The hellish events in Nairobi’s Westgate Premier Shopping Mall continue to unfold under the digital gaze of the world’s media. However, some of the most poignant and gripping elements of the story are as old as the region’s battles of conquest and conversion.
Soon after the story broke, I noted the following detail in The Washington Post, part of a story that did little to explore the religious elements of the terrorist attacks. That quote:
One injured victim said the attackers had ordered Muslims to leave the premises, in an apparent attempt to target non-Muslims. The victim, an American, told this to a friend, who recounted it to a Washington Post reporter. Other witnesses gave similar accounts to other news organizations.
The al-Shabab militia gunmen ordered Muslims to leave, unharmed. But how did they know who was a Muslim and who was not?
The implication was that — in some cases — the terrorists were challenging some of the hostages and victims in person-to-person confrontations. Thus, I wrote:
It’s very early for specific details, and I get that. The most common statement in these reports is that the gunners simply shouted instructions for non-Muslims to flee and refused to shoot those who immediately responded. However, do not be surprised if, as the terrorists hunted from store to store, the story is more complex than that. In Syria, rebels have been offering Christians the choice to convert to Islam, on the spot, and avoid death.
Anyone who has followed the history of religious persecution in the Middle East, with dominant religious groups crushing religious minorities, could have seen the forced-conversion theme coming.
Surely veteran reporters — after watching recent events in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere — knew to ask those who fled the scene about this fact of death and eternal life?
Meanwhile, here is another related story: Rest assured that if members of ancient liturgical churches died in this massacre, after being urged to convert by the mujahideen, there will be people who will make the case for these victims to be hailed as martyrs. The new martyred saints if Kenya? It could happen.
So what has happened in subsequent coverage?