My body knew, though my mind did not.
Despite the drive, unexplained fatigue triumphed and I couldn't rouse myself for our section's event. I slept fitfully in a New Hampshire hotel room while CNN murmured news of terrorism in Kenya.
The next morning, a friend calls. Where am I?, she asks. Am I driving? Her voice cracks.
My beautiful, red wine-drinking, brilliant, passionate, life-loving friend, Elif, her partner Ross, and their unborn daughter, were victims in the attack on Nairobi's Westgate Mall. All three are gone.
Elif's friends, scattered around the world, united to mourn and celebrate her astoundingly fruitful but unjustly short life. We surrounded ourselves with her stories, struggling to remember her mischievous laughter and giggling eyes amid the violent imagery that invaded our heads. I withdrew from HBS to cry, think, and be with others who knew her.
Recently, I shared this tragedy at a small dinner. A woman whose nationality reflected a history of marginalization offered the maxim: "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom-fighter." I was stunned. Could the murderers of my spectacular friend have been freedom-fighters? Until today, I remain unsure whether this woman was justifying the attack or simply offering a different perspective, not necessarily her own; I have chosen to believe the latter. Though I disagree with those who would use this maxim to justify even the most reprehensible action, the encounter led me to more seriously contemplate the drivers of terrorism, through the lens of the structurally disadvantaged.
I want to rid the earth of soil in which extremism can take root. I want to ensure that everyone has a voice, and that others listen. When people are impoverished, silenced, marginalized or ignored, extremism flourishes and terror erupts. Only by comprehending the causes of violence can we eradicate it, rather than merely treating the symptoms.