October 7, 2006


Islam has tamed a lawless Somalia, but is it raising an African Taliban? (Colin Freeman, 08/10/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Now, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a new religious movement which drove out the warlords two months ago, is "rehabilitating" them to defend the land that they so spectacularly destroyed.

"Discipline is the first priority," said Col Abukar, as 50 pairs of flip-flopped feet slapped past him in unsteady goosesteps. "These men worked for the warlords – some were alcoholics, others chewed or smoked drugs all day. But, now we have taught them the Islamic religion, they cry about their past sins and obey only the word of God. They do not even smoke cigarettes." [...]

After 20 years under the Marxist dictator Siad Barre, during which Somalia became first a Soviet and then a Western client state, a fierce territorial battle with Ethiopia saw it disintegrate into civil war and famine by 1992. A subsequent US and United Nations-backed peacekeeping and relief mission, involving 30,000 troops and $4 billion in aid, was abandoned two years later, leaving a power vacuum which the warlords quickly filled.

Now the ICU has garnered unprecedented support for managing to do what none of its predecessors could achieve - pacifying the most lawless city in the world.

The courts first emerged as an informal source of law and order in the mid-1990s, gaining respect partly by their imposition of ruthless sharia punishments such as amputations, but also by their reputation for fairness. Influential local businessmen, sick of militia extortion rackets, then paid for men and arms to enforce the courts' writs.

That culminated in a series of spectacular battles earlier this year, in which the courts, supported by many of the capital's one million citizens, cleared out the warlords, district by district. Since June a tangible, if fragile, calm has reigned, as shown by the casualty sheets at Mogadishu's Medina hospital: the number of gunshot wound admissions is down to fewer than 30 a month, from a high of 179 in February.

"In the last month a new sense of life has come to the business," said Abdullah Noor, 22, an accountant in a Mogadishu haberdashery. "We even feel safe enough to open at night. There may be Islamists who are extremists, yes, but the majority are okay. One hand controlling things is better than many."

Despite the fondest wishes of the far Right, no one prefers anarchy to order.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 7, 2006 9:21 PM

Which is why so many peoples are willing to give away their freedoms cheap to the first tyrant that comes along who shows even a minimum of competence, never understanding that the tyrant really doesn't care what happens as long has he keeps the power he's been given.

As for so many on the Right, as demonstrated here, many of them have the Left's 1950s to 1970s attitude toward the Soviet Union, that a well-run tyrrany is good for those other (darker skinned) masses, because that's all they really deserve, and besides, we fellow travelers won't be subjected to the same depredations from our comfortable safety here in the US.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 7, 2006 10:24 PM

Raoul's right about the racist arrogance of the so-called, self-proclainmed "realists,"

We real realists, on the other hand, honor our enemies by taking them seriously enough to celebrate their confusion, all the while wishing them the benefit of our way of life.

So now we see in Somalia that the jailhouse cannot be anything but a jailhouse because only bars and guards provide stability in the absence of functioning civil society.

Thus their alternatives are reformation or continued irrelevance.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 7, 2006 11:27 PM

As Raoul understands, "No one prefers anarchy to order" is every tyrant's slogan. As Lou understands, unreformed Islamic law is tyranny. What I don't think Orrin understands is that the reformation of Islam requires at least a limited dose of the Enlightenment values he regularly attacks.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 8, 2006 12:21 AM

Wow, Orrin, seems like some folks around here think the Somalis made the wrong choice. I mean, what's twenty years of famine and civil war beside the horrors of Islam? Quick, let's airlift them copies of Rousseau and Paine.

Posted by: Peter B at October 8, 2006 7:39 AM

Freedom isn't a worthwhile end. It's just a means.

Posted by: oj at October 8, 2006 12:00 PM


Of course we who have a higher proportion of our fellow citizens in prison than any other nation think the Somalis are being too hard on troublemakers.

Posted by: oj at October 8, 2006 12:14 PM


Islamic states were never tyrannies until they came in contact with Enlightenment ideas.

Posted by: oj at October 8, 2006 12:27 PM

Yes, I can understand the weariness of the Somalis and their desire for order. But it's only be weeks since the neo-Taliban victory there, far too soon for buyer's regret to set in. And I don't understand anyone who can celebrate this as progress or a wonderful outcome. Maybe in half a century, if this group really does bring peace and prosperity and ultimately does return freedoms to its peoples (Franco), but not now. The record of history shows far more tyrant who promise order, and bring even more misery (Castro). It smacks too much of Western elites and social engineering (but of the Right variety.)

And our trouble makers don't call themselves or pretend to be a government, at least not until next January.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 8, 2006 12:29 PM

Realists don't care about reality--they care about themselves.

Posted by: oj at October 8, 2006 12:31 PM

The Taliban effectively restored order in a chaotic Afghanistan, but we left them iosolated enough that they went off the rails. It would be wise to avoid that in Somalia.

Posted by: oj at October 8, 2006 12:33 PM

Of course we who have a higher proportion of our fellow citizens in prison than any other nation

Actually, our prisions are full of a disproportionate number of non-citzens (both illegal and legal) and children of such. Just like honest businessmen, criminals and thugs are going to migrate where the pickings are richest. Hence the rise of various "Asian", "Hispanic", "Russian" and other ethnic gangs. (The only place that seems to have a problem with "White" gangs is Montreal with its "biker Hell's Angels". That those losers are can actually be a problem there says something about Canada and the French, doesn't it?)

