Islamic jihadism continues to cast its dark shadow across the world. The atrocity in the Nairobi shopping centre is a chilling reminder of the global reach of this vile ideology.
The reported death toll now stands at 62, with most of the victims singled out simply because they were not Muslims. That is sectarianism at its most lethal, where every last ounce of humanity is obliterated by a pitiless dogma.
Although the horror is still unfolding at the Westgate mall, it now seems certain that the attack was carried out by the Al-Shabaab group, a Somalian terror cell linked to the Al-Qaeda network.
This tragedy has been particularly shocking to me, because Kenya is a country I know extremely well.
I lived in neighbouring Uganda for more than 30 years, and regularly visited Kenya, both for business reasons and because I had developed a large number of friendships there.
I left Africa in the Seventies, and the idea back then that Kenya might be ripped apart by fundamentalism would have seemed laughably absurd. Nairobi was an open, prosperous, cosmopolitan city where all races and religions generally lived happily together.
There was little violence and no religious strife. The creed of the African Muslims, with whom I worked and worshipped, was a moderate one. We were on excellent terms with the local Christian communities, regularly attending functions at their churches.
Tragically, all that has changed. Indeed, I could sense a new, more anxious mood in Nairobi during my recent visits within the past few years there to see old friends. There was a smell of fear on the streets. The easy intermingling of the past had vanished.
Houses in the more affluent areas of the city had become mini-fortresses, complete with security grilles and metal doors. Now, as the corpses are removed from the Westgate centre, all the grimmest forebodings have been realised.
Al-Shabaab’s attack in Nairobi has largely been a murderous reaction to the decision by the Kenyan Government in 2011 to send troops into Somalia, under the umbrella of the African Union, to smash the terror regime there.
But we should not pretend that the loud-voiced grievances of the jihadists throughout the world have a shred of justification. The focus of their supposed victimhood varies — they blame anything from American foreign policy to the plight of the Palestinians — but their real aim is the same.
They want to establish a Muslim caliphate across the world, where Islam and sharia law reign supreme. In this religious empire, there is no room for dissent or democracy, no space for compromise or conciliation.
That is why, wherever they operate, the Muslim hardliners are so intolerant. The goal is totalitarian, their methods pure bigotry.
Only this weekend, while one gang of Islamic terrorists was causing mayhem in Nairobi, another gang was murdering 75 Christians at a church in the city of Peshawar in Pakistan, with another 110 innocent worshippers wounded.
And while we in Britain look on in horror at these appalling events in distant lands, the fact is that we cannot pretend that we are immune from the malevolent impact of the zealots in our own country.
It is not just that we have endured a number of serious terrorist attacks in recent years, most notably the London transport bombings in 2007. It is also the deeply worrying social and cultural influence of Muslim fundamentalism within Britain.
The aim of true multi-racialism should be to promote tolerance, understanding and integration. These are vital qualities if our increasingly diverse society is to function successfully.
But while the vast majority of Muslims are tolerant people, the extremists are pushing in precisely the opposite direction. Their eagerness to impose their fundamentalist, alien values is undermining harmony, with suspicion and division rising in their place.
Only this weekend, this was graphically symbolised by reports of events at the Al-Madinah school in Derby, a free school established last year to cater mainly for Muslim pupils. Sadly, the hardliners appear to have taken over its management already.
It’s claimed that, in defiance of all British traditions of tolerance, girls and boys are segregated at the school; that even non-Muslim staff are required to wear the hijab, the Muslim headscarf; and that stringed instruments, singing, the telling of fairy tales and even the use of the word ‘pig’ have all been banned.
I am a proud Muslim — but I find this appalling. Such superstitious, divisive nonsense should have no place in a British school.
We are not living in rural Pakistan or a Taliban-run region in Afghanistan. Apart from anything else, the pupils are being deprived of a proper, rounded education and therefore will not have the same life chances in adulthood.
That is why I am glad the Ofsted inspectors have been sent in to the school. For far too long, the British authorities have turned a blind eye — out of misguided fear of being seen as racist — to the creeping prevalence of militant Islam in our midst.
We see this same fearful attitude in the official tolerance of informal sharia courts in Muslim areas of urban Britain. Such tribunals should not be allowed to operate. Muslims do not need separate judicial institutions.
Under the great English tradition of justice, we are all meant to be equal before the law, regardless of status, wealth or religion. Indeed, it is exactly that genuine equality under the law that has long attracted many migrants to Britain.
How can people ever integrate if the authorities allow separatist enclaves and customs to take root, as we now see all the time in places like Birmingham, Dewsbury in Yorkshire, or Leicester, where I arrived in 1972 and set up my own business interests, integrating happily into the community and setting up civic and political structures to help others integrate?
One of my relatives, who lives in London, recently visited Birmingham to buy some fabrics for his fiancée. On touring some of the city’s Muslim neighbourhoods for such material, he was astonished at how divorced their atmosphere was from mainstream English society, in dress codes, language, food, even architecture.
Women were wearing the full veil or niqab, men foreign garments and headgear. He admitted to me that, despite his own Muslim faith, he felt like ‘an alien’ in this environment.
Nothing imposes that sense of alienation more powerfully than the full veil, which is at the centre of a furore over whether it should be tolerated at educational colleges, or worn by hospital staff and defendants in court.
I personally dislike the growing fashion for wearing it because I feel it is an outward symbol of segregation. There is certainly no religious requirement to wear it. Indeed, I would argue that in British society it is imprudent to wear it, since one of the guiding principles of Islam is that Muslims have a duty to abide by the laws and customs of whatever country they are living in.
Crucially, to me, the veil is a highly politicised refutation of Western values. Its supporters talk about ‘choice’, but there is no choice for schoolchildren or teenage girls from patriarchal families whose parents force them to wear it.
Just as there is no choice for girls who want to mix with boys, or play stringed instruments in Al-Madinah school in Derby, if we are to believe the weekend reports.
My great worry is that, if the British authorities continue to allow the Islamic hardliners to have their way in the name of choice when it comes to segregating boys from girls in schools, or sharia courts, or insisting that women should be allowed to wear veils in all circumstances, then those hardliners will feel they are pushing at an open door.
We must, sadly, accept that there are people in our midst who want to see a hardline Islamist caliphate in Britain. And while the security and intelligence services are nothing less than heroic in their fight against Islamic extremists, continuing to foil terror plots on a regular basis, our civic institutions have in contrast been far too cowardly in their reluctance to challenge fundamentalism.
The shocking slaughter in Nairobi is the true face of Islamic fundamentalism. And we in Britain should never appease such a mentality.
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