The Fallacy of Kenyan Counterterrorism Operations

Image via Global Panorama

Strategies for pursuing terrorist cells and insurgent groups in weak African states are still in their infancy. However the shocking disregard for human rights of minority populations by governments’ is a factor that is bound to complicate the search for liberty and security for countries in Africa involved in the Global War on Terror (“GWOT”).

Recent efforts by the Kenyan government to bolster its national security by conducting military operations  throughout Somalia since 2011 and its  harsh use of counterterrorism strategies  have not only failed to achieve their objectives, but have inadvertently exposed the vulnerability of the country’s governance and security institutions and infrastructure. Undoubtedly, Kenya does not have the financial muscle and infrastructural backbone to participate in the GWOT as a partner, unless it chooses to enroll as a proxy of the Western powers – something which it has already done – in order to benefit from funds availed to ‘surrogate’ states.

However, the approach that has been adopted by the Kenyan government to collectively target its minority Muslim population by ignoring its socially-contracted responsibilities and respect for the rule of law have become troubling and counterproductive. Specifically, the path that Kenya has chosen to follow in its counterterrorism operations has not only conflated historical injustices perpetrated by previous regimes on its marginalised minority populations with its current human rights abuses, it has re-opened ethnic and political fractures in Kenya. The strategies adopted by the government indicate that little has been done to counter-act or prepare for the spill-over and consequences likely to stem from the country’s involvement in a brutal asymmetrical war. The false promise that al-Shabaab will be crushed by a battalion of Kenya Defence Forces – infamously implicated in the lucrative Somali charcoal business in Kismayo – and antagonising the Somali and Muslim minorities in Kenya through extrajudicial killings and disappearances of Muslim clerics and faithfuls perceived to be radicals is not only misleading, but dangerously oversimplified strategically. The behaviour of the government in pursuit of its security obligations ought not to mirror the dehumanising excesses of a morally bankrupt terror outfit, but act as a responsible government aware of its mandate.

The recent admission by the United Kingdom’s former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that misrepresented intelligence and planning errors was to blame for the emergence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and a candid statement by the foreign minister of Uganda, Sam Kutesa, that military solutions are not enough to tackle the rising tide of radicalisation and terrorism in Africa should serve as a stark reminder to Kenya about government operations in Somalia.


When Kenya invaded Somalia in 2011, it had unwittingly entered into an endless cycle conflict which has been misunderstood by nearly all policymakers. By choosing to pursue al-Shabaab in its heartland on the back of a ragtag tribal militia – the Ras Kamboni Brigade spearheaded by Sheikh Ahmed Islam Madobe – without paying attention to the consequences likely to stem from engaging this indistinct enemy in a brutal asymmetrical war, there was every indication that Kenya was punching above its own weight.

What remains unclear is the motives which prompted the country to decisively act and how it envisioned realising this mission after accomplishing its strategic goals. Indisputably though, it was clear from the outset that the Kenyan government could not commit to a long-drawn battle against al-Shabaab’s insurgency on its own terms, given its rudimentary war chest. Since this incursion was based on a unilateral decision without the blessings of either the United Nations or the African Union, there was no doubt that the financial cost of the war on terror was going to burden the country’s fledgling economy, which was still recovering from the aftershocks of the post-election violence of 2007-2008.

Nevertheless, there were multiple factors motivating Kenya’s military campaign. The Kenyan government’s intention to firmly align its interests with those of other states in the GWOT was poised to benefit the country by securing its borders and salvaging its economy – especially its tourism industry – from the reverberations of sporadic attacks by criminal elements from Somalia. Strategically, this undertaking also deliberately aimed at ensuring Kenya’s gains from streams of funds and resources available to proxy states in the fight against terror.

Navigating through Somalia’s clan-based politics, where shifts in dynamics and allegiances are unpredictable and confusing, was never going to be straightforward. Fighting alongside the Ras Kamboni Brigade alone compromises Kenyan credibility as a neutral actor in many quarters in Somalia. Similarly, there is little evidence to suggest any unity of purpose among the various state and non-state actors in Somalia. Somalia, as a theatre of war, is becoming overcrowded with actors out to pursue unilateral interests and in the process undermining each other. This is an extension of a problem that was manifest during the days of Operation Restore Hope – a factor that General Farah Aideed exploited dexterously to neutralise the United States and the UN. Somalia has also developed a concealed but elaborate political economy of war that has become malignant and capable of crushing competing forces out to change the status quo. Almost all contributing countries with forces in Somalia have wrestled with the challenge of their soldiers falling prey to the lucrative imperceptible network of the clandestine war economy.

