The Kenyan Massacre’s Roots in America’s Somalia Policy

By:  Sheldon Richman
09/24/2013
       
The Kenyan Massacre’s Roots in America’s Somalia Policy

Last weekend’s hostage-taking — and the murder of at least 62 people — at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, has its roots in the U.S. government’s intervention in Somalia, which began in the 1990s.

Although there is no justification for killing innocents, it is fair to point out that al-Shabaab, the Islamist group that committed the attack on the mall and that controls parts of Somalia, would probably not be in power if not for the United States.
 
As Scott Horton, host of a nationwide radio program focusing on foreign policy, points out in the September issue of Future of Freedom (which I edit), the U.S. government has intervened directly in Somalia and backed repeated invasions by neighboring African states, including Kenya. In the process, a relatively moderate government was overthrown, resistance to invaders was radicalized, and the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab gained partial control, which would have been unlikely without that intervention.
 
Horton, drawing on firsthand reporting by journalist Jeremy Scahill, notes that after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration compiled a list of countries “ripe for ‘regime change,’” including Somalia, “none of which had any involvement whatsoever in the attacks or any real ties to those who did.... Luckily for the Pentagon and CIA, it was not very difficult to find cutthroat warlords willing to accept their cash to carry out targeted assassinations and kidnappings against those they accused of being Islamists — or anyone else they felt like targeting.”
 
A backlash followed. Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union, a coalition of a dozen groups, put down the warlords and the U.S.-sponsored Transitional Federal Government. “The ICU then declared the reign of Islamic law,” Horton writes. “That, of course, was none of America’s business, and even if it had been, the Somali regime lacked the power to create an authoritarian religious state like, say, U.S. ally Saudi Arabia.... And Somalia’s traditional Muslim beliefs were much more laid-back and tolerant than those in Arabia.”

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