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My Brother Was Killed by al-Shabaab

Searching for reflection after a personal tragedy brought about by terrorism.

By Brynne Morris


A Somali soldier stands guard next to the site where al-Shabaab militants carried out a suicide attack against a military intelligence base in Mogadishu on June 21, 2015. (Photo: Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images)

A seed of hate, once planted, takes very little nurturing to grow strong and powerful.

I first thought this while scrolling through vitriol on Twitter after five police officers were shot and killed in Dallas. But the same principle brought about Paris. And Brussels. And Baghdad. And Istanbul. And Nice. And I do not know how to keep the seed from blossoming. But I do know that the only way to pull it out by the roots is to understand why it was planted in the first place.

I was born and raised Baptist. I have a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern politics and a minor in Islamic studies. I can roughly speak Arabic. And I know first hand the impact and hate caused by a terror attack.

In July of 2010, my brother Nate went to Uganda with the non-profit organization for which we both worked. We had spent the last few years there, trying to raise awareness of one of the longest running wars in East Africa and to help rehabilitate and educate child soldiers. After spending years working in the states on this issue, he finally decided to visit his Ugandan friends and see the schools that he had helped build.

I lived in Uganda in 2009 while working for a missions organization and teaching at a local orphanage. I was so excited for my brother to see the country I grew to love, and for him to have a chance to catch up with our Ugandan friends, Tony and Innocent, who had also worked with us. I told him that the one thing he had to do there was watch a soccer match with Ugandans. He listened to my advice and went with Tony and Innocent to the Kyadondo Rugby club to watch the final match of the 2010 World Cup with hundreds of other Ugandans.

In the middle of the game, three bombs exploded. Two at the rugby club, and one at a nearby bar. An act of terrorism by al-Shabaab, a group that at the time claimed allegiance with al-Qaeda, claimed the lives of 73 Ugandans and one American. My brother.

When I received the news of my brother’s murder, I thought that I was equipped to understand that this was a singular act, not representative of an entire people group or religion.

I heard the news in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I was spending the day with my boyfriend. We had met in Arabic class. I had just finished my freshman year of college and had spent the year learning the ins and outs of Arabic and Islam. I had read the Qu’ran, participated in Ramadan, been to the local mosque, and devoured the writings of Khalil Gibran, Rumi, and Hafiz. The world of Islam was new to me — again, I was born and raised and consider myself Christian — but I quickly grew to appreciate it and see the faith that my Arabic teacher had was not too different than mine.

And so when I received the news of my brother’s murder, I thought that I was well equipped to understand that this was a singular act, not representative of an entire people group or religion. But then, in a brief break from navigating the ins and out of press inquiries, Federal Bureau of Investigation investigations, and funeral arrangements, I found myself at the local mall confronted with my own prejudices and hate.

In the food court, I saw a woman wearing a hijab ordering a drink at McDonald’s. I didn’t know her, I had no reason to dislike her, but in that one glance, I hated her. I have never felt more anger or scorn directed at one human being in my life. In that instant, I felt she had killed my brother and that I was entirely justified in my mistrust and distaste for her. But after that brief moment, I was terrified not of her, but of myself. And of the seed of hate that I felt planted inside of me.

I did not want it to grow. And so instead of giving into the rhetoric that everyone tried to say to make me feel better — “This is what Islam is.” “They hate us because we’re free.” — I chose to turn back to people I knew who could tell me honestly why the people who killed my brother were nothing like the teachers I had grown to love over the last year.

I sent emails to professors who quickly called and met with me, even during summer break. I had tea with them in their homes while their two year olds played in the background. I was scared they would be offended but I had to ask them questions like, “How can those who killed my brother claim the same religion I’ve grown to love and appreciate?” “How are these people different than you?” “Show me why this is not Islam.” They did not react in anger. Instead, they responded with love and grace. In these meetings I learned — and re-learned — the truth that this type of violence is not condoned in the Qu’ran; that my teachers were tired of how often they had to answer these questions; and that attacks like the one that killed my brother made them just as angry and hurt as it made me. That I hadn’t been taught a false narrative of Islam, but rather the members of al-Shabaab were living, and dying, for one.

It’s been six years since my brother was murdered. In that time, I’ve seen more terrorist attacks committed by al-Shabaab, ISIS, and others than I care to remember. I’ve seen families torn apart and communities broken, devastated by the actions caused by a hate grown strong. I’ve also seen nations become polarized, acting as if fear and hate will protect them from pain. And there are policies and actions that can be taken to stop these acts from occurring. That is the job of politicians and officials and authorities. But it is my job — and your job, and our job — to try to understand. To nurture understanding. To dig out, no matter how hard it is or how long it takes, the seed of hate.



This story originally appeared in New America’s digital magazine, New America Weekly, a Pacific Standard partner site. Sign up to get New America Weekly delivered to your inbox, and follow @NewAmerica on Twitter.