This partly explains why defeating al-Shabaab in Jubaland has become a tough proposition for the Kenyan Defence Forces. These are some of the bottlenecks and strategic challenges which Kenya has to consider. On the other hand, the insecurity levels in northern Kenya have statistically shown, according to recent studies by the UN, to be claiming more civilian lives than the violence of al-Shabaab. Whether Kenya’s operation in Somalia is an existential threat to the country is debatable because of this.  Although the insecurity in northern Kenya is cumulatively destabilising in the long-term, the violence of al-Shabaab seems to be economically damaging and divisive in the short-term.

Image via The Guardian

Domestically Kenyan policymakers have embarked on an exercise of upgrading their lethal counter-terrorism measures in line with the intrusive expansion of the U.S military footprint and drone wars in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula to fight insurgent groups.  These U.S drone wars, predominantly concentrated in Somalia and Yemen, have been conducted by the Obama administration and the CIA to hunt down and kill individuals deemed – through secret processes, without indictment or trial – worthy of elimination. These extra-judicial killings have, according to an internal 2013 Pentagon study, been carried out by secretive military unit Task Force 48-4 which wages a covert war throughout East Africa from outposts in Nairobi, Kenya and Sanaa,Yemen.  Camp Lemonnier, the main hub for these operations in the Horn of Africa, is the U.S military’s most active Predator drone base outside the war zone of Afghanistan.

These drone wars have been conducted in coordination with Kenyan forces providing information, intelligence and ground support to strike Al-Shabaab’s leadership. However, these drones, as with the Kenyan government’s security apparatus, remain a tool, not a strategy to effectively tackle the rising wave of terrorism in the region. It poorly addresses the symptoms of the conflict and neglects its root-causes in Somalia and its appeal to the marginal populations in Kenya. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, U.S drone strikes are raising al-Shabaab’s profile and inflating its importance in Somalia. Similarly, according to Mary Harper, financial inducements used by military personnel to extract information on the whereabouts of al-Shabaab’s leadership is not appealing to the local populations for fear of reprisals from the group.

Equally these targeted killings have had immense limitations as innocent civilians have frequently been accidentally killed alongside specific targets. This was illustrated by the collateral damage of an airstrike in Dinsoor (January, 2015) which killed nine civilians as well as Yusuf Dheeq, al-Shabaab’s head of external operations.  The United States’ covert wars in Somalia has had the multiplying effect of propelling anti-American narratives and the Kenyan government has, inadvertently, fallen prey to the accusations of being a Western pawn. Likewise, the wider regional project of the Obama administration has filtered into Kenyan politics and has given the Kenyan government the impetus to disregard the international law and respect for human rights as exemplified by the abuses perpetrated by its security forces and intelligence operatives.

Image via Yahoo

These problems have been aggravated the Western-funded Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) which has carried out a string of target killings, abductions and torture (including waterboarding, electric shocks, mock executions, and food or sleep deprivation) of perceived ‘radicals’ and young men (predominantly Muslim) opposed to the government’s treatment of the minority Muslim population and its exclusive knee-jerk reactions to the unfolding events. These actions have been justified under the guise that they support the wider regional and continental war on terror against groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS-affiliated cells.

Unfortunately, the counterterrorism narrative seems to have overshadowed the Kenyan government’s ability to address the long-standing historical injustices and marginalisation of its minority Muslim population in Kenya. In addition, it has given the state credence to pursue narrow political agendas, defined by tribal and ethnic politics as opposed to broader national interests. This has significantly strengthened al-Shabaab’s propaganda machine, amplified their cause and has appealed to those with short-term and long-term grievances against the Kenyan government to join hands with the insurgent group.

Image via CFR

Centralising terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda as the core military enemy in the Somali borderlands overlooks the positive role that Islam, as a religion, could inject in resolving the problems presented by modern Islamic-related militancy, insurgency and terrorism in the Horn of Africa. These extremist organisations are not monolithic constructs; they are fluid networks with differing methodologies and strategies (both violent and non-violent) to address socio-political problems. The disproportionate focus of the Kenyan administration on al-Shabaab’s operations, prioritising the pursuit of its leadership, shoring up an isolated government in Mogadishu, will not resolve Kenya’s security challenges and does not address the root-causes of problems within its borders.

The Kenyan government need only look at Boko Haram’s insurgency in northern Nigeria as an illustration of the dire consequences of a heavy-handed government crackdown on dissent. While the Nigerian government’s conflict with Boko Haram differs in many ways to the long-term and short-term problems afflicting Kenya, parallels can be drawn, particularly in how government actions could significantly contribute to fanning the flames of war and the process of radicalisation.

As Nigerian Senator, Shehu Sani recently commented: “The root causes of this insurgency was triggered by the killing of leader out the confines of the law and since then we never knew peace.” This extra-judicial killing alluded to by Sani was the murder of Mohammed Yusuf in July 2009. His death was accompanied by Abubakar Shekau assuming command of the organisation who substantially militarised the cause and adopted more brutal tactics to accomplish Boko Haram’s goals which have included kidnappings, mass-killings and suicide bombings which have killed thousands of Nigerian civilians and security forces.

