Saturday, November 13, 2004

Thwarting the menace of Islamism in the Horn of Africa

By Bashir Goth

It is attributed to Jomo Kenyatta*, one of Africa’s finest sons, that the white man came to Africa with a gospel in hand to show the black people the God that dwelled in the heavens; and while the Africans were searching for God in the sky, the white man robbed their land.

Today in Somaliland and in Somalia, there are people who claim to have found a new God and a new religion other than the God and the religion that the Somalis have been worshipping and bowing to for centuries. Their aim is to make the unassuming populace busy looking for God in the sky, before they rob them of their rights and their freedoms.

The analogy may seem odd, but looking at it more carefully one can discern the truth of it is not far fetched. The white colonizers of Africa first sent the priest, a man of God who preached brotherhood, love and peace on earth. Once the nerves were numbed and fears mitigated, came the gun and brutality of human avarice – the covert agenda behind all ideological prologues of justice, equality and brotherhood.

The real irony, however, is that the victims of such stealthy onslaughts always emerge as the staunchest defenders of their victimizers because the propellers of such crusades are cleaver enough to always go for the hearts and minds of the poor, the naïve and the faithful.

It is along these lines that both Somaliland and Somalia are today under the grip of a horde of Wahhabi/Salafi Islamists who are on the march to re-convert Somalis to their newly-found Islam. The tragedy is that these neo-Muslims have not only made inroads into the fabric of the society but have exposed their menacing claws astonishingly to the inexplicable absence of any media focus with the exception of few unintended stories sometimes slipping through the gridlock, making their way to newswires and inside pages of newspapers but never to the banner headlines.

It was in one of these rare instances that Al Jamhuuriya, Somaliland’s oldest paper, reported on 20th October 2004 about a group of 65 Islamists who submitted an appeal to the Vice President’s office, asking him for the suspension of the reconstruction of the national theatre. According to the paper they described the theatre as a home of vice and obscenity, claiming that it was because of the vices and blasphemy that were taking place in the national theatre that brought God’s wrath on the people, referring to the destruction, genocides and suffering Somalilanders met in the hands of  the military dictatorship.

This is a shameful and a criminal attempt to absolve the former regime of committing any crimes and to discredit people’s struggle by trying to convince them that their suffering and plight were self-inflicted injuries that befell on them due to their deviation from God’s way. These Wahhabist/ Salafist prophets want to portray God as so petty, so philistine, so banal and stoic who is enraged and punishes people for going to concerts, enjoying music and whiling away their toil by dancing. This is their god and definitely not ours in whose Compassionate and Merciful attributes we invoke Him every day.

In another story, the Somalilander website Awdalnews Network reported on 16th Sept. 2004 about a group of Islamists calling themselves the Committee for the Promotion of virtue and Prevention of vice, a replica of Saudi Arabia’s moral police, asking the Mayor of Borama, capital of the Awdal region, Somaliland, permission to open a representative office in the town. They already have established their offices in most of the major towns of the country.

The same story of Awdalnews also reported about the convening of a three-day congregation of the Islamist Tabligh movement in Hargeisa on 15th September 2004 with delegations coming from all parts of Somaliland, Ethiopia and overseas. This was the third to be held in Hargeisa since 2002.

And if the recent arrest of the ring leaders of the terrorist Al Ittihad cells in Somaliland who killed foreign humanitarian workers in the country, could be taken as a sign, one can see how entrenched these people are into the fabric of the society. As it is now known the two terrorists had real professions, one working as a pharmacist and the other as the manager of a telecommunications company in Buroa.

This speaks volumes of the grip the Islamists have on the economy of the country. Thanks to foreign financing from Islamic brotherhoods around the world they own the bulk of the country’s business, they run Madrasas where they teach their venom in every town and village of the country, they control our telecommunications, their long-robed, long-bearded moral brigands patrol the streets and denude our unsuspecting mothers, sisters and daughters with their prurient looks and tyrannize them under the guise of religious purity. Affirming their grip on the economy, education and dominating mosques’ pulpits, they now want to go for the last bastion of our nation’s soul and identity, our refuge at times of suffering and plight. They want to deprive us of one of our last freedoms, the right to sing. They want to silence our music and our poetry, smash our centuries-old drums, break our mandolins, slit the throats of our female singers (already one of our nightingales Marwo Mohammed was stoned to death in Hargeisa in the early 1990s) and deny us to reconstruct our spiritual shrines – our theatres. Just remember Taliban’s religious lunatics destroying the historical sculptures of Bamian and denying people to laugh. 

