Tuesday, October 15, 2013


For those graced to live in some portions of the world where security can be a daily concern a little humor is part of the survival instinct.

“What do you call a 14 year old with an AK47?”


Laughter gets us through the uncomfortable moment.     We make friends who whisper to us how to stay safe.    We stay current in the media.    We employ a guard.    We have a fence and a gate.
Yet, sometimes the humor is no longer funny.   I don’t giggle anymore at children engaged in violence.

I’ve watched both “Black Hawk Down,” and “Captain Phillips.”   I saw “Black Hawk Down” in Uganda with a Somali crowd.   I saw, “Captain Phillips” in Chicago, USA with a very different crowd.   Context determines interpretation.

I was in East Africa when the events of both movies happened.      Yet, I was a safe distance from
Growing up in Uganda with my sons, Caleb and Ethan

However, I was not a safe distance from the terrorist activities or recruitment.

Al Shabaab has executed three terrorist actions in places I’ve frequented.    Two occurred on July 11, 2010 at the Ethiopian Village and Kyadondo Rugby Club in Kampala, Uganda.   Another occurred on September 21, 2013 at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.   This could have been me.   It could have been my neighbors, family, and friends who were killed.   Though no one I knew was killed I know people in grief (http://www.jenkinsinrwanda.blogspot.com/2013/10/why-is-westgate-tragedy-so-troubling.html.) 

Al Shabaab claims the terrorists have roots in Minnesota and Illinois.   It is easy to find many articles over the last few years of Al Shabaab’s recruitment.   It haunts me to consider that the terrorists could have also been my neighbors.

In 1992 Jana and I were in high gear to discover funds to go to Uganda as missionaries.   The American context at the time was celebrating the downfall of the Iron Curtain and victory in the First Gulf War.    The national mood in both politics and religion was that we were entering “The Beginning of a New World Order.”

We entered Uganda in March 1993.    At about the same time Operation Restore Hope was engaged in food relief and military protection in Somalia.    Things were not going as expected.   Mission creep was beginning.   

I remember reading a startling commentary in The East African on Operation Restore Hope.   I cannot remember who wrote it.   Nor can I find an original copy so my memory may be off a bit.    What I strongly remember was how the analysis shocked my naïve altruism.    The commentator predicted that the initial waves of American aid would be greeted with warmth and photo opportunities.   Then the aid would create a bonanza of economic opportunities that would reignite militia activity.   The American military would engage the militias.   The militias would create a media moment similar to the Vietnam War in which the American public would see the horrors of war with an unclear objective.   Shortly after the loss of American military lives America would retreat from Somalia.    The commentary was prophetic.

The unpredicted consequences of the Black Hawk Down on October 3 and 4 1993 included an America government unwilling to attempt to stop the Genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and the release of the movie, “Black Hawk Down” in 2001.   

  Both are personal.   

 I didn’t want to see my US Marine Corp brother engaged in Rwanda’s conflict.   I didn’t think the American government would be able to sort through the complications and keep both the Rwandan people and American soldiers safe.    I’m still troubled in many ways by my lack of actions from April 7 to July 4, 1994.  I’m thankful God gave me the grace to serve with Rwandan friends there 7 years.

I also watched “Black Hawk Down” in a Kampala, Uganda movie theater with a Somali crowd.
One of the consequences of Somalia’s chaos was a drifting of Somali people into other places in East Africa.    Some drifted as refugees.   Others seemed to find a few relatives, connections, documents, and business opportunities.   During our time in Uganda there was a slow increase in the Somali community.    Most of the Ugandans I knew did not trust the Somali.

One Ugandan cultural advisor once noticed me doing a repair with hunting knife, and told me, “Stop.   You look like a Somali.”

Another time our radio show did a modern recreation of the Good Samaritan with Somali hero.   Callers were astounded.   Several remarked, “Somalis aren’t good people.

I remember Somali people being kind to me.   I also remember being creeped out by Somali stares.   I absorbed regional prejudice, and still cannot think of a single Somali friend.

The Uganda I knew was one of rapid development.    We finally had a great movie theatre with air conditioning, first run movies, and popcorn.   We went to the movies to unwind.   I was really curious how I would see “Black Hawk Down” in Uganda.

As we entered the theatre Jana and I sat in the best seats we could find - roughly in the middle.   A Somali crowd sat to our right.   A large Ugandan crowd sat to our left.

During the season we were in Uganda generally Americans were seen with favor.

The crowd approached Black Hawk Down as they approached fan participation at a soccer (football) game.   With each Somali killed the Ugandan crowd cheered.   With each American killed in the Somali crowd cheered.   I sat quietly hoping no one would notice my presence.   I did not unwind in “Black Hawk Down.”   The empathies of the crowd and myself were overwhelming.

The crowd left as the movie finished.   We were some of the last to leave.

For a moment I had the strange expectation that I would step out into the parking lot of a suburban American mall.    I only would be in this exotic historical movie for about two hours.     

Instead I stepped out into dirty Kampala street filled with kavera (plastic bags), the smell of sewage and cooking food, abundant street vendors, and a crowd that I suspect included a few pick pockets.    I was back home.   I was in a land I loved.    The exotic was rather ordinary for me.    Yet, I was troubled by the Somali response and not sure what I should do. 

This past Sunday evening Jana and I went to the movies.   The most convenient and interesting one was “Captain Phillips.”

I almost didn’t go.   Westgate troubles me.   I’m struggling with the strange place of faith balancing justice and mercy.    I worried I’d become so angry I couldn’t function.     I worried my empathies bordering on hatred for the Somali would increase.   After all Al Shabaab has three times attacked places I’ve frequented, and the middle class people with whom I have been privileged to serve.

There are many good reviews of “Captain Phillips.”   I offer no new review.    Yet, one phrase in the movie troubled me, “We’re not Al Qaeda.   We’re business.”    I know violent nonsense is a likely consequence when schools and economic opportunities don’t exist.     The hostage situation on the Alabama Maersk happened in April 2009, sixteen years after The East African commentary, Operation Restore Hope, and Black Hawk Down.    Politics and religion play out in nonsense.    Individuals make choices that require the accountability of justice.    Yet, chaos in Somalia has had dire consequences on my community both a near and far.   It is time to do something enduring.

Two, I googled to find out what happened to the kidnapper who survived, Abduwali Abdukhadir
Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, arriving in the USA for trial
Muse.   He has been sentenced to 33 years in USA Federal Prison in Terre Haute, Indiana (a 3 hour and 42 minute drive from my Chicago home.)   He stands 5 feet 4 inches (1.6256 meters) in height.  There is some discussion about his age.   Most of the estimates put him somewhere between 16 and 19 years old in 2009 when the hostages were taken on the Alabama Maersk.   The legal implications of his date of birth are immense, but practically he was probably born in such chaos no one really knows his age.    His whole life has been spent in the wake of The East African prophecy.

 My own sons are that age.    I’ve spent lots of times with East African youth that age.    Young people around the world make poor choices.   Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse could have easily been a neighbor or friend’s son if not my own son.

“What do you call a 14 year old with an AK 47?”

“Son, brother, neighbor, and friend.”

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