Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"The most dangerous place in the world"

Long time readers of this blog will know that I have an interest in Somalia. There is an excellent article explaining Somalia's recent history and current desperate situation by Jeffrey Gettleman of the NYT in this week's Foreign Policy magazine.

Print a copy off and read it during your coffee break. It's a fine example of clarity and approachability in dealing with a complex story that will give you a solid introduction to this sad country.


KGS said...

Hi Toby, an excellent article.

Somalia is such a basket case that a NYT bureau chief (and the FP) sign on to the belief that Islamists hold the last refuge for peace and stability in that country. Things must really be desperate.

But another thought to ponder though.

Wouldn't a "successful" Islamic state in Somalia, effect not only its immediate neighboring state, Ethiopia, that is struggling with its own Muslim problem (Islamization), but also the Islamization policies currently under way elsewhere at the behest of the OIC? In other words, while peace and stability in Somalia is the desired outcome, won't the success of Wahhabis (traditional Islam) in Somalia increase problems elsewhere, as it also emboldens the OIC, Arab League etc., with their success?

It appears that the West is looking more favorably to the Islamic system of governance as being the preferable stop gap method in problem solving in the Islamic world, Won't the West find it increasingly difficult to reject such a anti-human rights system from ever taking place elsewhere, once the international community has given the sharia inspired system of governance both its sanction and blessing in Somalia, even in parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, all for the sake of stability? Signs of influence can be seen here in Europe, especially when one looks at how easily sharia courts have sprung up in the UK? Is the West opening a Pandora box by signing on to such a scheme, no matter how well intentioned?

Just wondering.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

The idea that the lack of any type of state has huge implications for Somalia's neighbours already seems to be missing in your question. With a deteriorating security situation in northern Kenya and the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, as well as piracy costing hundreds of millions to police and pay off - it seems that Somalia is doing a perfectly good job of destabilising its neighbours and effecting the international community with no real government - Islamist or otherwise. And this of course is not even to consider the massive humanitarian suffering of Somalis inside the country. I would imagine that the neighbours would be quite happy for any kind of functioning government in Somalia, as long as establishes some law and order within the state boundaries - any fear of interference beyond them can be dissuaded with the normal pattern of deterrence. Ethiopia has on regular occasions proven themselves willing to do just that.

Wahhabism, or any other form of Islam, is clearly having no more success in producing a system of governance for Somali than any other. Calls to Islam have clearly a very limited appeal when they cross either clan allegiances or business interests. The ICU period of calm wasn't some new Islamic organisation that just appeared, it was a period of parallel interests amongst major clans and sub-clans within Mogadishu. When their interests came into conflict, the calm dissolved back into violence as different players began to side with or oppose the external actors.

KGS said...

I do not see any kind of stability arising from Islamism, whatever gains made, will be short lived. What's the West to do once al-Qaida uses Somalia as a staging pad for stikes elsewhere?

Toby, the aticle you linked to states: "Humiliated, the Americans pulled out and Somalia was left to its own dystopian devices. For the next decade, the Western world mostly stayed away. But Arab organizations, many from Saudi Arabia and followers of the strict Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam, quietly stepped in. They built mosques, Koranic schools, and social service organizations, encouraging an Islamic revival. By the early 2000s, Mogadishu’s clan elders set up a loose network of neighborhood-based courts to deliver a modicum of order in a city desperate for it. They rounded up thieves and killers, put them in iron cages, and held trials. Islamic law, or sharia, was the one set of principles that different clans could agree on; the Somali elders called their network the Islamic Courts Union."

The network is there, and in principal, approved by the the local leaders, and it's an Al-Qaida/wahhabi/fundamental Islam sponsored network, and it only stands to reason that it will be used to benefit the spread of Islam, it will refuse to be restricted to Somalia.

Then the situation is brought back to square one. No one shold be forced to adhere or submit to sharia, and how the West handles itself vis-a-vis sharia and conflicts, will directly effect other areas where Islam is just waiting to assert itself.

At least that's my take on it.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

Any country could, and many have, been used by al-Qaeda to launch attacks elsewhere. The form of the government seems to have very little to do with it. The network you describe has cracked apart again. The ICU is no more, Sheik Ahmed is now an exile just like the secular politicians who don't have militias at their command. Sharia law collapsed, just like any other law system when there is no state with a monopoly on violence. You fear Sharia in the west, fair enough, but Somalia if anything shows that some form religious governance is no more or less successful than any other when not put in place by either a powerful state or a legitimate state.

Google 'Al-Qa’ida’s (Mis)Adventures in the Horn of Africa' from West Point where the US military's own scholars explain how AQ failed to organize much beyond a toe-hold in Somalia in 90s and seemed to understand as little about the country as recent American policy suggests the CIA does. Secondly al Itihad al Islami tried to orgnaise camps in the 90s but they were regularly destroyed by Ethiopian interventions. What limited credibility al Shabab now has seems to have predominantly resulted from its nationalist appeal against Ehtiopia/US intervention.