We all feel a sense of loss when innocent people are shot or bombed in some far away country. But the pain is far more pronounced when terrorists strike at home. Last Sunday, terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) massacred 18 people in Grand Bassam, a popular resort beach town in Ivory Coast. To date, this was the first known attack by AQIM in Ivory Coast and follows on the heels of recent attacks in other West African countries like Mali and Burkina Faso.
With Sunday’s attack in Grand Bassam AQIM appears intent on spreading its operations far below the Sahara desert. Like Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or Nigeria’s Boko Haram, AQIM’s insists that its acts are sanctioned under Islam although the majority of Muslims disagree. I wanted to get the perspectives of a young Muslim with close connections to Ivory Coast. I turned to Mbaye Gueye, 33, a Senegalese – American businessman who grew up in Ivory Coast and is presently living with his wife in New York City.
“This has nothing to do with Islam” said Mbaye Gueye. “They came with machine guns and killed innocent people. There is nothing Islamic about that.”
Gueye explained to me that Islam permitted a person to kill for only two reasons: self-defense and to restore honor to God.
“Grand Bassam is a special place where everybody comes for fun in the sun. I spent many weekends on the beaches there as a teenager with my friends. The atmosphere on that beach is very friendly. People who don’t even know you on the beach are happy to share their food with you. That’s the kind of place it is, ” Gueye added.
Grand Bassam is also a special place to Mbaye because he retreated to this ancient town to regain his confidence after losing his first business investment:
“My father gave me those monies as a test to see whether I was mature enough to handle some larger business. I was not ready, made the wrong decisions and failed that test. That was one of the lowest point for me because I wanted to show that I could run my own store.”
Even with that story, and as a Muslim myself, I can see how different Gueye’s values are to AQIM’s. Gueye was sent by his father to conduct business in Ivory Coast because his family was interested in building for the future whereas AQIM agents invest in destruction of the future. How can an ideology of hate and destruction ever hope to take seed in a place like Grand Bassam, which is fondly remembered by those who have known it?
“AQIM’s philosophy will never sell in Grand Bassam or any part of the Ivory Coast I know. It will never sell in the Senegal I know. I sleep better knowing that” was Gueye’s response to that question. “How can anybody say they are bringing the message of God and then shoot defenseless women, children and men at the same time?” Gueye asked.
For the record, I don’t consider Gueye to be religious. He fits more in the category of a modern and worldly Muslim, who privately observes his faith. Gueye has previously explained to me that he observes Islam mainly to maintain the spiritual traditions he has inherited from his parents.
“For me, it is about praying throughout the day to remind me that I am a better person when I pray with brothers and sisters. Fasting is something I do, but is always a struggle. I do it because it reminds of the struggles of too many people in this world. Ramadan also reminds me of the blessings of family as we break every evening with bread, food and conversations,” Gueye added.
And as for me, it was refreshing to hear the perspectives of this young Muslim man on the issue of terrorism. It’s not the first time I have heard a Muslim discuss why the violent and indiscriminate methods of terrorists are at odds with Islam. Muslims have easily borne the brunt of casualties and economic consequences that come with frequent terrorist activity.
But in a world where Muslims are often faulted for not being vocal enough in distancing their religion from the actions of murderous terrorists, Mr Gueye’s thoughts on the matter are most welcome.
Sami Disu handles communications for United People for African Congress. Follow him on Twitter: @disusami