Kenya’s problematic relationship with its North Eastern and Coastal provinces could face a similar bloody outcome should the government continue, as the Nigerian government did, to conduct extra-judicial killings, hollowing out civil society, expending blood and treasure on a prelonged war in Somalia absent a political solution, and economically, politically, and socially marginalising young Muslims and ethnic Somalis in Kenya. The horrifying U.S embassy bombing in Nairobi in 1998, the Westgate Mall massacre and the slaughter of university students in Garissa, these events may pale in comparison to the cost of a fully-fledged insurgency and long-term armed conflict in northern Kenya. The Kenyan government and its security apparatus must conduct an comprehensive investigation into the extra-judicial killings of Muslim clerics and youths by bringing the perpetrators of these draconian acts to book. The state should also stop victimising and collectively targeting an entire religion and minority ethnic groups for the criminal action of hell-bent individuals and groups.

Matthew Williams and Mohammud Abdi


The rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and ISIS: A Western Legacy

You’re free. And freedom is beautiful. And, you know, it’ll take time to restore chaos and order – order out of chaos. But we will.

George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., April 13, 2003

The fall of Mosul and the scenes of chaos within the city seem to be the first major and perhaps fatal challenge to Iraq’s fragile ‘democratic’ government. Can they see it through the whirlwind of sectarian violence and terrorist activity gripping the country unilaterally? Apparently not as Obama authorized renewed airstrikes against the barbaric ISIS and humanitarian airdrops for the besieged Yazidis. Either way it is a symbol of the utter failure of U.S and British policy in the country they invaded in 2003 and the Iraqi people are paying for it. 

What we are witnessing in the new Iraqi civil war is the violence that first began against coalition forces and among various sectarian groups. Now they deliver a severe challenge to the work of the U.S-British coalition  in Iraq. Not only were the Anglo-American forces unable to halt the violence, they only hastened the strife between Sunni and Shia.

A combination of long-term and short-term events have heralded this alarming turn of events. ISIS is a dual creation of the inherent instability created by the Bush administration and nurtured by the Syrian Civil War where U.S allies such Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been supplying the Sunni terrorist faction cutting a swath through Iraq. The social and economic deprivation of Iraq is well-documented and Iraq like every other nation in the region has been subject to dramatic change created by the Arab Spring (now very much in its bleak midwinter) which has created numerous pretexts for protest and violence whether it possesses moderate or extremist intentions.

In the vacuum of power created by the coalition in Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003) which saw the crude dismantlement of the political and military structure they have ironically witnessed the rise of new extremist factions, alongside Al-Qaeda, that Saddam Hussein was said to have harbored in 2003.  The latter accusation was proven false as was the fictional existence of WMDs. The Islamic State of Iraq in Syria (Isis) is so hard line that it was disavowed by Al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

It seems that the Western powers are reacting to an event that was inbound for almost a year if not more. Media outlets had covered the increased rise in violence, bombing and sectarian slaughter in the build up to the elections. What is being witnessed in Iraq is not a surprise as Iraq already a divided state was feeling the effects of the Syrian Civil War, extremists were involved and likely to return to Iraq to impose their doctrines.  It seems very perplexing that American intelligence could have been caught so badly off guard by this escalation of violence.

The fall of Mosul to ISIS led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi adds salt to the wounds of the politicians who took us into conflict without effective plan B, C and D. More importantly this impending disaster for Iraq spits in the face of all the men and women who have died or sustained physical and psychological trauma to their bodies under the inflexible and failed policies of their leaders in government. 4,487 U.S soldiers died for nothing as did nearly 600 coalition soldiers (315 of whom were British) and 160,000 Iraqi civilians (see Iraq casualties total on this link).

What did we fight for?  Ultimately it was not for the victims of 9/11, they were just the opportunity under which war could be undertaken. The military and political failure must be investigated by the Armed Forces and the Parliament thoroughly. If we salvage something from this bitter legacy that is Iraq and learn from it then it is the sole consolation in defeat (what else was it?).

Many have been foolish enough to propose that this was a victory and that the sacrifice was worth paying for creating a democracy within Iraq. The death in last year of 1000 people on average a month (the most horrific I remember being a Christmas day suicide bombing),  the fall of Mosul, the decent of Iraq into bloody civil war and its formation into a new ‘Somalia’ renders this void assumption laughable. The financial costs of this conflict are very apparent already. The threat to Iraq’s oil supply pushed global oil prices higher to $110 a barrel, adding to concerns about a supply shortfall from Libya. This will undoubtedly incur an American reaction as ISIS expand their financial firepower as well as the seizing key weapon caches in various towns and cities such as Mosul.

Though most of us are appalled by the violence consuming Syria, the gradual disintegration of Iraq since the withdrawal of firstly British and secondly U.S forces seems to indicate that the West does more harm than good when it comes to military intervention with no heed to long-term planning and consequences. If military intervention had occurred in August 2013 after the Ghouta chemical attacks who knows the damage we might have added to an already destabilised region.