Tighten up our immigration laws and let other countries deal with their own criminals instead of shipping them our way(Mexico, I'm looking at you) and our prisons will go back to being filled with citizens in need of taming.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 8, 2006 12:54 PM

OJ: Enlightenment ideas, like science and medicine and reason and religion, is a two-edged sword: it can both start tyrannies and end them. Pre-Enlightenment Islam isn't going to help the Islamic world, despite what you and the Taliban and bin Laden say. (Yes, I know you don't all mean the same thing, but nevertheless you are all incorrect on this.)

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 8, 2006 2:11 PM

They aren't Enlightenment ideas. Islam will get healthier by returning to its pre-Enlightenment roots, just as the Anglosphere avoided most of the trauma of the past two centuries be eschewing the Enlightenment.

Posted by: oj at October 8, 2006 2:30 PM

Even the most extravagant nativist claims leave you with a rather small percentage of those prisoners being illegals. We're a Puritan nation--we like locking folks up.

Posted by: oj at October 8, 2006 2:34 PM

I think the Founding Fathers would be quite surprised to hear they eschewed the Enlightenment.

Oh, and we left the Taliban "isolated enough that they went off the rails"? Come on, don't they get any credit for their own philosophy and actions? This reminds me of those lefty arguments that Castro went Communist after the revolution because we were mean to him. Nonsense.

Peter, do you really think the Somalis "made the choice"? I doubt we can assume that the winners of civil wars always reflect the will of the majority.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 8, 2006 7:12 PM


I wasn't on the ground, so I really don't know. All I know is that once again this horrible religion that oppresses absolutely everybody and can't possibly survive in the modern world (which of course they will all see clearly once they understand our ways)has taken over yet another country to much popular relief and with widespread support while ours was debating gay marriage and apologizing for cultural genocide.

BTW, Orrin is right about the terminlolgy. There is no way the Enlightenment gets credit for science, individual conscience or freedom of religion, all of which long pre-dated it. I'll split the difference with you on formal separation of church and state, but what it really meant at heart was anti-clericalism and the triumph of secular rationalisn as the exclusive driver of public life. And that was the benign version.

Posted by: Peter B at October 8, 2006 8:01 PM


No, they wouldn't. They held Enlightenment notions of the power of Reason to overcome human nature in contempt.

Posted by: oj at October 8, 2006 10:31 PM

OJ, I didn't say they all believed in every Enlightenment idea, but it seems to me foolish to deny that Jefferson, Adams, Paine, Franklin, and others were products of the Enlightenment, and that the Declaration and Constitution are Enlightenment documents. (They also have Judeo-Christian roots, of course.) Don't try to drag them into your theocratic-monarchist-prohibitionist camp.

Peter, I think you're splitting hairs. Columbus wasn't the first European in the New World, either, but he still deserves credit for "discovering" it, because most of the consequences flowed from his actions, not that of Vikings or whoever else. The Enlightenment was a group of old and new ideas, but it still gets credit for assembling, developing, and promoting them, especially in the form of the United States. (In the form of France, not so much.)

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 8, 2006 11:21 PM

No, they were products of the Protestant Revolution and New World experiment, which is what made them immune to the Enlightenment. Indeed, even the great tradition in English philosophy is skepticism about Rationalism, from Hume to Oakeshott.

Posted by: oj at October 8, 2006 11:43 PM


Are you sure that you haven't just associated the word "Enlightenment" with everything modern and built yourself a nice comforting set of stereotypes that pit everything to do with progress, freedom and tolerance (which you collectively call the Enlightenment)against dark superstitions and paranoia about sin and heresy? You make the Enlightenment sound like nothing more than classification and library-building. It was an intellectual movement that asserted the perfectability of man, uni-directional progress, the relativism of morality, governance by rational material principles and the marginalization (if not destruction)of faith in public life. Things like science, freedom of conscience and limits to religious authority were medieval ideas. Do you think people like Burke were nostalgic romantics opposed to science and progress who shilled for medieval Christendom or the ancien regime?

You can have Paine. In fact, please take him as far away from me as you can. But surely your problem with casting folks like Adams and Jefferson in that mold is their gloominess about human nature and their constant worry that the whole project would fail or just dissolve into a new tyranny. Checks and balances and constitutionally limited government were not based upon a "the world is our oyster" mentality. If you think they were children of the Enlightenment, how do you explain this kind of stuff?

Of course, in France they had no such doubts and recognized man as the wondrous, rational creature he is.

Posted by: Peter B at October 9, 2006 5:37 AM

In fact, the Adams/Jefferson correspondence disposes of Reason as well as Hume did:


Posted by: oj at October 9, 2006 7:53 AM

To restate what I have been trying to say: I think it is inarguable that the Founding was based on both Enlightenment and Judeo-Christian principles. The U.S. was never purely one or the other, so arguments that the Founders "eschewed" Enlightenment values are as misguided as arguments that Christianity had nothing to do with the birth of the U.S. Being a balance and compromise from the start, it largely avoided the extremes of either approach.

In fact, I believe the success of the U.S. is due in large part to the combination of these intellectual traditions. We would not have done nearly so well with just one.

The Adams/Jefferson quotes seem to me to be evidence of their skeptical and grounded natures, quite the opposite of "disposing" of Reason. And there are plenty of non- and anti-religious quotes out there by various Founders. True, they were not worshippers of pure Reason who disdained the spiritual, but they also weren't purely spiritual types who disdained Reason.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 9, 2006 1:59 PM

Purely spiritual types don't disdain reason, they disdain Reason. The French followed Reason. We followed Faith.

We're imbalanced in the opposite direction from the Enlightenment, which turns out to be the proper imbalance.

Posted by: oj at October 9, 2006 2:18 PM