The 2013 Kenya Westgate shopping mall, Fortress Europe and refugees in the English Channel

It is the selective outrage, and the exploitation of our reactions by the corporate media and the governments they serve, which reveals the insular nature of our Anglocentric political culture.

The 2013 attack in the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya, was a terrible atrocity. Committed by Al Shabaab militants, the attackers were retaliating for Kenya’s role – and Ethiopia’s – in the invasion and chaos in their native Somalia. The guerrilla insurgency of Al Shabaab spilled over the borders, and was on gruesome display in Nairobi.

Paul Gottinger, writing in Counterpunch, cautions us to be wary of the grotesquely insincere and manufactured emotions of the media punditocracy when understanding why the Westgate attack occurred:

We must resist being held hostage to the emotions the media tell us we must feel. The cheap, bewildered horror we are to maintain demeans not only ourselves, but the victims as well.


For it only disrespects those killed when we allow the vile media and criminal governments they serve to monopolize the narrative of terror attacks like these.

Somalia has long been a target of imperialist intervention, given its strategic location at the Horn of Africa and at the entrance to the Red Sea. While US forces were defeated by a local insurgency in the early 1990s, the United States has sought to intervene in Somalia by using African proxies. The Ethiopian and Kenyan militaries fit the bill, with Ethiopia especially being prepared by US forces for its invasion of Somalia.

The Somali guerrilla insurgency, in the shape of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), brought a sense of order and stability in the areas they controlled. But it was the 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia which radicalised guerrilla groups, such as Al Shabaab, waging a nationalist reaction against a foreign-backed enemy. Kenya fully complied with this 2006 war against the Somali Islamist militants.

The nationalist aspect of the Somali insurgency is often ignored; portraying the enemy as irrational, inflexible Muslim militants satisfies our sense of outrage, making purported sense of ‘senseless violence.’ The numerous drone strikes on Mogadishu, which involve hundreds of Somali fatalities, are routinely ignored.

The purpose of this brief and necessarily truncated account of recent Somali history is to expose the selective and hypocritical outrage of our corporate media commentariat. Shopping mall victims made good copy – given our Australian consumerist shopping culture. Going into details about foreign policy outcomes which result in foreign victims – and allocating responsibility for our imperialistic conduct – is time-consuming and outside our Anglocentric insular vision.

Fortress Europe created the conditions responsible for refugee deaths

In 2013, the same year as the Westgate mall attack, a group of 300 refugees drowned off the coast of the Italian island Lampedusa. They were attempting to reach European Union territory – and that was not the first nor the last time refugees drowned in terrible circumstances. Last month, 27 refugees died in the English Channel, most of them from Iraq, Iran and Syria. This was the largest fatality of refugees in the Channel since records began being kept in 2014.

Paris and London, while expressing shock at the loss of life and purported sympathy for the victims’ families, are trading bitter recriminations over sovereignty in the Channel. Similar expressions of dismay and sympathies were expressed by EU officials back in 2013 over the Lampedusa drownings. It is difficult to take these official statements of sympathy seriously, given that the EU nations have assiduously cultivated a militarised Fortress Europe to stop refugees fleeing war zones.

In fact, EU nations, such as France and UK – the latter an EU state prior to Brexit – supported and participated in imperialist wars of expansion in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya; nations whose populations have suffered dislocation and humanitarian crises because of policies pursued by EU member states. Patrick Cockburn makes this precise point in Counterpunch; if you are responding for undermining a state’s ability to provide for its people, whether through warfare or sanctions, then you are morally obligated to accept refugees fleeing those perilous circumstances.

It has been ten years since the UK-French led intervention in Libya. In that time, Libya has endured economic and political chaos, poverty and fragmentation. Indeed, there is a flourishing slave trade. The EU’s response to the outflow of refugees, from Libya and sub-Saharan Africa, is to outsource refugee detention, paying poorer nations to forcibly detain and mistreat asylum seekers.

Niger, the Sudan, Mali – among others – have received funds to deter refugees. Greece, while inside the EU, received financial incentives to militarise its borders with non-EU state Turkey. The EU has created a business model for dealing with asylum seekers encouraging people smuggling as a financially rewarding enterprise. Using third-party countries as giant prison camps for refugees creates a vulnerable underclass open to exploitation.

As long as immigration and refugee policy remain shaped by toxic political discourses about ‘invasion’ and ‘swamping’, fortress Europe will continue to cost asylum seeker lives. We need a complete revamp, basing immigration and asylum on respect for human rights.

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