April 29, 2007


Somalia's 'total nightmare': The Somali capital Mogadishu has this week seen some of its worst fighting for 16 years. A fragile transitional government there has been trying to destroy groups of fighters left over from the so-called Islamic Courts group which was in control of much of the country last year. (Adam Mynott, 4/29/07, BBC News)

Just a few months ago, Mogadishu and much of Somalia were enjoying their most stable period for 16 years.

Under the brief control of the Islamic Courts Union, the grip of the warlords was loosened and some of the basic expectations of an organised life were being restored.

Schools were opening, police were being trained, roadblocks were removed and litter was even collected from the streets.

Many Somalis were unhappy with the more extreme rules of the Islamic Courts: closing down the cinemas, banning music and insisting women were veils.

But the Islamists were able to spread their power steadily through more of Somalia and this alarmed the government in neighbouring Ethiopia who have long feared a radical Islamic group in control of the country.

It worried the Americans too, who feared the Islamic Courts were harbouring al-Qaeda elements.

So with tacit American approval and with other international governments looking on, Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia to support the weak transitional government.

Ethiopia is now trapped.

It wants to get out of Somalia, but cannot go until what it calls the "Islamist threat" is eliminated.

But every moment Ethiopian troops spend in Somalia stirs up more resentment and their presence acts as a compelling recruiting sergeant for insurgents, who say they will die trying to rid their country of the Ethiopian invaders.

The one big mental adjustment the Bush Administration hasn't made is the recognition that just as Americans may choose a conservative religious leadership, so too may Muslim nations. Until they can process the fact that Islamist parties can lead popular governments they'll be at odds with their own strategy of liberalization/democratization.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 29, 2007 9:06 AM

But the Islamists were able to spread their power steadily through more of Somalia and this alarmed the government in neighbouring Ethiopia who have long feared a radical Islamic group in control of the country.

I think this gets the history a little wrong -- the trigger appears to have been when the ICU's leader started mouthing off about how he's going to invade Ethiopia again and reconstitute a "Greater Somalia." Against a long history of repeated invasion of Ethiopia by Somalia or principalities in the territory now called Somalia (from Ahmed Gran down to the invasion by Siad Barre's government in the 70s), this was cause for concern in Ethiopia. Practically, I think they could disengage now if they wanted to -- in Somalia's case they really wouldn't be leaving them materially worse off than they've been for most of the past thirty years (since Somalia's last attempted invasion of Ethiopia was repulsed, and their military collapsed, spawning the warlords and factionalism that brought them where they are today).

Posted by: Taeyoung at April 29, 2007 10:06 AM

Taeyoung is right about the history. And that's why, although Islamist parties CAN lead popular governments, it's not at all clear that having them do so in Somalia is a good thing.

You're naive if you think the Bush administration doesn't understand both points.

Posted by: molon labe at April 29, 2007 12:20 PM

It obviously is the best option in a place like Somalia, which is why we'll deal with the Courts when they return. Where they really betray their misunderstanding though is in Egypt, South Lebanon and Palestine.

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2007 1:08 PM

The Islamic Courts were a "party" leading a "popular government" in almost precisely the same way the Taliban were. Sorry, I'd choose anarchy over a lunatic Islamic tyranny where people are murdered by their "popular government" for watching TV or wearing makeup. OJ's faith in power having a calming effect on these nuts didn't seem to be working in Somalia, as Taeyoung pointed out, and certainly didn't work Afghanistan or Iran.

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 29, 2007 5:17 PM

What OJ refuses to concede is that banning TV or music is never the final step; it is usually just the first or second. History is not on his side here (and recent history even less so).

If Mexico suddenly fell to a resurgent Aztec cult, and began humam sacrifice, would the US just watch? Especially if the cult leaders promised to re-take Texas?

Somalia deserves better than it has received from the West, but it won't get anything unless the Islamists are gone. Besides, what evidence is there that a majority of Somalis "chose" the UIC as their government?

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 29, 2007 6:18 PM


No, you wouldn't. That's the sort of idiocy fat happy Americans mouth to the desperate.

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2007 7:13 PM


No, we're montheists, we'd impose a new government, in the image of our God, on the heathens. It's what we do best. It's what the Courts did and will do again in Somalia, with our connivance.

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2007 7:19 PM

So then, OJ, you thought the Taliban were an improvement for Afghanistan? And that their rise to power was good for the US?

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 30, 2007 11:27 AM

Undeniably, but that's not a significant point. The question is how do we work with such regimes to make sure they evolve as smoothly as possible.

Posted by: oj at April 30, 2007 11:43 AM

It's a totally significant point. Al-Qaeda-friendly Islamic totalitarians took over Afghanistan, oppressed people, and were happy to host Bin Laden while he attacked the US. So when al-Qaeda-friendly Islamic totalitarians nearly take over Somalia, you think that's a good thing? You honestly don't see where that would lead?

I think you're just blinded by your theology. You seem to think that any Abrahamic monotheist is on the side of Good, even if they are complete Islamic fanatics who, given the chance, would happily destroy this country and the entire non-Islamic world and everyone in it.

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 30, 2007 3:30 PM

Al Qaeda was there before the Taliban. Al Qaeda is there after. If foreclosing Afghanistan to al Qaeda is your excuse for tolerating murderous chaos, then you've failed even in that.

Their religion was quite secondary to their authoritarianism. Afghans were understandably ready to welcome anyone who could provide security.

The Courts are much more eager to work with us and we've had productive contacts with their leadership. We''ll help them retake power.

Posted by: oj at April 30, 2007 6:36 PM