On Saturday September 21, 2013, as we turned on our televisions, glanced at major news outlets and social media sites, we were greeted with shock and grief as Nairobi, Kenya was ravaged by terror in a shooting at Westgate Mall.
We watched, with deep disappointment as yet another terror attack shook the world, an attack which would quickly turn our disappointments into fear. Not knowing if the increasing number of casualties would include a family member or friend, we frantically reached out to loved ones through phone calls, emails and social media, to make sure they were safe and out of harm’s way.
Our fear then turned into anger, frustrated with trying to make sense of who was responsible for this heinous crime against humanity. As the news unfolded, our biggest fear turned out to be true; Al Shabab claimed responsibility for this deadly act. We were deeply saddened by the fact that a Somalia-based terror group would attack a country that is home to the largest Somali community in Africa, outside of Somalia. As Somalis, we condemn the acts of murderous psychopaths who seem to be incapable of feeling guilt, remorse or empathy for their despicable actions.
The irony in this occurrence, is that these acts were committed by individuals who proclaim to be advocates of God’s laws, yet commit atrocious acts against humanity.
The Westgate Mall shooting in Nairobi, Kenya hit too close to home, both figuratively and literally. At the height of the Somali Civil War in 1991, many Somalis fled to neighboring Kenya to seek refuge from the war. By the end of the war the small town of Dadaab, Kenya laid claim to the largest refugee camp in the world. The civil war also caused many Somalis to flee to other parts of the world in search for a better life, a life free of war and famine.
The United States became a beacon of hope, a place for new beginnings. A country where my sister and I, two young Somali twins, could dream of becoming successful fashion designers and succeed through hard work. In light of the recent terror attacks, we fear that those dreams have been put in jeopardy. A fear that this new country that we’ve come to love may come to fear us.
However, we trust through the empathy and understanding of the American spirit, this senseless act will not mischaracterize Somali-Americans as terror-loving people, but true patriots and free citizens.
While most Somali diaspora condemn the terrorist act and remain hopeful that justice will be served, a handful of youths from the diaspora have radicalized for Al-Shabab, responsible for multiple terrorist acts, including the attack at Westgate. These terrorists are a small part, and in no way, shape or form reflect the feelings and attitudes of the larger Somali and Somali-American population. A population that has worked hard to carve out a peaceful existence, whether in Somalia or abroad.
We hope that in the coming days as Kenyans and the world community come to terms with this horrendous act: know that Somalis stand united with you in the disapproval of Al-Shabab and acts of terrorism. To quote the wise words of Kenyan novelist, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, “Our lives are a battlefield on which is fought a continuous war between the forces that are pledged to confirm our humanity and those determined to dismantle it.” We must not allow Al-Shabab to dismantle our vision for a better Somalia.
Ayaan and Idyl Mohallim are Somali American designers behind the fashion brand Mataano. They live and work in Brooklyn, New York.