Blaming Islam for the Westgate Mall attack is fruitless


Joel Kibirige asks whether debating the role of religion in the Westgate Mall attack is the best way of moving forward.

The recent atrocities in Kenya committed by al-Shabab have reignited debate regarding the perceived ills of religion (specifically Islam). However, focusing upon religion is misguided; it appeals to our immediate passions rather than attempting to solve the real issue at hand. Examining the failed state of Somalia is far more productive than commenting upon the fact that al-Shabab is an extremist Islamic organisation.  Religious debates merely create hatred and anger – not solutions.

The world was left in shock following the al-Shabab terror attack on innocent civilians in the upmarket Westgate mall in Nairobi. Harrowing images of dead bodies in pools of blood, the wounded crying out, and children left unattended as guns sounded in the background have again brought disregard for human life by terrorists to our screens. In broad daylight, they carried out their plan and killed 68 people from all walks of life, injuring more than 1000; the fact that people from fourteen different nationalities were killed helped to garner the attention that the terrorists sought. They once more tainted the religion of Islam: dragging it in mud with their savagery and cowardly acts.

In response to their acts, people around the world have again debated if Islam is truly the religion of peace. Islam is the easy scapegoat for most people. Interestingly, most people will fail to answer coherently when asked about Islam and what it stands. They only pick up exerts put to them by those who create prejudice. Instead of focusing upon the fact that people have been killed by murderous animals, the debates always turn towards the pernicious influence of Islam. We lose focus in such discussions, debating whether God exists or not, wasting our energy and passion criticising a religion followed by a more than a billion people around the world. It has a well-oiled machine to support its cause all over the world and it is not disappearing soon. We refuse to be pragmatic and fail to understand that attacking religion is ultimately fruitless. There are millions of people ready to defend and justify their actions under the veil of religion: be it Jews or Christians. There are no winners in such discussions; you just have to be well-informed. Armed with good information, any action does not look as bad.

Islam is the easy scapegoat for most people.

It is understood that the terrorists in this case attacked the Nairobi mall because of Kenya’s involvement in Somalia. Anyone articulate enough can justify the sentiment of al-Shabab. The difference is that they decide to use violence. Their actions are of the worst kind, and the lowest of human nature. They choose to use violence against innocent people rather than pursuing peaceful means of accomplishing their aims. They should be condemned for their savagery as individuals rather than under the moniker of religion. There are a billion Muslims ready to give you cogent reasons why Islam is not the problem. There are a billion Muslims eager to tell you that Islam is a religion of peace, and that extremists mix religion with politics: leading them to hatred of certain policies or liberal lifestyles. The whole process becomes tiresome.

In the case of Kenya, which borders the failed state of Somalia, al-Shabab has killed more Somalians than Kenyans. In fact, Muslim extremists around the world have killed more Muslims than non-Muslims. On the same day as the attacks in Kenya, multiple bombings in Iraq killed more people than the Westgate Mall atrocity. In September 2013 alone, the AFP reported 590 people have been killed in Iraq from such violence. Over 4,400 have died for the same reason since the beginning of the year, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources. Why weren’t the Iraq attacks reported as widely in the world media?

Why weren’t the Iraq attacks reported as widely in the world media?

Somalia’s failed government and state needs to be scrutinised more than religion. Somalia’s lack of capacity to create opportunities for their populace, its failure to provide safety to its own people, and allowing non-state actors to have so much power and influence all favour al-Shabab. The same applies in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Following this route might provide us with real solutions, instead of wasting time debating the role of religion in people’s actions. More than 68 people lost their lives at Westgate, and all we do is to indulge in fruitless religious debates.

Joel graduated from Essex University this year with a degree in Economics and Politics. He is now an intern at the Awaiting Eyes Foundation, working as a Business Development Assistant.


  1. The massive hole in your argument is that there IS clear justification in the Quran for these kinds of activities. There are many peaceful verses from earlier in Mohammed’s life, but as he effectively became a warlord, the rhetoric became more violent. The majority of peaceful Muslims ignore or try and explain away the violent passages. Mohammed himself oversaw the beheading of the men of a Jewish tribe(Don’t believe me, google Banu Qurayza). This level of violence is not matched by even the worst verses in other religions.

    Until we stop pretending it is all out of context and nothing to do with Islam we will get nowhere. There will always be conflicts and grievances, but the religious element makes finding compromise almost impossible. The terrorists themselves say it is about relgion, so why do you know better?

    It’s time for us to have an honest conversation so Islam can have its reformation and we can all move on. Deleting the hateful passages would be a start. If most Muslims ignore them, why keep them in when they are fuelling the same violence in Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia…..the list is long…


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