Despite initial plans to keep some American soldiers in the country to assist the Iraqi security forces, no agreement could be reached between Baghdad and Washington, and the final US troops pulled out in December 2011 leaving security in the hands of the often less-than-effective Iraqi military (who had already sustained some 20,000 dead in the fight against militants between 2003 and 2011). Gradual withdrawal may have been a more viable solution to this problem now occurring in Iraq.

People, however, may be quick to condemn Obama, but the president was acting on one of the promises he kept in his presidential campaign; soldiers would return home from Iraq. This was the response to the demand of public opinion, a response to war exhaustion, a war which by 2008 had been quite completely exposed for all its violations whether it be human rights, the use of torture, international law, American ideals, and of the Iraqi people.

Saddam Hussein

That is the legacy of George Bush and his administration. Granted the joy of Saddam Hussein’s departure from power was welcome and clear to see in the wake of the initially successful invasion. His war crimes against the Kurds, the Iranians and brutal dictatorship he established over his own people were appalling however contentious the grounds for invading Iraq.

However when you create a void in power that has been established for decades under authoritarian rule what is required is covert, sensitive and patient long-term strategy that must be thoroughly planned before you topple the cruel structure lest it be replaced by a equally violent regime in the future.

This was the crucial  blunder of the world’s greatest military power. Some would argue I have the advantage of hindsight but it has been repeated again and again in U.S foreign policy throughout the 20th century.

It is the permanent stain upon Tony Blair’s foreign policy as Prime Minister when he followed Bush obediently into an unpredictable conflict. The shame is that people forget how well Blair performed in bringing an end to the civil war in Sierra Leone via Operation Palliser which defeated the murderous RUF in 2002. The British government pushed beyond their capabilities and bear equal shame in the unraveling of Iraq as a viable state.

The death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan at the hands of U.S Special Operations Forces is perhaps the only pitiful consolation the United States’ have. The costs are so heavy though for the future of the Middle East and the Iraqi people that it can only be labelled a Pyrrhic victory. The tears of Jessica Chastain portraying C.I.A agent Maya Lambert in critically acclaimed film ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ are a subtle testimony to the emptiness of ‘victory’.

Tony Blair’s assumptions that the Americans and British didn’t cause this crisis is wrong. However in 2011 the Arab Spring, as he asserts, would have brought about protest against the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and potentially the same difficulties would have occurred. Though there are agreeable elements in Blair’s point about the Arab Spring that is a matter of debate rather than fact as he tries to deflect criticism.

For the United States numerous questioned should be asked of the previous administration whilst the current one reels in the wake of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s and ISIS’s most important victory yet. We shouldn’t be surprised as Richard Barrett, a former counter-terrorism chief with the British foreign intelligence service comments

“For the last 10 years or more, [Zawahiri] has been holed up in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area and hasn’t really done very much more than issue a few statements and videos…Whereas Baghdadi has done an amazing amount — he has captured cities, he has mobilized huge amounts of people (estimates say 12,000), he is killing ruthlessly throughout Iraq and Syria…. If you were a guy who wanted action, you would go with Baghdadi.”

ISIS are rumored to be executing pro-Western soldiers and officials.

It is harrowing to imagine an Islamist organisation that is rumored to be too extreme for Al-Qaeda. ISIS will never achieve global dominion that is apparently part of its doctrine but it will wreak havoc regionally and inspire pro-ISIS factions to grow in other areas of the world. The Americans may claim that had they been able to intervene in Syria in August 2013 that ISIS may not be the power it is to today. That would be an oversimplification at best.

It is also evidence of how Western perceptions of Islamic extremism were so narrow particularly in media and Western culture. Al-Qaeda and perhaps Al-Shabaab were the most well-known radical entities to represent Islam at its worst. Now the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram and many more have joined their ranks or inspired groups. They have emerged  either through the upheaval of the Arab Spring, hatred of perceived Russian authoritarianism, Western hypocrisy and influences, or as seen in the Africa lack of development, corruption, poverty and instability.

The question is what is the viable solution to this crisis, which joins the numerous other regional crises in the Middle East? The US has naturally pledged  to support the current Iraqi government with shipments of military equipment to the government this year and ramped up training for security forces. Its final collapse would confirm the final humiliation for the former administration. The pledge of Obama to place $5 billion towards the ‘Global War on Terror’ (now re branded Overseas Contingency Operations) seems more relevant than ever as JP Sotille quotes:

“It is, in effect, the return of a key Cold War policy of “regime support” for clients and “regime change” for non-client states, particularly in strategically-located areas and resource-rich regions. Regimes—whether or not they actually “reflect American values”—can count on U.S. financial, military and mission-integrated diplomatic support so long as they can claim to be endangered…not by communists, but by terrorists.

