Terrorism has not just brought death, destruction and division to Kenya; it has also changed the way we work, recreate and even worship. Terror has also produced an opposing narrative or response that we now refer to as CVE or countering violent extremism. The Government has its own national strategy on CVE and many counties have also crafted their own plans that include civil society and religious organisations as well as the state security machinery.
This is a very encouraging move. Yet how much effort is made to change the minds of young people and to give them sound religious teaching and alternative non-violent methods to express their alienation in society?
Whenever there is a religious terror attack in Berlin, Istanbul, Wajir or wherever, we are usually told that the suicide bomber or assassin shouted “Allahu Akbar (God is Great)” as he committed his heinous act.
Most consider such terrorists as religious fanatics. Truth, however, is that such people are only half-believers. They believe that they have to defend God and act on his behalf since he appears too weak to take care of his own interests. They imagine that God is under threat and that the world could become a godless one if they don’t rid it of all profanities.
Put another way, they suggest that God is not quite up to the task that he set for himself and they have to step in. Such is the blasphemy of the religious terrorist. They want to save God, forgetting of course that it is God who saves people.
If the terrorist really believed that God is great, he would not kill in his name, for God is able to do his own work without any violent assistance from humanity. This has been the fundamentalist flaw in every religion over the centuries. This is the heresy that gave birth to the Crusades and it influences al-Shabaab and Isis today.
We only half believe but that half can cause harm to our neighbour and to our planet. The Irish writers Jonathan Swift said three centuries ago that we have just enough religion to make us hate but not enough to make us love one another. Half belief and half-baked religion is a recipe for ignorance, violence and destruction. That is why we must incorporate religious leaders into CVE if we want a long term solution to the terror threat.
Secondly, civil society and religious organisations must rediscover the beauty and truthfulness of active non-violence (ANV) as preached and practised by Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi taught that non-violence is the weapon of the strong who resist evil and organise citizens to overcome tyranny, poverty and injustice.
MLK adopted his teaching saying that ANV is not a method for cowards as it encourages resistance, organised resistance. It is the only method that can bring about positive change without you getting killed in the process.
Pope Francis says non-violence is a style of politics for peace – not passivity but active engagement. Eventually good theological and non-violent teaching alone will change minds, hearts and systems and bring about the change that Kenyan youth yearn for.