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State bungled handling of al-Faisal demo

By | January 18th 2010

Last Friday’s fighting between police and Islamic youths protesting the botched deportation of Jamaican Muslim preacher Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal must serve as a wake up call to Kenya. In the least, and through the stoning of the protestors by known idlers, it showed how sensitive matters of religion are. It must open our eyes to how easily emotions surrounding the issues can be manipulated.

The fact is, though the police were dealing with a riotous mob, there is no justification whatsoever to lob tear-gas canisters into places of worship like the Jamia Mosque, spray those inside the walled prayer house with water cannons, or use live ammunition against unarmed protestors. The insensitivity of actions that desecrate a prayer house is counter-productive and dangerous.

Indeed, the investigation announced by Minister for Internal Security Prof George Saitoti on Sunday must get to the bottom of claims that police initially let violence on the Muslims by civilians go on until they saw television cameras rolling. Two, it must also establish how true the claims are al-Faisal, who in on a terror watch lists, managed to gain entry through a border post whose computer network was down.

Three, it must verify claims at least two of the youths bore pistols and were responsible for bullet wounds suffered by one police officer. If there is incontrovertible evidence this is true, Government has to squarely lay it before Muslim leaders, whose stand has always been non-violence.

Fourthly, the State should invite the wider leadership of the Muslim community to discuss claims their ranks had been infiltrated by Somalia’s al-Shabaab group, an offshoot of the Union of Islamic Courts. Until this link is proven, it must be considered a careless, premature and sensational claim by the minister.

Who, for example, verified the black flag waved by the masked protestor was, indeed, similar to al-Shabaab’s? Does the minister realise the claim at this stage — with emotions still running high — could incite a dangerous form of phobia against Islam?

Yes, there was a demonstration. Police declared it illegal, but it went ahead anyway. Yes, Mr al-Faisal is a banned from preaching in his motherland, has been convicted of terror charge, and is not averse to foul language laced with hate for non-Muslims. This does not justify Friday’s chaos.

We may need to ask ourselves what it would have cost to let the demonstrators march away from the mosque before breaking them up. As they say, and which those in authority never seem to learn, you do not walk into a trap when you see one. The police swallowed the bait when it responded to the stir outside the mosque with bullets and water cannons.

In a hole

No one in its ranks appears to take comfort in the fact that the wider Muslim leadership has so far been silent on al-Faisal and has been keen not to be drawn into the debate on his movement in Kenya. And so stuck with him on our soil, with no airline willing to take him, we decided to dig the very hole we found ourselves in, deeper. It was even more ridiculous and monstrous how Dr Alfred Mutua, the Government’s spokesman, got himself in the riotous mob, only to be pelted with stones and humiliated. Perhaps we should ask what it would have cost the country to let the protest go on, ensure safety for non-protestors and their properties, and only intervene on violence.

We need to ask hard questions like what would have happened had non-Muslims, most of them staking out opportunities to loot, in the worst case scenario burned down say Jamia Mosque or looted the adjoining shops. Have we as a country forgotten that Islamic terror groups do not have a visible standing army? Have we also calculated the risk an unsubstantiated claim on al-Shabaab infiltration portends for the economy and our reputation?

Even when dealing with an illegality, we must remember two wrongs do not make a right. It is disgraceful that the police killed in the name of restoring peace.

Finally, the road to better religious relations and peace lies in dialogue. The State should work with the Muslim leadership, not against it, to achieve its goal of a peaceful and cohesive nation.

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