The United States look set to remain a major player in the region. The definitions and words to define the conflict may have become less dramatic then Bush’s ‘crusade’ and ‘global war’ yet the intentions remain clear that preventive warfare  (now a little more subtle than before) will continue; the use of drones, the increased use of the special forces and the placement of 9,000 U.S soldiers to remain in Afghanistan after the planned withdrawal of the military are evidence to their continued state of military alert. ISIS are amongst many a constituted threat to the well-being of national security.

The importance of Iran in this equation holds greater significance than ever as does the stance of Israel and Egypt in the ensuing chaos. The former stands to lend military assistance potentially to their neighbours. Israel stands to be ever increasingly threatened by the rise of extremist jihadist and Islamist movements and the fall-out of the Arab Spring. Three states are in states of civil war; Syria, Iraq and Libya. Turkey is beset by internal unrest whilst groups within Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iraq have made sure the Syrian civil war has evolved into a regional proxy war.

Ending the Syrian war and extremism in Iraq would be the first step on the road to stabilizing the region in part yet it has become such a vibrant hot-bed for radicalism.  Assad’s brutality has  radicalized segments now and these radicals comprised of Islamic extremism, political extremists and criminals are blotting out those who are fighting for democracy, human rights and the end of authoritarian government.

The stalemate  and the Syria Geneva Conference II peace talks appear to confirm that the more things change the more they stay the same, maps and regions are redrawn and new and dangerous players emerge alongside the continuation in Syrian politics and the battle for influence on the conflict between the United States, Russia, and China. There is no doubt that Syria has irrevocably changed, but if anything it has taken a large step back from where it was in 2011 when the civil war began with both rationale and objectives shifting amongst rebel factions and regime.

The difficulty is that the West holds no leverage in the Middle East as the democratic entities it claims to support are being overwhelmed by extremists and authoritarians. Combine this with the failure of the Iraq War and the military preoccupation in Afghanistan, the West lacks financial, military, political, and moral credibility as well as constraints with which they can deal with the Middle Eastern firestorm.

Ultimately the ones with which we have the poorest relations at the moment hold the keys to a measure of stability that being Iran, Putin, and Assad. The issue is that like most a-typical Cold War conflicts military shipments and financial power is vested in opposing sides by the larger powers and the continuation of this only hampers the peace process and endangers more civilians.

To align with Assad would be viewed by some as the ultimate betrayal of those who fight for liberal and democratic goals, much like America aligned with Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran War. However what we have seen in Iraq is the sheer cost of removing or assisting the removal of a authoritarian regime without a viable, moderate and strong leadership to replace it. Assad’s fall it seems would only extend Syria’s prolonged suffering in hands of jihadists, extremists, drained moderates and a shattered government.

The Arab Spring has gained a deadly momentum one which threatens to consume the region for decades and it is taking the disturbing form (though completely different in context) of the Balkans in 1914, inherently unstable and threatening not just people who dwell in the Middle East but the doorstep of Europe.

With all options on the table according to Obama what’s next is a matter of dispute. A military intervention in Iraq would send ripples across the international scene.

 Matthew Williams (Six things that went wrong for Iraq)  (Who are ISIS?)




Questions of Faith; Islam’s Civil War

Boko Haram in Nigeria tahmasebi20130824010937633.jpg

“Sons of Islam everywhere, the jihad is a duty – to establish the rule of Allah on earth and to liberate your countries and yourselves from America’s domination and its Zionist allies, it is your battle – either victory or martyrdom.”

Ahmed Yassin

It has been branded a ‘Clash of Civilisations’, the pinnacle of terrorism courtesy of the images of 9/11  and has been been associated with repression, controversy and violence in the majority of the 21st century but what are contemporaries missing in the debate of Islam and extremism associated with it?  The question considers culture, history, and the misrepresentation of both in Western spheres and within that of the Muslim/Islamic community and thus far both ‘moderate’ sides that wish to co-exist have failed to answer the question with a degree of confidence required in the most complex of issues.


For years now, many look upon the external threat of Islam and ‘global jihad’ and there are many issues that come with the latter statement. What we must consider is that Islam and the Muslim communities are at war with each other as well the extremists being at war with the West and the rest of the world. It is an internal crisis that is easily forgotten and dismissed merely as an external challenge.

Militants and armed radical groups have expanded and entrenched their positions throughout the Sahel and Sahara over the last decade under the umbrella of al-Qaeda. The most notorious group to emerge has been the ruthless jihad of Boko Haram which is tearing Nigeria in two with the objective of creating a Sharia state purged of Western influence and culture. In recent months the problem has evolved from sporadic but lethal attacks to a jihad insurgency, a full-blown out war against the government of Jonathan Goodluck (in itself a a-typical corrupt African state) with kidnaps and murder rife in an unstable country.

