19 May 2007 04:16

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  • [SW Analysis] (Medhane Tadesse ) Islamic Fundamentalism in Somalia: its nature and implications   :Posted on [28 Nov 2001]

 

Islamic Fundamentalism in Somalia: its nature and implications -(WIC)04/10/01


by Medhane Tadesse (Assistant Professor of history and expert on conflicts in the Horn)
04, October 2001


Islamic fundamentalism in Somalia cannot be fully understood outside the context of international Islamic terrorist grouping and the post 1991 stateless situation in Somalia. After the fall of Siad Barre clan extremism surfaced in Somalia which greatly weakened pan Somali nationalism. Clan loyality became the order of the day. Evidently, Islamists begun to argue that the only alternative to clanism and the failed Somali nationalism is political Islam. Evidently, Islamic fundamentalism is being used as an alternative unifying factor (ideology) by the Somali fundamentalist movement. The stateless situation did not only create a fertile ground for the emergence and development of Islamic fundamentalism as a political trend in Somalia. But it also became conducive for the free movement of extremist and terrorist forces.


The absence of a responsible government, administrative apparatus, organized politics and government or privates business in Somalia became a blessing in disguise for fundamentalists to fill in the vacuum and gave them a comparative advantage over the other forces who lack any kind of ideology. Their strength emanates from their organized nature, external financial help and the ideological orientation, radical Islam, which transcends mere clanism or Somali nationalism. Although traditionally clan loyality is more important than any religious loyality in Somalia, war weariness, desperation, eagerness for peace and order as well as widespread poverty seem to have attracted the youth to join the fundamentalist camp. That is why islamists in Somalia target the youth more than any other group for terrorist activities. Undoubtedly islam preaches peace and harmony but islamic extremists in Somalia tend to use political islam as a weapon of eliminating enemies and peace forces in the area. In fact my fear is that islamic extremists are trying to destroy the long held tolerance and harmony among muslims and christians in the horn of Africa.


As in many other parts of the world, islamists in Somalia sharply distinguish themselves from the idea of traditional Islam. They think that traditional Islam and its traditional leaders (with their clerical subservience) has failed to preserve the essential meaning of Islam in contemporary world and society. So islamists in may ways represent a profoundly modernist movement compatible with modern technology and secular education. That is partly the reason why the majority of contemporary islamists emerge not from the traditional centers of islamic learning (mosques) but from secular universities and scientific or technical training centers. The same is true with Somalia.
However unable to avoid the influence of traditional islamic and clan leaders in Somalia, islamic extremists use money to bribe a lot of them and promote their agenda. Thus, the stateless situation and poverty is pushing clan leaders and islamic clerics in Somalia to join the fundamentalist camp. Almost every mosque in Somalia is being led by ulamas either bribed or convinced by extremists. New islamic schools run by young modern islamists is being opened in every corner of Moqadisho, Hargiessa, Bosasso and Kismayo. A rotating fund controlled by fundamentalists is being used to train and graduate as much as 4,000 new young unemployed recruits in a month. The teaching is not purely religious. Most of the teaching is centered around criticizing the corrupt influence of a secular, individualistic, hedonistic, and permissive western and christian culture. Thus the large-scale training is seemingly religious in its goals but profoundly political in its methods. Evidently, like in many other parts of the world, islamists in Somalia are pursuing a new, ideological and non-traditional approach to islam. They speak of their movement as an ideology and not a religion; the target is the state and not the clergy and espouse an islamic republic as an end goal. All fundamentalist forces in Somalia share the same goal although they differ in their approaches.
A detailed examination of the fundamentalist movement in Somalia clearly shows that there are as much as six different islamic extremist (mujahidin) parties. Of these the AL-it ixaad (itihad al-islamia), al-islaax (ai-islah) and al-wahda are the most prominent. They work separately and in partnership through a loose united front in the Supreme-Somali Islamic League. They are united mainly in their international connection and financial network. They collectively benefit not only from financial donations collected in the form of Zeka from Arab millionaires and princes but the money circulation of their businesses inside Somalia is connected with gulf stock market exchange centers. The international network is not restricted to the financial aspect. Militarily they are supported by Mujahidin forces from the middle-east and the Northern Tier countries (Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan). When the most organized and dangerous terrorist group, the A1-itihad al-islamia, militarily attacked Ethiopia in several occasions, there were more than a dozen of Afghan-Arabs in its ranks. Still young Arab and Pakistani zealots are in the TNG controlled part of Moqadisho in the name of business. Colonel Abdirahman Baadiya and Colonel Ibrahim Awes, both leaders of Al-itihad Al-islamiya, are heads of the security in Somalia and the main link with outside islamist forces including Bin Laden.


