Terrorism and Heroism

by Daniel Rossbach 

Illustration by Manal Fashi

Illustration by Manal Fashi

Daniel Rossbach, originally from Germany, spent a large portion of his childhood living in East Africa living in a small rural village with his family.  He now lives in Ethiopia with his wife and son and works as a writer and cultural researcher for Visual Peace Media.  His passion lies in exploring the history and cultural diversity of East Africa, illuminating and undermining stereotypes with his experience living and working among the Somali people.

Enough has been said about Somali terrorism.  We all know that there are thousands of young men in Somalia fighting for the terrorist organization Al-Shabaab.  We know that they have robbed, murdered and terrorized innocent Somalis for years, including the denial of international aid during the last major famine, and the suicide bombings in Mogadishu in the last years.  We know that Al-Shabaab harbors international terrorists from Al-Qaida and other groups, and that Al-Shabaab is directly responsible for terrorist attacks in Somaliland, Uganda, and Kenya.

So in a lot of ways, the latest Al-Shabaab attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi does not tell us anything new about Somalis.  Sure, it was the largest and most successful Al-Shabaab attack so far.  It was better organized and executed than previous attacks.  it might have been more vicious and brutal than others.  But we already knew that there are intelligent, organized, vicious terrorists in Somalia.  That's not news.

The real news about this terrorist attack is the story of Abdul Haji.  He is Somali, Muslim - and the "Hero of Westgate".  Even though he is just "an ordinary citizen", he was one of the first to enter Westgate mall during the terrorist attack to provide cover for Red Cross workers and to help people trapped inside the mall to escape.  Fortunately, somebody took pictures of his rescue mission, and those pictures made the front page on a number of international news agencies.  And so his story got told.  

This might be the first time the international media is telling the story of a Muslim Somali rescuing American Christians and Indian Hindus.  It might be the first time in Western media that a Somali is being called a hero.  

There is more news to be told about the terrorist attack in Nairobi.  Like the story of the Ambassador of Somalia in Nairobi, who barely avoided being in the mall during the attack, and who was one of the first Somalis to donate blood for the victims.  Many others followed his example and there was even a blood donation center set up at a mosque in Nairobi's Somali neighborhood Eistleigh.  Other Somalis donated money and food for the victims, or joined other Kenyans and foreigners in helping police and even journalists involved in the Westgate attack.  

I hope that in the end, the story of the terrible terrorist attack in Nairobi will remind us that there is good and evil everywhere in this world.  There are criminals and there are heroes in every country and among every people group.  Al-Shabaab make up less than 1% of the Somali population, but they get most of the news coverage.  Let's tell the stories of the 99% who are moderate and peace-loving.  And let's definitely tell the stories of the extraordinary people like Abdul Haji, who not only love peace, but who are willing to fight and die for it.