I do not know if this was a premonition. The imperative sentence, “fear not”, has been stirring in my mind since last Sunday, when we officially concluded the Christmas season.
Those who have been following the scriptures associated with the events or mysteries commemorated during that period will certainly have noted the recurrence in them of the command, “fear not” and its associated forms, like “do not be afraid” or, in classical English version, “be not afeared”.
“Fear not” is one of my favourite scriptural texts. I often mutter it to myself, especially in situations of extreme physical or emotional challenge.
I keep saying, “Usiogope (us’ogope, as I say it), Augustino!” I believe it works, seeing “as” it has brought me thus far, and will probably lead me home.
Anyway, “fear not” is my firm and sincere message to all my friends and acquaintances in the Riverside neighbourhood, my fellow Nairobians and all people of goodwill everywhere, especially those faced with senseless terrorism. Fear not.
One obvious response to this may be that this is easier said than done. Indeed, how can I not fear or be afraid when a monstrous, suicidal maniac is pointing a blazing gun at me or hurling grenades left and right towards me?
The only honest admission is that in such circumstances we only survive by divine providence.
DO NOT FEAR
But that is just one of the main reasons we should not fear. Fear is a basic instinct, controlled by a hormone called adrenaline, as the biologists tell us, that prepares us for fight or flight in the face of danger. It is an inbuilt mechanism designed for our self-preservation.
Fortunately, however, we human beings are endowed with more than mere instincts. We have what we call intellect, the ability to think, learn, remember and reflect. The intellect can help us control and moderate our instincts.
We have to train ourselves to impose our intellectual control on instincts like anger, greed, lust or fear, otherwise unbridled instincts can and will destroy us and our societies.
In the case of anger, for example, we are advised in one of the Hadiths (the wisdom traditions of the Prophet, S.A.W.) that if your anger flares while you are standing, sit down. This will probably prevent your acting or speaking hastily, to your detriment or the detriment of those around you.
Back to fear, what the vile terrorists count on is that we, innocent, decent people, will fail to control our fear and act in fright, terror and panic, to our doom.
This is where it becomes necessary to respond to their tactics with the imposition of our intellect (including “intelligence”, in all its forms) on the instincts of fear which they target.
In practical terms, we have to learn and remember that terror attacks can happen, anywhere, anytime. Alertness, both individual and collective, goes a long way in mitigating the effects of such attacks, as we saw in the case of DusitD2, compared to Westgate five years ago.
Another aspect of fear that we should discard in the face of terrorism is the fear of communication. I was touched and inspired by the alacrity and efficiency with which all those caught up in the recent tragedy used their modern ICT tools to share and respond to information in and around the besieged complex.
The speed and orderliness with which the rescuers responded was also commendable.
But our “inoracy”, our fear of speech, the inability or unwillingness to talk to one another directly, still exposes us to danger. Reports indicate that some strange appearances and personalities had been sighted at Riverside several days before the attack.
Did those who noticed them do what we mostly do in Nairobi, steal a sideways glance at one another and say nothing? I know we should not be judgemental in the middle of these horrific circumstances. But the characters who terrorise us hide in our midst, at least for some time. Are all those who notice and keep quiet sympathisers?
REFLECTION AND MEMORIES
Finally, as I said, we control fear with reflection and memory. Terrorism is a perverted and distorted ideology that presumes that it can effect change through indiscriminate and unbridled destructiveness.
Shocked and saddened as we are by these recurrent acts of murder and vandalism, we have to accept the reality that the ogre has to be relentlessly fought by all of us, leaders and populace, in the region. Even those of us non-combatants who may perish in this struggle should be honoured as heroes.
Speaking of memories, as I salute the heroic survivors and precious departed of Riverside and other attacks, I cannot help wondering how much thoughts and memories of loved ones kept the survivors alive, calm and optimistic throughout the many hours of their ordeal.
For me, it was certainly the memories that kept me calmly following the harrowing turns and twists of the Riverside invasion. I remembered, for example, my Ghanaian poet acquaintance, Kofi Awoonor Williams, killed at Westgate in 2013.
But most of all I thought of Riverside. The area is curiously familiar to me. So, memories kept rushing back as every location was mentioned in the bulletins.
During my early residence in Nairobi, friends of mine, like Henry and Helen, lived in the beautiful university maisonettes just outside UoN’s Chiromo Science Campus, where I remember Dr Njuguna Mugo doing sterling research work on Kenya’s medicinal herbs.
In the early 1980s, my friend Wanjiku worked in the offices of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, near the overhead bridge that connects the campus to the students’ hostel on the other side of the road.
The late Nation columnist, Wangui Gachie, a budding scientist but also a splendid thespian, used to live in that hostel and we frequently dropped her at the bridge after rehearsals at the Kenya National Theatre.
I was even once caught up in a car smash in the area when I nosed too abruptly into the main Chiromo Road!
No terrorist can erase such trifle but priceless memories.