The development of Islamic fundamentalism in Somalia is really frightening for many reasons. For one thing it is consolidating itself in a stateless situation not visibly seen by the outside world. Besides, unlike in the case of the Taliban or Ayattollah Komeni's Iran it is not possible to deal with it or tame it through diplomacy or bilateral relationship. Worse, islamists in Somalia control almost all business and political structures. Every lucrative and strategic business in Somalia is run by a rotating fund of islamist forces. All money transfer agencies (such as El-Barakat, Dahabshi', Al-Mustaq bal), telecommunication, import-export agencies, food-stuffs and the supply of building materials is owned by Islamic extremist forces. Clearly fundamentalists are slowly but steadily controlling Somalia. The method is very effective because it follows a bottom-up approach of multi-faceted process of state-formation unseen before in other parts of the world.
Unlike in Iran, Afghanistan or the Sudan in which islamists took power either by a coupdetat or an armed insurgency, in Somalia islamists are using a grass roots approach and a combined struggle of using ideology, business, military expansionism in a typical state formation applied in the past to create the modern states. If this process reaches its final stage it will become highly regimented, formidable and a hard nut to crack.


Moreover, the islmist forces (or mujahidins) in Somalia control their own militia, their own international terrorist training camps including the so-called Islamic courts. All the security in Moqadisho and Kismayo is controlled by the Al-itihad Al-islamiya. This terrorist organization which tried to destabilize Ethiopia and Kenya, is the backbone of the newly created TNG (Transitional Government) in Moqadisho. The TNG does not have its own army and depends on the military machine of the Al-itihad while the islamists promote their agenda using the international recognition of the TNG.
The recent pro-Binladen demonstration in Mogadishu clearly showed two important facts. First the accusation (mainly by Ethiopian) that the TNG is made up of Somali fundamentalists is indeed well founded and true. And secondly it showed the fact that the so-called Transitional Government of Somalia does not have any control of even Mogadishu, it does not have any constituency of its own and it is without any kind of influence even around the Romedan hotel, its headquarters. The way the pro-Binladen demonstration was organized, in the face of opposition by some TNG ministers for fear that they will be exposed in front of the U.S or the world, is a glaring testimony that the UN-backed TNG depended on the constituency of islamists. Paradoxically, this extremist force was created and is being fostered by the UN. That the only and the first pro-Binladen demonstration in the world was organized in Mogadishu reveals also another fact. Somali islamic fundamentalists, mainly the Al-itihad, are not only against Ethiopia or the neighboring countries both in intent and in practice, but also against the secular and civilized world and anti-American in orientation. 
When it comes to dealing with Islamic terrorists in Somalia, Ethiopia was the only country in the region which repeatedly conducted successful military operations against the Al-itihad. It is sad that the world never gave any kind of material, political or moral support to Ethiopia's effort of curbing the movement of Islamic terrorist organizations in the Horn of Africa. Yes, Ethiopia was fighting the Al-itihad alone because it constituted a threat to its own security. Luckily, Ethiopia commands a strong and formidable army which dealt a blow to Islamic terrorist organizations in the region. The only government in the region, the Eritrean government, too which supports an Islamic terrorist group (the Al-itihad) to destabilize its neighbor (Ethiopia), did not escape from Ethiopia's military might. But the world was watching Ethiopia's struggle against terrorism from a distance as if it is only the concern of Ethiopia.
Now the world mainly the U.S is engaged in a fight against international terrorism. If the world (mainly the U.S) is serious about the fight against terrorism, Somali Islamic terrorists are no less dangerous than the Taliban or Binalden. Islamic extremist and terrorist forces in Somalia have both the intent and the capacity to destabilize the region and international order at large. Something should be done to check the movement of terrorist forces in Somalia (who now control parts of Mogadishu-TNG controlled area, Kismayo and recently are engaged in distablising the  port of Bosaso in Puntland) before they control the whole of Somalia and embark on destabilizing neighboring countries and develop the capacity to attack the interests of the civilized world at large. In the meantime the world should support a realistic approach to bring about peace and reconciliation in Somalia, so that the country will cease to be a safe haven for international terrorist groups.
The record of Ethiopia shows that it has both the political, organizational and military capacity to deal with Islamic terrorist groups and their supporters in the region. But the world should give it serious attention, political backing and value it as part and parcel of an international campaign against terrorism. To this effect, a multi-dimensional (Political, economic and diplomatic) approach figures prominently when it comes to dealing with Islamic fundamentalism in Somalia. Heavy arial bombardment or the total marginalization of Somalia is not the solution. Support should be given to the realistic regional peace initiatives on Somalia which were stifled by the UN and the Arta process which also led to the planting not only of unrepresentative but also an extremist terrorist government in Mogadishu. It is the only Islamist government in the world brought to power with the help of the UN system. 


Thus, the best way to bring about peace and deal with Islamic terrorism in Somalia is to correct the mistakes done by the Arta process, to hasten the process of a democratic solution to the Somali problem and allow different Somali (Secular) forces and representatives of the different administrations to take part in a new broad based reconciliation arrangement. But such an initiative should be complemented by a concerted international economic, political and diplomatic support. Moreover, Strengthening the mechanisms in place in the neighboring countries with vast experience and successful track record in the fight against Islamic terrorist groups in Somalia will serve the desired purpose. 


[ Analysis]

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