Mali has seen major upheaval that sparked a French intervention in 2011. Kenya is now embroiled in a conflict with Al-Shaabab in Somalia, the capital Nairobi persistently being shaken by Islamist suicide bombers.

It is an emerging problem that Nigeria and the West is struggling to contain much like the rise of Islamic extremism. Tony Blair’s speech highlighted various problems that the world faces when battling violent Islamism (including the words in which he conveyed this war against Islamism). Muslims around the world face a struggle with their religion. It is an identity crisis as much as a war and ideological conflict between two ‘civilisations’. For instance, those often murdered in their thousands and victims of the subverted and warped ideologies of the extremists are in-fact Muslims.

The anti-balaka are conducting the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Central African Republic

Incompetent portrayals of Muslim communities as a wholly anti-western pillar only serve to alienate the minority and in many circumstances radicalise those on the wrong end of racism and xenophobia, particularly the United States and Europe. Few remember that the greatest atrocities carried out in Europe in recent memory were targeted against Muslims during the break-up of Yugoslavia by Serbian nationalists in the 1990s.

Nor do many pay heed to the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Central African Republic by Christian militia (the anti-balaka) currently, the blood of thousands staining the country’s soil. Let us also not forget that the most horrifying act of mass murder and terrorism in Europe was perpetrated by Anders Breivik, a Norweigian far-right fanatic, operating in the name of Islamophobic white supremacy, his own warped crusade.

Muslims are as much a victim of the extremists ideologies who commit atrocities in ‘their name’ as those who suffer in terrorist attacks across the globe and thirty-one innocent Muslims, ranging in age from their late 60s to a couple’s unborn child perished during the attacks on the World Trade Centre which has been regarded as the epitome (in images) of apocalyptic Islamist extremism.

Problems still remain within the faith though in terms of projecting the religion of Islam. Those who seek a world united by under the auspiciousness of Islam under radical Islamist though disregard the inherent cultural and religious dynamics that vary from continent to continent, regions,  linguistics and the varying interpretations of the Qu’ran. The cultural differences are also key and something which Islamic extremists often fail to recognise.

The Japanese Army slaughtered millions of people in the name of the Emperor and the radical segments of Shintoism in the 1930s and 1940s.

Historically we can obtain such evidence from the most unlikely of sources; the Japanese.  The Shinto ultranationalists had a vision of a New World Order united under the rule of the Emperor. Thousands of people were slaughtered in the name of Shinto-ultranationalism and the name of the immortal emperor. His words were considered a deity amongst the Japanese people and applied violently as such against the non-believers.

It was an ideal for which many Japanese were willing to give their lives for and European, American and Chinese soldiers and civilians witnessed first-hand this fanaticism in the form of kamikazes, banzai charges, suicide bombing, the utter contempt in many cases for surrendering Allied soldiers and ritual suicides in the face of surrender.

The reality was that Pan-Asiatic (a united Asia) aspirations, an Asia unified under the roof of the Emperor could not be applied to the realities of the 20th century as Asians came to despise what they saw as Western based imperialism on the part of Japanese expansion; sheer hypocrisy and failure to integrate and understand the dynamics and economics of other cultures. For this cosmic and warped war proclaimed by fanatics, the Japanese people paid with their lives as did the country’s ability to develop as a democratic entity.

The fanaticism, the cultural war against Western dominance and lack of realistic goals is very much amongst those who proclaim global jihad.  Islamic extremists will inevitably encounter similar problems when it comes to their global war on Westernism and ‘infidels’. Images of global jihad are unrealistic as they fail to recognise the pragmatics of cultural and religious dynamics that differ from region to region.

Kidnap, torture and drugs are at the centre of the extremist Islamist doctrines which besmirch the  faith once regarded as a valuable and complex centre of human civilisation, intellectual discourse and like Europe has a confusing and difficult histories of empire which divided Muslim cultures just as it did Christian society during medieval times and the Renaissance period. Muslims have a European history, the Ottoman Empire, one of the most powerful in the world stretched, at it zenith, to the doors of Vienna in Austria back to the deserts of Iran. What we see is a faith of a supposed ‘other world’ with unfathomable concepts, largely devoid of European significance. Christianity and Islam are entwined in mutual history and experience and the latter isn’t the only faith marred by conflict and controversy.

Islamic women protest flogging

Generosity and the spirit of the intellectual were key pillars in Islamic civilisation. What we choose to see or only hear of now, and it is a serious problem, is the attempt to enforce sharia law, calls to jihad, prejudice against homo-sexuals, horror stories of forced marriages and honor killings, rape, and acid attacks that maim innocent and beautiful women because they challenge their faith and for arguing for the notions of femininity, education, and freedom and against  the imposition of extremist doctrines on both individuals and societies.

Understand this the problems of history are linked with the contemporary problems facing Islam. The Muslim communities are at war with each other as much as the extremists and ‘terrorists’ are at war with Western concepts.  The issue within Muslim societies is often what conversations moderates and intellectuals are not having.

