Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Somali Blogosphere
Confused by events in Somalia? We certainly were, so we checked out the website of Somalia's leading blogger, Bashir Goth, and then gave him a call. The bottom line, says Goth, is that the Islamic coalition (known as the Islamic Courts Union) that has taken control of Mogadishu from the warlords isn't all bad. They have brought order to a lawless city and even outspoken anti-Islamists like Goth are holding their fire for the moment.

Bashir Goth was the first Somali blogger and is now at the forefront of a growing Somali blogosphere that often challenges Western opinion. To get a sense of this Somali view, I collaborated with my colleague Tom Isherwood to check out Somali cyberspace. While foreign press largely condemned the rise of the ICU labeling them a new Taliban, these Somalis see some potential.

For 15 years, warring militias have ravaged Mogadishu, making it perhaps the poorest and most dangerous city on earth. At "isbaaro" checkpoints lining the roadways, rival clan militias routinely robbed and murdered civilians. Around 1999, local Shariah courts arose to protect neighborhoods and, as columnist Abi Egal argues, many of them succeeded.

Now the ICU has done what no Somali leader or internationally-brokered government has been able to: It unified the city under one authority and pacified Mogadishu. Though the ascension of radical Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys last week may be a setback, his more "moderate" colleague Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (see his interview with Goth) has shown initial readiness to talk to U.S. officials and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia.

As Goth says, if the ICU decides to work with the TFG and if international pressures can push aside the more radical clerics (without funding "Anti-terror" warlords), a fragile peace is possible.

By Amar Bakshi | June 28, 2006; 10:41 AM ET
Read comments.