A cocktail of grievances in paradise, Tourism, US swagger and a new Islam have transformed Mombasagreenspun.com : LUSENET : Current News - Homefront Preparations : One Thread
Fuad Nahdi Friday November 29, 2002 The Guardian
Yesterday's attacks in Kenya were shocking, but hardly surprising. Like Bali in Indonesia, Mombasa was once an idyllic tropical island. Now it is simmering with anger, consumed by hatred and sucked into the global mayhem that is "the war against terror".
On my last visit in August it was obvious that the entire community had undergone a massive change. For the first time I felt a stranger in the town I was born in and among the relatives and friends I grew up with.
But the process that has converted Mombasa - once associated with the Swahili song Hakuna Matata (No Problem, theme song of the Lion King) - into the latest theatre of conflict in the terror wars is a complex mixture of global politics, negligence and religion.
Thirty years ago, this predominantly Muslim and ethnically mixed town was a model of communal harmony and co-existence. Western visitors to the Old Town were almost forced to stop and share a cup of tea. Today, they need armed police escorts to guide them around the old alleys and sites.
I grew up surrounded by mosques full of imams and scholars who oozed wisdom and dignity. Their discourse was love-based and God-centred. Today, the sermons echo a message of anger, frustration and hate. As president of the Muslim Students Union at the University of Nairobi, I was obsessed with so many local concerns that Palestine never made it to the top five. Today, Israel and the plight of the Palestinian people is on the tongue of every Kenyan Muslim you speak to. Then it was only us young people who admired the Islamic revolution and the Ayatollah Khomeini: today, young and old, men and women, they all adore Osama bin Laden.
The transformation is total. Tourists are no longer seen as friendly neighbours who have come to share. A young man outside a mosque told me they were the "vanguard of western cultural decadence and exploitation". Despite the massive growth of the tourism industry, only a limited number of local people have a stake in it. It is not only seen as a way of exploiting the local people - all tourist-related industries are either owned by foreign multinationals or non- Muslims - but also a way of corrupting society.
Perhaps western tourists by themselves could be tolerated, up to a point. But US soldiers visiting town, most seeking "entertainment", have become particularly unacceptable. They are associated with gambling, prostitution and excessive alcohol. Especially detested is the Americans' attitude towards the local population.
Over the years the neglect of the coastal province by the central government has not helped in the process of alienation and marginalisation. The fact that the Kenyan regime, one of the most corrupt on the continent, has close relations with Israel, has not helped.
Many people told me that the existence of several Israeli hotels in Mombasa was a provocation, with their high security fences and policy of not employing local people. However, the most volatile ingredient in the cocktail is the changing nature of Islam itself. Local institutions that used to produce the core of Islamic leaders have long ceased to exist. Most imams in Kenya today are now graduates of universities in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Sudan and Egypt.
The result is the emergence of a brand of Islam dramatically different from the traditional one. The new community-based faith being propagated is modernistic in outlook, highly politicised and extremely confrontational.
Mombasa has always had strong links with the rest of the Muslim world, particularly the Arabian peninsula. But the arrival of satellite technology, combined with the impact of migrant workers returning from the Middle East, has helped spawn a new world view.
Most households in Mombasa - where substantial numbers are of Arab ancestry and understand Arabic - are keen followers of events through the al-Jazeera satellite channel. The effect has been to focus discussion on the Palestinian issue above most others.
The activities of the American intelligence services following the Nairobi bombing in August 1998 and September 11 have also greatly contributed towards the pervasive anti-American and anti-western feelings. People have been infuriated by the habit of CIA and FBI agents, accompanied by Kenyan intelligence officers, of barging into people's homes and searching them. To date, the whereabouts of at least 20 people arrested by the intelligence services remain a mystery.
Unfortunately, Mombasa will not be the last lost paradise. The cocktail of local grievances, doctrinaire Islam, insensitive western attitudes and the festering wound of Palestine is too intoxicating, too seductive for any Muslim people to ignore. Add the notion of suicide bombing and paradise and you really have a war on your hands.
-- Anonymous, November 29, 2002