This is  guided by both fear of violence and repercussions against families and individuals, but is also the result of a neglect to encourage or promote more diverse ways of thinking about the structures of their faith and establish an effective rapport between different communities which will challenge the norms and rules of Muslim society. What is lacking is a sufficient and convincing challenge against elements (previously mentioned) that wholly undermine the more enlightened and peaceful elements of both contemporary and historical Islam.

Enlightened distance between mosque and state which could potentially (I say this with caution after the failures of the Arab Spring) lead to healthy, liberal democracies has yet to take hold yet and with the Pax Americana waning, exhausted by war against extremist Islamism and loathed by much of the world population the future remains uncertain. 

In 2011, the death of Osama Bin Laden appeared to symbolise in the eyes of the White House that the war against the most violent elements of Islamism were over. Notable Islamic terrorist activity in Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Egypt, the division of opposition in Syria, the attacks on Volgograd, the continued instability in the Caucasus the beheading of Lee Rigby in London, and the Boston Bombing suggest otherwise. Eighteen countries and its civilians felt the wroth of terrorism in name of Islam in 2013 alone.

New enemies, new problems for the United States

The weakening of the United States in foreign policy in both Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and thus far Ukraine ensures that both individuals and terrorists will have free-reign to act with more impunity than before. The consequences of 9/11 and Iraq are increasingly ominous as each year goes by and has brought American foreign policy under greater scrutiny then ever before in the 21st century. Nonetheless the Russians have and will continue to encounter problems with Islamic extremism no matter the result of the Ukraine crisis.

Tony Blair was mistaken in his recent speech that there is a global struggle between Western democracies and Islamic extremism. Such words only stoke the belief of the fanatics that their cause is just. In every conflict there are dangers which cut both ways based upon economic, political and religious motives. It is identifying the moderates on both sides of the spectrum which will ensure more questions are answered than are being solved at this current and most difficult of times. Inevitably this is a war which neither side can win.

Matthew Williams




2014: A year of uncertainty or hope?


“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

Albert Einstein

As we enter 2014, it is becoming ever more clear that the world is a fast-changing place, one increasingly more violent and less safe. As 2013 fades into distant memory, the snow in Volgograd is stained red with the blood of many (including a year old baby) killed in a series of terrorist attacks, a political statement from extremists in the neighbouring region of Chechnya, (though currently it is yet to be seen). It seemed a depressingly fitting end to one of the most uncertain years on the international stage, certainly bloody like most years in the 20th and 21st century, but more uncertain than most I remember.

Parts of Africa continue to be gripped by turmoil, and what has caught the attention of many is the increased Islamic extremism that is developing across the continent; some formed by Al-Qaeda, others by the Al-Shabaab, or some simply splinter groups inspired by the notorious terrorist organizations. Somalia, Mali, Nigeria were all torn by civil strife and insurgents, the former of course is of no surprise and I fear it may be too late to correct the course Somalia is on, thanks in part to our neglect of the country since the 1990s. Al-Shabaab has made its intent know, and has shown it has the capacity to affect not only internal affairs in Somalia that provides the foundations for continued instability, but also their capacity to affect the entire of East Africa. This was best illustrated by firstly their attack on Uganda in 2010, and this year illustrated by their attack in Nairobi which claimed the lives of seventy-two. This certainly gained more international attention and it seems it will not be the end of the Islamic insurgence. Mass-graves in the South Sudan, and the threat of genocide in the Central African Republic

The season of hope in 2011 and the onset of the Arab Spring is but a speck on the horizon, the assent of democracy in Egypt, a corpse and the strong people fighting for democracy, a better standard of living and human rights find themselves trapped between two warring factions, the military and the now branded ‘terrorist’ organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. The army certainly played a massive role in overthrowing Mubarak in 2011 and helped pave the way for Egypt’s democratic elections, however in 2013 their coup which removed the incompetent Morsi from power, came across so badly that it has left Egypt looking like a potential hot-bed for civil strife for years to come. Undoubtedly Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood blew a unique opportunity; to prove that an Islamist government could govern effectively and relive the economic stress of previous years. They failed, abusing their privileged position as a fairly elected government as seen by the seeming relapse in women’s rights and continued economic deterioration and Morsi proved foolish enough to call himself ‘a Pharaoh’. Undeniably the government had to go, but the manner in which it was removed has left it looking like a legitimate government has been unlawfully ejected from power, and the result has been that extremists within the party or outside of it have exploited the situation created by the army. They can argue that Egypt is now simply a military/police state, that their cause, which is starting to involve more radical tactics, is just. A just cause for an Islamist party and hard-liners within is very often a potent cocktail.

