The attack at the Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi, Kenya comes on the heels of the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard last week. The attack happened on Saturday when 10-15 armed terrorists from the Somalia-based al-Shabab militant group entered the mall and began shooting.
Early reports from those who survived the attack indicate there may be religious overtones in the extremist actions. The attackers told those who were Muslim to safely exit the mall, but they gave a test by demanding to be told the name of Mohammed’s mother. Those who could not correctly answer the question were killed rather than allowed to leave.
Currently, there are about 70 persons who have been killed and at least 175 who are injured. An unknown number of people are being held hostage inside the mall and it is unclear whether the hostages are dead or alive.
Among the victims are those from Kenya, Canada, Britian, India, China, South Africa and Ghana, including renowned Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor. Among the attackers are 2-3 Americans of Somalia-descent, who resided in Minnesota and Missouri.
This is truly an international tragedy that certainly has religious implications, but also has implications for how we live in a global community.
Too often the response after events like these is to demonize those who perpetrated the violence and to generalize their actions to be representative of their religious or racial/ethnic group. One of my fears is that this tragic event will re-incite the stereotype that all Muslims are extremists. I also fear that this event might strengthen xenophobia in Kenya, in particular, but in many countries, in general.
We are not faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ when we allow our fear of the “other” to grow.
We are faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ when we respond to acts of violence in ways that demonstrate love, peace, justice, mercy, and compassion. We are faithful to the gospel when we form relationships with people who are different than we are as a way to build bridges between “us” and “them.” We are faithful to the gospel when we
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join in prayers for healing and liberation in the midst of such horrific tragedy.
This week, I’ll be praying for the people all over the world, that we might see our common humanity and act in love. I hope you’ll join me in prayer.