June 11, 2006


Africa turns its eyes to Islam (Olivia Ward, Jun. 11, 2006, Toronto Star)

[E]xperts say, it would be wrong to see the events in Somalia as part of a pattern of Al Qaeda-style religious extremism, or to assume that Islamic rule is the worst option for countries where violence has raged for decades. Extreme poverty, instability, exhaustion and frustrated hopes have all played a role in the upsurge of militant Islam, they say.

According to global World Bank figures, the largest proportion of people living on less than $1 (US) a day are in Sub-Saharan Africa. But the continent is also the scene of some of the worst massacres of the past half-century.

"In Somalia people have known nothing but war for 15 years," says an aid worker who travels in the region frequently. "The Islamic court militias that took over Mogadishu helped to restore law and order. They began by settling small crimes, then went to larger ones. Eventually they took on civil matters like weddings and divorces and property. For the majority of people, it was a relief that somebody was in charge."

Washington is encouraged that the militia leaders began talks with Somalia's crumbling U.N.-backed government.

The United States, which is fiercely opposed to the spread of Islam in the volatile Horn of Africa, had accused the Islamists of harbouring Al Qaeda suspects.

The negotiations came after a surprise statement by State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who told reporters that the Union of Islamic Courts was aiming to "lay the foundations for some institutions in Somalia that might form the basis for a better and more peaceful, secure Somalia where the rule of law is important."

The United States — which exited Somalia in 1994 after a calamitous attempt to capture warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid — backed opponents of the Islamists to wage a proxy war against what it believed was an Al Qaeda-linked movement.

But, said the aid worker, ordinary Somalis were exhausted by the lawlessness and violence of the warlords, and the transitional government that was supposed to create a stable democracy had been a devastating failure.

"It couldn't even establish control in Mogadishu. The warlords were already included in the government, but they continued to fight at the same time."

The yearning for stability is widespread in Africa, where violence, in many countries, has become a way of life.

"What has happened in the region, including Somalia, is that modern institutions and political parties have collapsed in one way or other," says Abdelsalam Hassan, a Sudanese lawyer and writer who focuses on human rights and democracy.

"After the colonial period, the way forward for many of them was to embrace a pan-Arabist, socialist agenda. Most failed to deliver, and ended up sunk in corruption."

That left millions impoverished and disillusioned: "in the absence of alternatives, Islam seems to be a good thing to fill the vacuum. Many people are Muslim, and the Islamists tell them something that is unquestionable. It also has the blessing of God himself," said Hassan.

It's perfectly understandable that people desparate for security would welcome forces that they think can bring it, even if precisely by doing away with most freedoms. Indeed, the West was quite relieved when the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, because they were capable of imposing order on chaos. The problem is that such Islamicist states can't deliver the kind of economic growth and political development that would allow them to transition to democracy eventually. Islamicism like communism and Nazism is totalitarian, where what would be useful is an authoritarianism along fascist lines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 11, 2006 8:29 AM

In the land of the blind (halt and lame too), the one-eyed man/woman/ape* is king.

*valid only in Spain,

Posted by: erp at June 11, 2006 9:31 AM

Yes, the big thing Jeanne Kerpatrick got right. The Left knows this, and hates the Authoritarian leaders with a passion(Pichochet, The Shah, Franco) and does everthing in their power to destroy them. I'm always amazed at how long and pure the hate on the Left is.

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at June 11, 2006 11:33 AM