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Regional implications of the war on Islam in Somalia

Crescent International


The current invasion of Somalia by Ethiopian troops – armed and funded by the US, which has military and intelligence units placed in neighbouring Djibouti – has already rekindled Somali fellow-feeling and pride in Islam. The result is that the people of Somalia are now united in strong support for the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and opposition to the almost vanished transitional government in Baidoa. The Somalis' anger against the invasion has even been dramatically expressed by government ministers, 19 of whom have resigned, accusing the president, Abdullahi Yusuf, and Isman Ali Atto, the prime minister, of being Ethiopian agents and of refusing to negotiate with the ICU.

The anger at the invasion by two Christian states of a Muslim country is likely to spread to the Muslim Somali populations of neighbouring Kenya – where there is already tension between Muslims and Christians – and to Ethiopia itself, where there is no love lost between the Christian and Muslim (mostly Somali) communities. Somalis in the Ethiopian-occupied Ogaden region and in the northern region of Kenya have always wanted to join their brethren in Somalia, which claimed both regions as Somali territories before its break-up in 1991. That was when president Siyad Barre was toppled and northern Somalia broke away to set up the republic of Somaliland, to date unrecognised by any country. Not surprisingly, both Ethiopia andKenya have fought separate wars against Somalia several times in the past and have remained allied against it, so both are happy now to see it remain in disarray.

Moreover, because the US has turned Somalia into another theatre of its so-called war on terrorism, claiming that al-Qa‘ida has established a strong presence in the "failed state", confrontation between Muslims and Christians in the region has become an issue, to the great satisfaction of the Christian right in the US, which plays a leading role in the formulation of the policies of the US government under Bush. The American evangelical right has found Kenya particularly rewarding when it comes to promoting Christianity and inciting Christians against Muslims.

As the Economist, a widely-read and influential British weekly, put it in article on July 22, Kenya "is not a country known for its enterprise except when it comes to the business of selling God. [...] Countless churches line Kenya's pot-holed roads," it said – adding that the American evangelical groups' intervention not only highlights the competition between the church groups in the country but is increasing the tension between Muslims and Christians. The Christian ruling elite of the country, like their counterparts in Ethiopia, regard this as desirable rather than as a problem, and are likely to promote it.

There is very little doubt that the US government under Bush is exploiting this religious divide in the region, and the artificial borders there, to promote its "war on terrorism" and to keepSomalia in disarray. But the invasion of Somalia by the Ethiopian army is bound to lead to a conflagration, as non-governmental organisations in the region have warned. For example, John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group has warned that as a result of the invasion the region is heading for "full-scale war". The resulting war will be not only between Somalis and non-Somalis or Muslims and non-Muslims but also possibly within communities.

Djibouti, for instance, is a Muslim country but, as a US military base and a host to American forces and intelligence units that are deeply involved in the war, it will be a target of attack by angry Somalis and Muslims, irrespective of whether they are from neighbouring areas or its own citizens. Similarly, Somaliland, which is peaceful despite its secession from Somalia in 1991, is seen by many as being friendly to Ethiopia, and its leaders will not risk becoming the victims of revolt by its citizens as a result of its neutrality in the conflict. Certainly its entirely Muslim and Somali population will not remain neutral if war breaks out in the region. The fact that a referendum on a new constitution, which confirmed the independence of Somaliland, was held on May 31, 2001, and that its result was that 97 percent of the voters approved the constitution, will not affect their readiness to do what they see as their duty towards their own faith and people.

Islam was first introduced into what are now the Somali territories in the eighth century, when Arab settlement began to establish coastal trading towns that developed into sultanates. But European contact with the region began only eight centuries later. British, French and Italian interest began to be significant after the opening of the Suez canal in 1869. This led to the establishment of protectorates in the north by the British and in the centre – and later the south – by the Italians in the 1880s. The resulting British Somaliland and Italian Somalia became independent in 1960 and united in the same year to form the United Republic of Somalia. But the many Somalis populating the large territory in the north-east of what became a British colony called Kenya had to stay part of Kenya after ‘independence'. Their subsequent struggle for self-determination failed, like the similar struggle by Somalis in Ethiopia to become independent.

Clearly, the boundaries set up by the colonial powers are separating peoples who have the same blood and culture, religion and language, and the people are therefore highly critical of them. Thus the colonial powers established the basis for future confrontations in the region, where Islam had previously brought unity. That the colonial powers sought to remove this unity by fighting Islam and replacing it with Christianity is not in doubt. Not surprisingly, today's leading imperial power (the so-called only superpower) is engaged in a similar endeavour, backed by large-scale military force. Nor is it surprising that Ethiopia, which as part of the colonial powers fought Islam, is now playing a leading role in the war being waged by the US. But its enthusiasm to revive the past on an even larger and more violent scale can only succeed in setting the whole region ablaze, thus showing that its leaders and members of the USgovernment are the real terrorists.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 35, No. 6

Rajab 07, 14272006-08-01

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