The Middle East is a black hole, Syria the epicentre for a potential regional catastrophe, at worst a very serious international war which nearly proved to be the case in late August 2013. Who knows what would happened if the U.S.A had decided to act unilaterally in response to the use of gas by the Syrian government (certainly it has the capacity to do so). I would never argue that the use of gas against soldiers or civilians is ever right, far from that it a war crime, a crime against humanity, the images streamed across the world the most horrific to behold. However the U.S.A has tied its own hands in the region by invading Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s without the approval of the U.N and international community. It has left Iraq in a mess, and let’s face it Afghanistan is not looking like it is paving the way to a prosperous and peaceful future. Quite rightly in my opinion the United Kingdom remained away from Syria, we have neither the capacity militarily or economic and financial stability to be involved in another Middle Eastern conflict, it is harder to talk about wars than they are to win and we should longer follow the policy of blindly following the U.S.A into a quagmire from which it very difficult to detach as seen in Iraq, a legacy left behind by Tony Blair. I certainly do not condone what is happening in Syria, the appalling slaughter, the Youtube footage of butchered children, the siege at Aleppo, the starvation of thousands, and the humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes. What I find baffling is the lack of cohesion between the big players such as the United States, Russia and China to end the Syrian conflict and lift the tensions of the region, and they do have the capacity to act more effectively. It is too late for that now, the result is that the entire region has become a training ground for extremism, left, right and centre which has spilled over into Lebanon, Iraq (increasingly resembling a failed state), Yemen and Turkey, with the potential to drag in more dangerous players such as militant Israel, Iran and deteriorating Egypt. Outsiders including myself are finding very difficult to define who the enemy is in Syria, the shame being that the Free Syrian Army has splintered into radical factions, eclipsing those fighting for democracy against Assad’s government.

It is nearly one hundred years since the First World War began and many on-lookers are beginning to compare the Middle East of today to that of the Balkans in the early 1900s; a ticking time bomb, two sides building up, with the capacity to ravage the entire region and the consequences would be severe upon the international community. Certainly both regions are different and there were different reasons for conflict starting, a century divides the problem areas in question and they are undoubtedly hard to compare in many ways. History may not repeat itself, but it does certainly rhyme, the most worrying thing is that this is the 21st century, and mankind has developed the weapons and means by which in can wreak havoc and death upon itself more efficiently and effectively than in 1914. Machine guns in 1914 were the killing machines, now incomparable to drones, hydrogen bombs, nuclear devices and long-range missiles. I don’t usually predict events, but genocide and a nuclear device are most likely to be set off in the Middle East at the moment, I pray it doesn’t.

Mass graves in South Sudan as ‘The White Army’ threatens to run riot, the threat of genocide and religious conflict in the Central African Republic between Christian and Muslims, the growth of radical Islam and the continuation of civil war in Africa and the Middle East, and economic uncertainty across the globe, not to mention continued and increased tensions this year between China and Japan, not to mention frayed nerves over North Korea in March 2013; it certainly doesn’t bear well for 2014. We haven’t even mentioned the problems afflicting the Democratic Republic of Congo, development issues across the globe and the continued and pressing matter of combating the issue of HIV/AIDs, poverty and environmental problems. Attacking these basic social, political, economic and environmental problems are the most likely solution in the long-term to prevent the ascension of extremism. Certainly at this moment in time I am inclined to agree with the lyrics of ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath because sometimes I do not understand politicians and their sense in some matters. Power and greed, the need of the vote over the welfare of their people too often plague governments these days. Perhaps it is men in power who grew up in the Cold War era that still dictate politics today, the idea that there are two sides, that there are power blocs, acting in the irksome words ‘national interest’, which the United States has always used on an infuriating basis. Moral and muscular government is needed in these uncertain times, that transcend simple national interest and be focused upon international, worldwide ones.

I won’t say the cliché statement that we are all human and that everyone can be saved from poverty, death, and destruction, nevertheless a more positive focus on development, poverty would be a more constructive way of expending our money.  However this has to be done with realistic options and given the current situation in many areas of the world such a statement is not ready to be deployed and as such would be unrealistic and naïve for now. The world is like each individual. There are always problems, during the course of life whether you like it or not personal problems sometimes. Despair, frustration, anger, sadness, hard-work, anxiety , hopelessness, death, fear, cowardice and an endless array of conditions that stalk us continuously are simply things that will always exist whether we would like it or not. There will never be a time where we all sit down, that terrorists will skip merrily into the setting sun hand in hand with Obama and the West, good as gold friends forever, there will always be people that seek to harm us and commit violence. There is always a problem on an individual and collective basis and ultimately how to deal with and adapt to those problems is the bigger question. For example Nelson Mandela (very topical in recent months) did not find that his release from prison was it. In fact he found that it was one of many simply stating that there will always be more mountains to climb, those being combating the legacy of apartheid and both social and economic problems in South Africa. Certainly the world is approaching/at a juncture and is facing severe problems and how individuals, nations, the international community act at this divide in the road is of great interest.

Matthew Williams