No quiet on the eastern front

"No quiet on the eastern front" Continued...

Issue: "Y2K: Binary blowout?," Aug. 22, 1998

A witness to more than enough African-vs.-African violence, Mr. Dortzbach said he feels no more at risk as a white American working in the region. "Mostly simply," he said, "this reminds me of the need for peace-building in our world, and the enormous pain created by hatred."

Western missionary efforts, he said, should be directed as much at resolving the causes of violence as at binding the wounds when terrorism strikes.

Missionaries, as well as political observers, accept the much-bandied plot line: Muslim extremists with state sponsorship from Iran, Iraq, Libya, or a financier in between used local conduits to get at the two embassies with car bombs.

Islamic extremism and political violence in Kenya are not so rare. Last spring, a coalition of three major human rights groups called Kenya "a powder keg waiting to explode." It warned the government to take steps to curb ethnic violence and fighting among political factions, which in some cases were driven by religious divisions.

Two more recent incidents underscore the tense atmosphere. On July 26 the Kigali Market was demolished following clashes between Muslims and non-Muslim shopkeepers. The market housed small curio stalls that were widely known as a good place for tourists to buy local handcrafts. The shopkeepers were due to be evicted after a long-standing land dispute with nearby Jamia Mosque. They secured a court injunction to keep the land, but the rioting-in which one person was killed and a number of others injured-destroyed the market and raised tensions in the community.

During the same week, American evangelist Edward Andrew Stagl was deported after Muslims in the town of Nakuru claimed that he had blasphemed the name of Mohammed. On July 27, Muslims demonstrated against the deportation, claiming Mr. Stagl should have been tried under Muslim law.

The test in coming weeks will be not only how Washington proceeds to solve the crime, but how the African nations relate to their own Muslim populace. Western missionaries say they will opt for warm over wary in contact with Muslim neighbors. One, who lives in a predominantly Muslim section of Nairobi and asked not to be named because of his work among Muslims, said many of his neighbors expressed condolences after the bombing.

If the bombings were a lesson for Americans-that there is no such thing as a low-risk overseas assignment-they served equally as a warning to Africans.The Islamic fundamentalist threat now overshadows even the quiet side of the continent.


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