Somalia's Holy War - A Problem for the World
Since claiming victory in the battle for Mogadishu, Somalia's capital in late June, the Union of Islamic Courts have fought their way through southern Somalia. They controlled most of southern Somalia including Mogadishu but with the exception of a small area around Baidoa by September. Since September not only have they held the towns and regions they had taken control of in the south but they have also expanded their control by taking more towns and regions and are currently controlling most of Southern and Central Somalia, still with the exception of the area around Baidoa, where Ethiopian and Ugandan troops are assisting the Transitional Federal Government to hold the town (see previous link). Most recent reports are that the UIC has reached the town of Abudwaq in Galgadud region, where they were warmly received by residents.
The Union of Islamic Courts is spreading Sharia Law throughout Somalia as they gain control of more and more territory. They achieved more success in their goal Oct. 21 when the self declared autonomous region of Puntland's authorities announced it was adopting Sharia law. The move came after sustained pressure from the UIC, which led to clashes with Puntland forces Nov 6 as the UIC advanced toward Puntland territory. According to UIC vice-chairman Sheikh Abdulkadir Ali Umar Puntland forces attacked UIC positions near the Mudug town of Galinsoor, UIC forces repelled the attackers but did not pursue them. According to Sheikh Fuad Mahamud, one of Mudug's religious leaders, the announcement came after he and other religious leaders met with Puntland's leader Gen. Muhammed Adde Muse and recommended that Sharia law be adopted in the region. According to a local journalist Puntland leader [Muse] was also influenced by similar advice from religious elders on his recent visits to the Mudug town of Galkayo, close to the border with UIC forces.
Whatever influenced his decision, the announcement means that yet more of Somalia is under the -often brutal and oppressive- rule of Sharia Law. Since the UIC won the battle for Mogadishu in June and began taking control of most Southern Somalia, they have been imposing strict standards of behavioral and religious discipline. Not by issuing official directives but using punishment and propaganda to set the standards, slowly but surely imposing Sharia Law. However, the UIC is made up of 11 separate court systems, split into 27 sub systems inside Mogadishu, all running autonomously, this meant that civil liberties and freedoms were reduced more i.e. women being forced to wear the Hijab in some areas but not others, and in the same areas oppression was worse and harsh punishments like public floggings were being dolled out for minor infringements of the strict standards, like men and women selling drugs, chewing Khat and "immoral behavior"
A Mogadishu journalist told the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) that his personal freedoms had changed in many ways since the takeover, "good and bad". "In some areas there is no music or cinemas, radio stations have closed down, we have no freedom to write, and they are doing public executions," there is a "wait and see" atmosphere.
UIC leadership told (IRIN) that centralization of the courts took place in late September, when they had been brought under a central authority the UIC officially established a judicial court under Sharia law. The Supreme Court of Benadir Region was opened and an appeal court set up in October. Representing all courts The Supreme Justice Committee now has to give the go ahead before and public execution or flogging can be carried out, photographs and videos of the punishments have now been banned by the UIC. Police Stations are not fully operational and sentenced prisoners are being held in Mogadishu central jail.
The fighting continues in Somalia, talks between the UN recognized Transitional Federal Government, holding only a small area around their base in Baidoa, rival Warlord controlled factions struggling to hold the North and the UIC advancing North from its controlled south and central regions collapsed when they couldn't agree on fundamental issues, such as ejecting the foreign troops in Somalia. Not only are the UIC imposing Sharia law on the regions they control but residents are also noting an emphasis on Jihad, including Jihad seminars for men and women; bringing a "visible" increase in militarization in the regions. Training camps are also being built to unite the new militia men and women into a centralized force.
One of the most worrying things for the rest of the world is the message the UIC's rampant success is sending to Islamic Jihad groups all around the world, and not only in their taking and holding control. We have all seen the disaster Iraq has become for the occupying coalition, Jihad is rife, apart from the sectarian death squads and rival militias killing each other Sunni on Shia, suicide bombs, car bombs, roadside bombs, grenade attacks and snipers have all added to the heavy death tolls for the occupying coalition. Afghanistan looks to be going the same way. Since the UIC have taken control in Somalia, despite the systematic removal of most civil liberties as the strict behavioral and religious standards were imposed, the harsh public punishments and increased militarization of the young population the residents have remained largely happy and their has been literally no resistance from Somalia's civilian population to the Islamic Courts gaining and keeping control. In fact some reports say they are warmly received by residents when they take control of new towns and villages.
It would seem that the people of Somalia, fed up with was tearing the country apart; brining lawlessness and insecurity throughout Somalia since the central government collapsed in 1991, prefer any form of law order and security to total anarchy. The changes in UIC controlled areas make the publics reaction understandable and are similar to the changes in Mogadishu, which I will now cover.
No more roadblocks and gunmen roaming the streets. The price of many products has dropped because lorries are no longer hi-jacked or have money extorted by gunmen. Traders make it home with their earnings, children go to school regularly without fear and hospitals can again concentrate on helping the sick without the constant trauma of conflict. A recent visitor from the Diaspora, who has not been to Mogadishu in six years, told (IRIN) that he was astounded by the changes. "I drove through areas no one has driven in 15 years - like Bermuda [named after the Bermuda Triangle, previously one of the most dangerous areas] - without any security escort or even a gun. Five months ago this would have been unthinkable, even with a heavy security escort,"
The renewed security in return for harsher controls and les civil liberties leaves Somali's at a bit of a quandary. One Businessman told (IRIN) that "There are two sorts of freedoms, going about our daily lives is the most important freedom we can have now." But he said one freedom may come at the price of another. "People do not want to lose their personal freedoms." The same journalist I quoted earlier in the report echoed his sentiments saying: "When it comes to security, we feel freedom. When it comes to personal freedoms, we feel worried."
