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12:04AM

The struggle continues to unfold across Africa

Interesting op-ed in the WSJ over the weekend, from a writer who writes frequently for the paper.

The recent spate of attacks on Muslim historic and religious sites in the ancient city of Timbuktu calls to mind the Taliban's destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan over a decade ago. The Taliban, of course, were obliterating the icons of a rival religion, as they saw it. The Salafist militias that have lately overrun Timbuktu and Mali are obliterating a rival tradition within their own faith . . .

Such incidents have now become a global phenomenon. In effect, primitive iconoclastic strains of tribal Islam have burst out of their historical isolation on the margins of civilization and coalesced globally to attack the more cosmopolitan, syncretistic and culturally advanced centers of their faith.

To Western minds, Mali denotes the most marginal of places in the African desert. But it is home to African Islam . . . 

This is the new power topography of the Muslim geosphere. Oil money has funded extremist madrassas, or religious schools, to propagate a stripped-down, one-size-fits all ideology precisely suited for pollination across impoverished regions such as Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Pakistani-Afghan border and the like. With money and threats, this international extremist franchise has targeted peaceful Muslim lands where the faith had blended with local customs or become more cosmopolitan through contact with other cultures. Places, in other words, where Islam had lost its aggression and exclusivity.

Today, radicalized imams from the outside infiltrate such places and rebuke the natives for their superstitions and weakness, their relaxed and idolatrous ways. Few can resist the irruption of money and guns legitimized by a virulent Quranic rhetoric, however pious they may be.

Some of the oldest communities in Islam, loosely categorized as Sufi for their mystical bent and ecstatic rituals often involving dance and music, have come under attack . . . 

In the radical worldview, violence furnishes the litmus test: All authentic Muslims are jihadists, or holy warriors. The addition of anti-imperialism to the religious ideological mix happened under the Afghan resistance to the Russian occupation. Anti-imperialism has become so central to radical Islam's message and appeal that these days any fellow Muslim daring to demur gets branded a foreign agent.

Yet the real imperialists, the outsiders bent on conquest and control, are the radicals themselves . . . 

Been a projection of mine going back through all three books:  the Mideast middle-ages, going from a median age of about 22 to one in the early-mid 30s by the 2030s.  We are watching that journey now unfold with the Arab Spring.  So the question has long been:  where does the Salafist impulse go?

Two "bottom billion" pools:  interior Africa and Central Asia.  Basically fake states in both instances, created by outsiders.  That artificiality makes the political situation brittle enough for enough money and guns to matter.  

I've never been a betting man regarding Central Asia:  too many great powers too eager to snuff out that situation.  The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was basically created for this purpose.

Africa doesn't offer rich soil in terms of the local Muslim, who tend to be, as the op-ed points out, moderate in just about all ways.  But I never predicted Africa was suffer this problem because of the nature of Islam there.  the problem is the weakness of the states to deflect the impulse.

That's why America created Africom - in a nutshell.  I know people want to paint the oil, but that's a weak attractor and it flows pretty much no matter what (hasn't exactly stopped out of the PG, has it these past 3 decades?).

No, I don't think radical Islam wins in Africa.  I just think it'll be the last great fight - and it won't go quickly.

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Reader Comments (3)

Won't go quietly, either. Will Timbuktu even exist before Ansare Dine is done?

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

AFRICOM isn't the tool to do the job.

Let's talk about Mali. An AFRICOM trained mid-level army officer (still a captain in his forties and pissed off), led a coup against a key US ally in the Sahel - and the rest is history. Couple that with the destabilisation in the wake of Gaddafi's fall and you get the fall of Timbuktu and the destruction of its ancient treasures.

What does the US (and AFRICOM) do in the interim - "withdraw all Military support for Mali". So what happens? Al Qaeda affiliates entrench their positions and provide a safe haven for groups like Boko Haram to hone their skills and spread more destabilisation.

If there is going to be any Military intervention in Mali, it will be led by the French, with support from either the Algerians or Nigerians.

(The US has the attention span of a gnat when it comes to Africa and has the history of royally screwing up).

Which takes me to Nigeria. As we speak, Nigeria is in the midst of a low-intensity, wide-spread Islamist insurgency. The solution to this insurgency will be extremely complex and will involve much more politics and economics than raw Military power.

Want to fly drones in Northern Nigeria? Go ahead, but you'll get 80 million pissed-off Muslims to start with and an arc of instability extending from the Atlantic to Indian Ocean.

A hornet's nest.

Another important component of Sub-Saharan Africa that you failed to mention is its Christian population. As a Nigerian , I can tell you that someone (or some people) at the State department are beginning to realise that Nigeria's Christian population is actually a political force.

I don't think West Africa's Christian population is simply going to stand by and see Islam run riot. They are not Copts and when pushed to the wall they tend to fight (please read up on Nigeria).

In summary, nothing you have written has convinced me that the US Govt or AFRICOM actually understand what they are getting into or what problem they think they want to solve.

(NB: this doesn't mean the general problem is understood, but the devil is in the details).

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaduka

I think the situation is more complicated. In Mali you had paralell an ethnic uprise by the Tuareg AND an religious uprise by Salafist Muslim forces. If the Tuareg didn´t team up with the Muslim zealots, this movement wouldn´t seize power so quickly. However: There is now a countermovement among the Malis.Ordinary Mali people (moderate Muslims) take up to the arms and undergo military training, because they oppose this Islamic fundamentalists and want to fight against them (this countermovement shopuld be supproted by Africom with military equipment, traning and weapons).In addition, the Tuaregs are becoming now more hostile to the Muslim djihadsts.Therefore I´m quiet optmistic that the power relations will chnge in a foreseeable future in Mali.Compare this to Nigeria: You have-as Maduka says- a low-intensy, wide spread Islamic insurgency with Boko Haran being its avantgarde. But you also have the Niger Delta ethnic social resistance groups, who are exploited by Shell and are not Islamic fundamentalists.However, one insurgency can promote the other--like in Mali. Therefore only to rely on Africom won´t be enough. To split the insurgency forces, Shell and the Nigerian goverment should promote social reforms in the Niger Delta and give this movement an appropiate share of the oil incomes.Another factor is that Saudi Arabia is sponsopring these god damned Salafist movements all over the world.Therefore it is also important that the West and Africa is pressuring Saud Arabia to end its support of these Islamic radicals.

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRalf Ostner

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