Kenya Believe It?

Jewish Light Editorial

What are the implications of the horrific terrorist attack at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya?

The terrible incident produced sickening and heart-breaking scenes and reports of cold-blooded terrorists deliberately firing at unarmed and defenseless men, women and children who were simply trying to enjoy a day of shopping and leisure. At least 68 were killed and about 175 wounded in the four-day siege, which was carried out by Al Shabaab, an African affiliate of Al Qaeda.

The attack was apparently planned months in advance, and investigations are ongoing as to whether direct warnings that such an attack was being planned were ignored by Kenyan authorities.  Fortunately, hundreds of potential victims were rescued in what the Wall Street Journal describes as “moments of heroism.”

In addition to the investigations underway by American and Kenyan officials into whether or not explicit warnings were not acted upon which could have prevented or aborted the vicious attack, some additional questions and concerns demand the world’s attention:

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•  Why does much of the world’s media continue to refer to those who carry out such merciless and senseless acts against civilians as “militants” or “fighters” rather than as the terrorists they are?  Terms of war should be reserved for authentic fighting units in a conflict between nations, and not used to confer a kind of “legitimacy” on groups like Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, Hamas or Hezbollah who deliberately prey on civilians.  

•  Did mainstream media do a thorough enough job of fact-checking during the crisis in Nairobi when the governmental spokespersons repeatedly announced that the siege on the shopping mall was “over” and that the hostages had been freed? For hours afterwards it was obvious that the attacks were far from over and it could not be definitively determined that all of the hostages had been freed. While reassurance in reporting can be a necessary step, it is never appropriate to leap to conclusions or to comforting the public when there’s a potential risk of more to come.

 • Why is there no agreed-upon standard by which those groups who take responsibility for mass civilian bloodshed can be charged and tried by the organized international community? The lack of sovereign borders, in a way, has resulted in less culpability for such anarchic forces, not more. The lesson that the world is dishing out, perhaps inadvertently, is that it’s more effective to operate beyond a flag than under one. That seems distinctly counterproductive to legitimate and competent governance, and standards ought be developed at an international level that distinguish these kinds of crimes as specially abhorrent.

 • How can such “soft targets” as a shopping center best be protected from such violent catastrophe? The attack in Kenya was the latest to join Mumbai, Mali, the London subway system, the Boston Marathon and others.  To be sure, U.S. security procedures are more sophisticated than those in Kenya, which seemed to have been sorely lacking.  It behooves orderly and peace-seeking nations to share data, observations and intelligence whenever practical and essential to preclude the death and destruction wrought by acts carried out like those in Kenya.

The attack in Kenya may be viewed by some as just another assault by crazies upon a law-abiding citizenry. But that is not nearly a sufficient perspective, as it allows us to become numb to the offenses against humanity inherent in these attacks. Honest and vigilant media coverage, strong international intelligence cooperation, and indictment and prosecution of non-state actors who commit acts of defined terrorism, are tools essential to combat our descending into brutal and bloody anarchy.