The renewed stability in most of Somalia has allowed humanitarian aid back into Mogadishu, Leo van der Velden, Deputy Country Director of World Food Programme for Somalia told (IRIN) that the new authority had "done the right things and said the right things" to encourage humanitarian access, and that good security allowed transporters to safely carry and deliver. As a result food aid arrived at the newly opened port for distribution outside the city for the first time in over a decade. In the same INIR report CARE International confirmed that a consignment of sorghum from the United States had arrived in the port in October, and was successfully handled, transported and delivered to areas outside the city - a logistical achievement impossible for more than a decade, when the port and its resources became a flashpoint for factional fighting.
The aid in October would have been badly needed since September, when all humanitarian aid agencies in Somalia had announced their withdrawal from areas under UIC control in response to fears over their security. Fears caused by the murders in Mogadishu of an Italian nun and a foreign camera man and the assassination attempt on the TFG President in Baidoa. The aid agency withdrawal came just after talks began with the UIC, much to the dismay of moderates within the organization.
There is an internal battle in the UIC between the courts following hard-line Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is widely thought to be responsible for the militant uprising that has swept the UIC to power in Somalia, and courts following moderate cleric Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
Sheikh Aweys teaches the hard-line Salafism strand of Islam, an offshoot of the Saudi Wahabi school of Islamic thought. Salafist ideology is against rationalism and regards sports and television as -lahw- vulgar- past-times, hence the cinema's being closed down by hard-line courts. Salafist teachings are a rigid and literal interpretation of Islamic texts and view all other Islamic sects as deviants. Salafism teaches against compromise and holy war is the hinge pin of their ideology. Sheikh Awey's Salafist followers; the UIC's hardliners view security, defense of the country and religion as the priority.
Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed teaches the slightly more moderate Qutbism strand of Islam, from Egyptian Islamic teacher Sayyid Qutb's book In the Shade of The Koran. Qutb's teachings are primitive and less extreme towards modern western civilization than Salafist Islam. Sheikh Ahmed and his moderate UIC followers have called for engagement with the transitional government and the international community.
The moderates have their work cut out as the hardliners known as the Shahaab group, including some of the UIC most prominent members shun all contact with the non-Muslim world, advocate strict religious codes and punishments and invest heavily in militarization. One such prominent hardliner is Sheikh Abdullahi Mo'alim Ali 'Abu Utayba', according to local journalists the chief of security for Mogadishu said publicly that anyone not praying five times a day should be shot. Another, Abu Utayba appeared with other prominent UIC members in a Jihad video doing the rounds in Somalia and the Diaspora. Praising Osama Bin Laden the video shows military training camps in Mogadishu, and, calling Somalia "the new Afghanistan of the world" calls on "any marginalized Muslim to come to Somalia."
Fortunately some of Sheikh Ahmed's moderate followers are in prominent UIC positions. Head of the UIC foreign affairs department Professor Ibrahim Hassan Adow told IRIN that the greatest challenge for the UIC is to meet basic needs. "Our biggest challenge is to go beyond peace and provide social services, to provide the basic needs, whether it is food, medical care, shelter, education, employment. While we do this, we have to simultaneously show the world that we want to pacify Somalia and defend the Somali people, and establish a working relationship [with the international community]."
Leading UIC cleric and moderate Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said, also to IRIN that the UIC could provide security for international organizations to work in Mogadishu, and had encouraged humanitarian groups to take advantage of peace in the city.
"We had started negotiations and the process was going well, but then the humanitarian community declared it was leaving the areas where the UIC was in control. We regret that because we see it as a violation of people's rights."
A sentiment shared by Sheikh Ahmed's followers. According to IRIN: Key members of the UIC leadership are working to secure international support and assistance in rebuilding Somalia. There is consternation in the movement that, having successfully delivered peace and unity in Mogadishu after nearly two decades of chaos and conflict, the humanitarian community has pulled out. The moderates are concerned that isolation from the international community serves to strengthen extremism and undermines opportunities for humanitarian assistance.
There is clear division in the UIC but in a society currently ruled by the gun, it is likely that Sheikh Awey's militant strand of Salafist Islam will prevail, the failure and subsequent UIC reluctance to engage with the Transitional Federal Somali government suggests the hardliners already have more power in the Union. The Union of Islamic Courts is currently united against a common enemy, and Sheikh Aweys currently needs Sheikh Ahmed to pacify UIC critics at home and abroad, but it is widely thought that a fall-out is inevitable. Likely if the UIC defeat their enemies and take complete control of Somalia. If the Salafist arm of the Islamic Courts does prevail in Somalia, which, given Sheikh Ahmed hinting at resignation in London's al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper I have no doubt it will. Somalia will become a shining example to followers of militant Salafi and Wahabi Islam; making up terror networks like Al Qaeda and their affiliates worldwide that their aim of creating an Islamic state and imposing Sharia law in their respective countries can be achieved using the Jihad that their ideology revolves around. This will undoubtedly increase the number of young Muslim's, who may currently be, as hard-line Somali Sheikh 'Abu Utayba' said "marginalized" and undecided converting to Salafism and joining the revitalized networks.
Somalia's Holy War - A Problem for the World
- » Published on November 24, 2006
- » Type: Opinion
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