As fear engulfs Muslim community
The latest twin bombings in Uganda’s capital Kampala and the reaction of the leaders to the events have sent chills down the spines of many Ugandans over the potential for wanton retribution against Muslims by security agencies.
Some virtual social groups with muslim members are carrying messages of parents advising peers to lock children, especially the boys indoors, to prevent them from being targeted as terrorists by security agencies.
Others have urged the young Muslim youth to avoid situations such as gatherings, expressing themselves on social media and staying out late as these could easily attract the attention of security agencies keen to arrest so-called ‘Islamic State’ terrorists.
The fears have been amplified by the comments of President Yoweri Museveni which he made in the aftermath of the bombings saying that some of the people behind the suicide bombings are young boys who are inspired by Ugandan Muslim Sheikhs who preach that blowing oneself can send them to Janah (heaven).
President Museveni’s promise to go after those terrorists, has triggered mixed feelings among Uganda’s society.
While questioning how the government came to the conclusion that the terrorists were muslims, when in fact they blew themselves completely, have pointed to the possibility of a witch-hunt.
Others however insist that the president should not fear to take the criminals for fear of being accused of targeting a specific group of people.
But observers say the hunt for terrorists has previously proved to be indiscriminate retribution and endless terror itself by security agencies against the muslim community.
The spokesperson of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council Sheikh Zziwa Ashraf insists that they are fully behind the President’s crackdown on criminals that are tainting the image of Islam.
“His eminence the Mufti Sheikh Ramathan Mubajje has issued a statement in which he categorically distanced UMSC from all acts of terrorism,” Zziwa adds that:
“No where in Islam is it prescribed that there is a reward for killing a fellow human being. Fighting is only allowed when Muslims are put to the wall and prevented from praying. In Uganda, there is no such a thing as lack of freedom of worship and therefore no justification whatsoever for fighting.”
He further noted that if there are any Sheikhs who are engaged in teaching Deen or Islamic religion outside the curriculum prescribed by UMSC, are bringing problems to themselves.
But others believe that the state has not done sufficient investigation to prove that Islam, and not other forces are the motivation for the attacks.
Fearing to reveal his identity, the Entebbe road based sheikh said: “We fear that such talk could lead to wanton victimization of Muslims not only by security agencies but also by members of the society who may be led to think that all Muslims are terrorists.”
The fear by Muslims is strengthened by a history of injustices that have been committed by security agencies against innocent women and children.
Following the murder of former Assistant Inspector General of Police Andrew Felix Kaweesi, security agencies detained and tortured Muslim women and children whose only connection to the alleged murder offences, was simply that they relatives of the suspects.
But also even after the state failed to prove the adult male Muslims as having master-minded the murders, security agencies rearrested and tortured them.
The mistreatment of Muslims in Uganda whenever terrorist incidents are committed, has attracted sympathy from human rights activists.
Maria Burnet, a human rights defender, formerly working with Human Rights Watch in Uganda, has cautioned security agencies against blanket accusations and victimisation of some groups of the population.
Burnet says: “About Uganda blasts – No doubt it’s a devastating tragedy, for families & friends of those killed, for the livelihoods impacted. And yet, it remains critical to ensure no terrorist attack translates into a blank check to violate human rights under a pretext of fighting terror.
She adds that: “One goal now should be work to ensure that the threat of terrorism isn’t manipulated to entrench authoritarian rule or deflect scrutiny from domestic governance or rule of law concerns. Journalists & civic actors need to push for answers to the right questions.”