Somalis know through their age-old culture that life without singing is dull, dreary and not worth living at all. As Africans music is in their blood. Everywhere and on every occasion they sing. They like to while away the toil of life with songs, drums and music. They sing in the fields when tilling the land, at wells when watering animals, in the ranges when grazing their animals. Even their beasts and their livestock, their cows and their camels, their goats and their sheep comprehend and lull to the whistle, tunes and humming of their herder.

The Wahhabist/ Salafist attack on music and women is not incidental. They know the power of music and women’s role as cultural custodians of the nation. They know that they could not win the hearts of people and particularly the youth as long as music fills the airwaves and as long as young mothers sing folkloric lullabies to the tender ears of their children, handing down centuries-old legends, superstitions and mythologies to future generations. It was the Greek Philosopher Diogenes who said “Discourse on virtue and they pass by in droves. Whistle and dance the shimmy, and you've got an audience.” The Islamists know that the soft power of music and the lullabies are more powerful to win hearts and minds than the shrieking voice of the firebrand Imam who advocates hatred and stoic life from the pulpit.

Now with Somaliland’s parliamentary election drawing close, it does not take a genius to predict who will be looking at us in the face when the new house of deputies convenes sometime in April in 2005. Having chosen to co-habit with Islamists for so long and trying to gain international attention for its nascent democracy, the government would have no choice but to concede to the majority vote and handover power to the second Islamist/ Wahhabist government to ever come to power in the Horn of African, the first being Sudan. The other option would be to follow the Algerian route, declare the vote null and void and plunge the country into a religious war, a route that the people of Somaliland can neither afford nor allow to happen.

In Somalia, the situation is even bleaker with Islamist courts maiming people’s limbs and sending them to death in Kangaroo courts and giving refuge to all Islamist fugitives and criminals. It was in Mogadishu that the killers of the foreign humanitarian workers in Somaliland were arrested by the CIA before they were handed over to Ethiopia which in its turn extradited them to Somaliland. I remember when I wrote the long essay “Against the Saudization of Somaliland” end of 2003, some of the otherwise supportive readers rebuked me for dedicating the essay to the memory of the humanitarian workers who were killed in Somaliland at the time. They were of the thinking that it was impossible for Somali Muslims to commit such heinous crimes. The recent arrest of the culprits who happened to be members of the Al Ittihad has since then vindicated my position. I know it is hard to swallow for my fellow Somalis but what many of them, who commonly live abroad, do not know is that the moderate, integrative and inclusive Islam in which they grew up is rarely practiced today back home. It has been taken over by a Jihadist brand of Islam spread by disciples of Wahhabism and Salafist marauders.

The greatest challenge that the newly elected president of Somalia would face in the capital is not the warlords as many observers may like us to believe but the Al Ittihad terrorists who exploited the political vacuum to own all businesses and run powerful militias. With the newly-elected President Abdillahi Yusuf Ahmed, who is known to be a trigger-happy fighter with a strong disliking for Islamists, Somalia may have got the man it deserves to return it to normalcy through the barrel of the gun.

But it is the peaceful and democratic Somaliland that Islamists may find an amicable environment to thrive and prosper. Looking at the recent history of Islamist movements, it is only in democratic countries or political vacuums that they find their safe havens to operate but never in dictatorships where despots call the shots.

Knowing the dangers that may result from such political void, the IGAD countries and the international community have invested money and energy to establish a government for Somalia. But in order to bring quick results and to pre-empt any future plans of the Islamists to abort and fail the efforts of the international community, it is imperative on the African Union and the world community to strengthen the hand of Abdillahi Yusuf against the Wahhabi/Salafi/ Ittihadi enclaves in Mogadishu.

It is also equally imperative on the IGAD, the AU and the International Community to give Somaliland the recognition it deserves and extend urgent economic assistance to enable it ward off the menace of the enemy within that would otherwise not only threaten Somaliland’s nascent democracy but would spill over to the entire Horn of Africa to frustrate peace building efforts in Somalia and work as a safe haven for Jihadist groups in neighboring countries.

Until then, we Somalilanders will try to ignore to look at the heavens in search of a new god but will hold tight our musical instruments, rebuild our theatres and continue to be enchanted by our artistes’ famous prologue, the lyrics of the celebrated Somali playwright Hassan Sheikh Mumin,

“Night and day we fashion our words,*
In depth we help our advancing mother-tongue,
We lead it, we always guide it, we set it right,
We never shirk, we toil for it, we kindle the old wisdom,
We winnow it, satisfy its needs, we strive for it,
We guide the public rightly, we entertain them and we lead
them by the hand to profitable things…”

 Bashir Goth

* Translation of Hassan Sheikh Mumin’s Leopard among the Women “Shabeel Naagood” by B.W. Andryzyewshi, 1974