A huge senseless cathedral of doom – On the attack in Kenya

The Terror in Nairobi

It’s been an interesting, and stressful, weekend.

Although I’ve only been to Kenya once, in 2009, as part of my Masters in Ecological Economics – and I was only in Nairobi briefly, spending most of my time in the country’s south-west – I’ve got a number of connections to Kenya, what with globalisation these days.

In my undergrad life I was friends with quite a few East Africans, Tanzanians and Kenyans.

One of them, who came in my second year, had been caught up in the deadly bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi which had killed over 200 and injured over 4000.

She had been scarred both physically and emotionally, and it certainly served to ‘bring home’ the news I had been so familiar to seeing only on a TV screen.

With this current event, a good friend was caught up in the incident at the mall, but thankfully was able to escape physically unscathed.

Other friends of mine have not been directly affected by this incident, but have close friends and family who were.  So this event hits home to a degree, although I can only barely come to appreciate the terror that my friends have experienced much more directly than I.

The Cathedral of Doom

As I write this, the event is still ongoing, and the final death toll, and various ramifications of this event, are unknown.

One of those known to have died is the great Ghanaian poet Kofi Awanoor.  

I certainly don’t know Mr Awanoor, but I also made many Ghanaian friends over the years, and I am familiar with at least one of his poems, The Cathedral.

I understood it as a critique of Western imperialism and it’s negative impact on indigenous African socio-cultural-economic systems, its words seem strangely poignant in the current situation.

The Cathedral

On this dirty patch

a tree once stood

shedding incense on the infant corn:

its boughs stretched out 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.

To me, at least, this poem takes on a whole new meaning.

A Brief Analysis

I’ll leave a more in-depth analysis of the various causes of this incident for later.

All I’ll say for now is that this ties in quite directly to imperialist meddling in the horn of Africa, stemming from the collapse of Somalia’s government and more recent interventions to ‘re-establish’ a Western-friendly government there, especially through the US-backed proxy invasions of Somalia, first by Ethiopia and then by Kenya.

These interventions took out a moderate Islamist movement which had begun to establish the first unified and functioning government in Somalia in decades, having ousted the various warlords.

In the resulting vacuum, with the moderate leaders ousted and a resistance fight ongoing, the various militia have become increasingly radicalised, and we’re seeing the blowback from those interventions taking a particularly terrible form right now in the Westgate mall.

Some Final Words

In events like this, especially since the 9/11 attack in the USA, it has become common to see a knee-jerk Islamophobic reaction.

The immediate comments on the Bernews article on this incident indeed followed this pattern.

I find it a far too simplistic argument to just equate terrorism with Islam and claim that Islam is an inherently violent and terroristic religion.

I know far too much about Islam, Judaism, Christianity and other religions to believe such nonsense.

The ideology of hate, of terror, that these atrocities are committed by have nothing to do with Islam or any religion, regardless of whether they seek to cloak themselves in religious rhetoric, be it Islamic, Christian or other.

The rhetoric of any and all religions can be twisted and exploited to cloak the ideology of terror.

These actions, act contrary to the central tenets of Islam.

With that, I’ll just leave with a verse from the Quran, 5;32 – from the Sura of the Feast:

On account of his deed, We have decreed to the Children of Israel that if anyone kills a person – unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land – it is as if he kills all mankind, while if any saves a life it is as if he saves the life of all mankind.  Our messengers came to them with clear signs, but many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.

Verse 32 from the fifth sura (al-Ma'idah, 'the feast').  In the Arabic original, translated into English above.

Verse 32 from the fifth sura (al-Ma’idah, ‘the feast’). In the Arabic original, translated into English above.


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