the security forces are yet to tell Kenyans who they were and what was their motive. But the damage was done. The Christian clergy were visibly agitated by the attack and warned Muslim leaders to tame their youths and moderate their religious teaching. Ole Lenku immediately announced a raft of measures targeting Somalis, the largest Muslim community in the  country.

after the attack on the food kiosk in Eastleigh, a massive operation was ordered on Somalis accross the country similar to the one undertaken in Jan-Feb 2013. And before long, Makaburi was gunned down. The social media went into overdrive with hate speeh; christians feeling Muslims were targeting their churches and planting bombs to kill Kenyans, and the Muslims expressing their resentment that the 'christian' government sanctioned their harassment and elimination of their clerics. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If Muslims feel the government is complicit in the killing of the clerics or their wholesale punishment, this should not be  construed to be sanctioned by the church, or that the state is synonymous with christians. Hence, itvwould be wrong to target churches or those expressing christian faith. Similarly, both the churches and the state organs must not give the impression that every attack on a church or other facility is sanctioned by Islam, or Muslim community even before investigations reveal evidence of the criminals involved. The media too seems to exercabate the situation by amplifying the profiling of the Muslims, creating a 'guilt'perception, and providing fodder to extremists who want to take advantage.

Clearly, there is need for the government to change tact if we are to win the heart and minds of all Kenyans in battling terrorism. Radicalism among Muslim youth is not just developed in Mosques as the state thinks; much of it is actually premised on real or perceived discrimination, persecution and violation of the rights of their community. There is an urgent need to rethink our approach to stem the rising tide of intolerance between followers of these two faiths. The current approach will unwittingly help our adversaries to shut down our collective will to overcome this challenge.

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