Strangers are not simply those who are not known in this dwelling, but those who are, in their very proximity, already recognized as not belonging, as being out of place.
– Sara Ahmed, Strange Encounters (Embodied Others in Post Coloniality)
At this time, in this country, many people are looking inwards. Trying to find themselves, some form of self actualization that will help cope with the happenings at Westgate Mall. How does one look at the images and not think “that could be me?” And I mean everyone, no matter what class – from the watchmen to the java lovers.This feeling, that quickly fades, replaced with guilt. Guilt for being slightly relieved that it wasn’t you. Then guilt, fades into empathy, into the work of imagining how the people who were shopping, buying coffee, working, washing, meeting could have felt. Trying to imagine the terror as they watched a gunman open fire; seeing bodies around them drop before the muzzle was in their direction. Then, after the empathy, comes the anger. It is in this anger you hear statements like “They will pay”
“They will pay”
In Strange Encounters, Sara Ahmed describes how a body is recognized as a stranger. How a society is conditioned to accept a certain body as one that belongs, and any other body as strange. The strange, she argues, has been put in our minds to mean the dangerous. All the way from those horrible movies where the aliens would always come to take over the world to the idea that somehow a different person in the neighbourhood would be a robber. This creates an “us” and, invariably, a “them.”
In Kenya it is extremely easy to identify a person who does not “belong” in a certain space. We have a created a very rigid definition of who a Kenyan is that anyone who does not directly fit that description can be spotted a mile away. And, even within the people that are Kenyan in the strict societal definition, the class divide is very easy to spot. There is a hunching, a hiding that the people who do not belong in a certain space have been taught to carry out. To try and go back into themselves, stay out of the way of others. As if somehow granting these individuals the ‘privilege’ to be in ‘our’ space should be enough.
We see this every day. The way a poor Kenyan will carry themselves in the presence of the upper class. How a person who cannot speak proper English will still strive to use it in certain company even if everybody in that space understands Swahili. And how these people will look down at the person who is trying to fit in. Trying to create an identity for himself within the group.
This sort of ‘us and them’ mentality often does more harm then good. In the rugby pitch, for example, after a game the team always prays a Christian prayer. All players on the team are Christian. One would say that, because all players are Christian, there is no need to diversify the prayers. However, it could also be argued that the situation created is where an individual who is not Christian is constantly reminded that they do not belong and, eventually, they go to a place where they feel that they ‘belong’. This space will, more often be with people of their community, which acts just as vehemently to keep the stranger, who is Christian, out. Where the community is saying that the people who are in this space are Christian, those who aren’t need find “their own” space.
The logic here is circular. With the rigorous protection every community does for itself there is an alienation of members who are attempting integration. This alienation confirms the fact that ‘they’ are different. Now they will go back to where they are the norm, where they ‘belong’ and protect those interests, alienating someone else. Repeat ad infinitum.
I write this as I think about the Kenyans who are Muslims. I think about how they have been ostracized over the years and how, following this attack, more is to come. I have already been warned about that people have gathered stones and began to throw them at cars with Somalis in them. I’ve been in conversations where the words “these Muslims” were thrown around with a correctness, and solemn nods. Where people say “We have let these people stay in our land for too long.”
Forget the fact that most of the Kenyan born Somalis, Indians etc have been here for generations. Forget the fact that most other tribes didn’t even originate here. Forget the fact that, if you go for back, we all moved into this land at some point. We assume that, in according other communities the right to exist we are doing them a favour. We aren’t. We’re being human.
The words “Muslim” and “terrorist” are not synonyms.
And should never been used interchangeably, or even viewed in the same light. To do so is, not only to expose a deep seated ignorance of the faith, but to expose a disregard for human beings. We are all different and, because of that, we are all the same.