The attack on Nairobi shows how difficult it is to counter the threat of Islamist violence

The result of foreign interventions, aimed at halting an Islamist takeover, has been disastrous

Share

The Islamist militants who have struck Nairobi with such terrifying brutality could not have chosen a more appropriate target than the upmarket Westgate shopping centre.

Kenya is the West’s closest ally in East Africa, and the Westgate mall a haunt of Western expatriates who mingle in the aisles with the beneficiaries of Kenya’s economic boom. It is tragic but not surprising, therefore, that the dead include both Britons and relatives of the President of Kenya. The fact that the terrorists are reported also to have executed children, because they could not name the Prophet’s mother, shows what we are up against. It is pointless to imagine any sort of accommodation with these killers.

At the same time, those who itch for a Western-led military response to terrorist atrocities of this kind will be hard put to define the right response to this outrage. The home country of the al-Shabaab militants who claim responsibility for the attack, Somalia, has already been an object of two foreign interventions. The first was led by Ethiopia, the second by the African Union, which drove the local Islamists from the capital, Mogadishu.

The result of these foreign interventions, aimed at halting an Islamist takeover, has been disastrous. As in Afghanistan, expelling Islamists from the capital achieved little and may have made matters worse. The Somali Islamists did not melt away. They merely felt spurred into committing greater, more random, acts of violence, and unleashed terror on those foreign countries that they blamed for their reverses at home.

Movements like al-Shabaab, whose name, “The youth,” is as vague as its objectives, now appear protean, taking on any amount of forms and upping their activities in one country as suddenly and unpredictably as they lie low in another. That fact alone should remind us of the redundancy of any Western policy towards al-Qaeda and its affiliates that assumes the existence of a single nerve centre or source of authority. These movements can no more be decapitated than a virus, and, as we now see, the much trumpeted execution of Osama bin Laden, however gratifying to the Americans, was in strategic terms irrelevant.

Painful though it would be for many to admit, it is high time that we abandoned the idea that we can shape the outcome of the various civil and religious conflicts raging in Muslim countries by the judicious dropping of bombs or selection of favourites. In Afghanistan it has left us propping up the hopeless, despised President Karzai. In Somalia, via the African Union, we prop up an even more corrupt collection of warlords. Better that we had stayed out of these conflicts militarily. As Kenya mourns its dead, it will have to decide its response to the men of violence. The lesson of recent years is that vigilance at home, not intervention abroad, is the better bet.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

 

Political satire is funny, but it also causes cynicism and apathy

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links