Vancouver Somali says tragedies like the Nairobi mall attack should be fought with education

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      A Vancouver-based Somali man has said that the attack in Nairobi that occurred over the weekend is the result of an “absurd” mix of “religion, guns, money, and power”.

      “This is a crime against religion, a crime against the Somali people, a crime against our neighbours,” said Aweis Issa, a long-time Vancouver resident who recently returned from two years teaching in northern Somalia. “Kenya is our neighbour nation. So I can tell you that the Somali community in the Western World is totally devastated. Our name has been trashed so we are saddened.”

      Issa suggested that such examples of religious extremism should be countered by creating opportunities for education in the impoverished areas where religious fundamentalists often find their recruits.

      According to a 2013 UNICEF report, only 42 percent of Somali children are enrolled in primary school. For older youths, the situation is worse. “The number of out‐of‐school and at risk children and youth aged 6‐18 years has been estimated at 4.4 million, out of a total population of 9.2million,” that document states.

      Two Canadians are among the 68 people confirmed killed in the attack on an upscale shopping mall in Kenya’s capital city. The first has been identified as Annemarie Desloges, a foreign-service officer working in Kenya originally from Ottawa. The second is Naguib Damji, a businessman from North Vancouver.

      North Vancouver businessman Naguib Damji (left) and Ottawa's Annemarie Desloges were killed in an attack in Nairobi, Kenya.

      Issa told the Straight that he met Desloges once two years ago while renewing his passport at the Canadian high commissioner’s office in Nairobi.

      “She was smiling and that kind of thing,” he recalled. “She was very jovial.”

      Desloges' husband, Robert Munk, was injured during the attack and has since been released from hospital. According to media reports, another two Canadians, Fardosa Abdi, 17, and Dheman Abdi, 16, have been described by their aunt as having suffered more serious injuries.

      Issa has spent much of the last two years teaching agriculture at the University of Burao, which is located in a semi-autonomous region of Somalia known as Somaliland. He has a master’s degree from UBC and has lived in Vancouver since first leaving his home country in the 1980s.

      On a trip through Vancouver while on a break from teaching in Somiland in July 2012, Issa told the Straight of the sadness he experienced seeing the ruined state of his country of birth.

      “[Somalia] has been taken hostage by Islamic fundamentalists,” he said during that interview.

      “The Saudis, they spend a lot of money—no education, no health, no libraries, no pencils—but they built so many expensive mosques,” Issa continued. “On every corner there is a mosque.”

      A group of Somali-based fundamentalists called Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the September 21 attack in Nairobi. Al-Shabab’s stated aim is to install an Islamic government in Somalia. The Nairobi attack was reportedly in retaliation for Kenya’s military presence in southern Somalia. Kenyan forces have led an African Union mission in Somalia that’s battled Al-Shabab since 2007.

      Speaking to the Straight today, Issa again emphasized the need for education in Somalia and emphasized connections between a lack of opportunities for schooling and a rise in religious extremism and violence.

      “We’ve been held hostage for seven years in the name of religion,” he said. “We want peace and prosperity but we have no education, no schooling. But everywhere there is a mosque. Who is funding these mosques?”

      Issa noted that much of al-Shabab’s funding originates abroad, and that the group has a history recruiting foreign fighters.

      Somalia recently received attention from Canadian media outlets for the publication of a book by Amanda Lindhout, an Albertan woman who was held hostage in Somalia for 15 months beginning in 2008.

      After her release, Lindhout founded a non-profit organization that provides educational programs in Somalia. In a recent interview with the Straight, she similarly suggested that uneducated youths can become easy recruits for religious zealots.

      “The lack of education in a country like Somalia creates these huge social problems,” Lindhout said. “Young people, like my 14-year-old captor, are involved in that sort of criminal activity because there are almost no opportunities for youth in these villages to have access to education.”

      Issa said that the international community should “get serious” about al-Shabab and “take a stand”. Though critical of international aid in the past, he said that an emphasis on education should be a part of that effort.

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      Sep 24, 2013 at 9:34am

      The Nairobi attack is not a crime against religion. It is the so-called Religion of Peace committing a crime against humanity. Teach your children to think for themselves and not believe what some mullah reads to them from a book. Show respect for your women by getting rid of the tents that you drape them with. Live in the 21st century.


      Sep 24, 2013 at 4:14pm

      Those who carried out the attack were educated in the west


      Sep 24, 2013 at 9:49pm

      To concern,

      It's not where you were educated, it's what you were educated in. There are Madrases in the West as there are in the Middle East, there are Saudi-funded schools in the West , yes even in Canada - as there in the Middle East; and , also your statement is a very general one. Do you personally know all those who carried out the attack or are you just reacting to the reports that some were Westerners. Think my friend, that's all I ask of all my fellow human beings.


      Sep 25, 2013 at 9:11am

      It's not what you were educated in, it is how you were educated.

      I believe that these furious young men were raised in systems of absolutism and domestic violence. Being beaten, being threatened, watching dad hit mom(s), all of that justified by tradition and honour -- it is a wonderment that more people raised that way (it is hardly specific to one religion) don't give in to the easy outlet of hate.

      Osama Bin Laden himself, I believe, truly enjoyed being educated in the west. He had money, good clothes, I'm sure he dated, visited the clubs, and sucked back a few wobbly pops...but inside him the voice would have been telling him that he was doing wrong, disobeying his tradition, letting himself be filled with evil, and that he must purge the evil.

      Bottom line, these assholes are what happens when you beat your kids and repress their natural urges to think for themselves and to be open minded and kind.

      That doesn't mean I don't think they should be caught and exterminated. It means that, worldwide, parents need to check themselves because there are way too many of us on this little planet to afford to have maniacs running around.

      Religious mania


      Sep 29, 2013 at 2:44am

      am wondering how pple r poorly informed about islam 2write stupid coments abt the religion. wel 2b honest with you..islam is the only way 2heaven thats if u bliv or dont..go do mo research if u dont. its very ironic hw u want muslims 2condemn such violence n keep postings abusive coments about islam..n that book ur referin2...its not a book!! its the holy quran. Gods word... so have respect 4it.