The Westgate Shopping mall was a mall like no other. It was probably the only place in town where I felt like I was like I was shopping in my native country, Canada. The mall was never empty or quiet. On any given day, warm faces of many different ethnic races would greet you, each face enjoying a unique element that Westgate had to offer. Whether they were at the mall to watch the latest movie in the theater, or enjoy a light dessert at the café, Westgate was home away from home.
My family and I would often go there as our escape, we would treat it as though it was our little retreat. It was a place where we could grab some food; enjoy the scenery as well as the activities the mall had to offer. Our family escape was turned into a war zone. As I was waiting anxiously for a ‘what’s app’ message or call from my mom, who lives 15 minutes away from the mall. I could not believe the pictures and stories I was reading. It was a blood bath.
As the news reports began flooding into my twitter timeline, I read fearfully that the Somali’s terrorist group, al shabaab, carried out the senseless attack in Nairobi’s Westgate mall. The militia group had killed 59 innocent people while wounding 175. These were all people who had gone to Westgate similar to what my family and I used to do. They too used it as an escape, a place to enjoy the company of their loves during their days off work and school. I could not help but worry at the thought my family or family of my friends could trap or even worse be one of the causalities. Unexpectedly, my mother messaged me letting me know she was well, however followed by her text were also graphic pictures taken by friend of the scene. My heart dropped. I could not help but wonder what effects of this attack means to my family or what will happen to my family after.
In the wake of the Matatu attacks in Nairobi last November, the small Somali populated neighbourhood of Eastleigh faced various attacks cited by protesting who had targeted Somali residents accusing them of being responsible for the bomb that killed six Kenyan and injured several. While the Kenyan police were able to eventually to put an end the looting and attacks towards Somalis, this new scenario played out in my head while I was watching the footage from the news.
The protesters earlier were unable to draw an indiscriminate line between al-Shabaab and ethnic Somali residents – so what will stop them this time? In this situation, Somalis were also victims of the attacks despite the attacks coming from a Somali based group, however I fear that this will only be the beginning of more problems for Somalis living in Kenya. These terrorists have turned the blood of civilians into such a cheap commodity by calling to be acting in the name of Islam but rather polluting it instead.
It is evident that this attack will indeed provoke a violent backlash against ethnic Somalis by the Kenyan government and Kenyan citizens. However, despite how angry or frustrated Kenyans are, I urge them to resist turning against ethnic Somalis. Many of these Somalis have been born and raised in Kenya. They have gone to Nakumatt and taken the same Matatu bus routes as their fellow Kenyans. This division between al Shabaab and Kenyan officials could turn from a war on terror into a xenophobic gathering of yet more needless violence. Now, more than ever Somali and Kenyan need to unity and defeat al Shabaab together. It is time that Somali as well as other Muslims within the diaspora take a stand against these senseless attacks. We should not fall to the traps of these terrorists and turn against each other.