Saturday, January 9, 2010

Anti-Islamist Propaganda in Africa Fulfilling Itself

23 year old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to carry out a Christmas Day terrorist bombing on a Northwest Airlines flight flying into Detroit. Media reports are prematurely drawing connections between Abdulmutallab who was Nigerian and an alleged al-Qaeda conspiracy to spread its operations into West Africa and the Sahara.

In the recent past, there have been other high profile stories related to terrorism that have been either exaggerated or fabricated to justify the surge in US-backed military operations in Saharan Africa. One of which was in 2002 when Algerian intelligence forces kidnapped Western tourists only to blame the abductions on so called 'jihadists' to justify their pandering to the U.S. for weapons and financial resources. And then of course there is the historic U.S. interference in Somalia that helped produce militant Islamism by arming warlords, backing a murderous Ethiopian invasion of the country in 2006 and splintering moderate factions of the Union of Islamic Courts. Recently, as indicated in a video by Al Jazeera, an offshoot of al-Qaeda has also emerged in the deserts of North Africa, claiming a 'Sahara Emirate', in part because of hostile actions taken by the Mauritanian government against Islamic opposition parties.

In the Sahara-Sahelian regions of Africa, Islam is mostly inclusive and pacifist characterizing jihad as a spiritual rather than military enterprise. To the outsider looking in via mass media, increased U.S. counter-terrorism operations in Africa could appear as natural responses to a sudden extremist threat but nothing could be further from the truth. The Islamic resistance in Africa being characterized as terrorism or "jihadism" is a new expression of anti-imperialism as well as a decade’s old opposition to political centralization and a perpetual lack of human development. What in previous decades was clothed in the rhetoric of Marxism-Leninism or Arab nationalism is today phrased under the loosely organized ideology of political Islam--- a political philosophy that a society governed under Islamic Sharia law will be more just than the status-quo.

So where is the sudden upsurge in militant political Islam coming from? Like their counter-parts in East Africa, North and West Africa have also been participating in joint counter-terrorism operations led by the U.S. and NATO through AFRICOM. For several years now Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and others have participated in U.S.-led military exercises known as Flintlock. Flintlock exercises usually involve a hypothetical non-state threat to which governments are trained to respond immediately across borders and a lot destructive new goodies from the American military. The U.S. and its European allies have also been working with two dozen African governments to "overcome the tyranny of distance imposed by their massive continent through an exercise designed to increase command, control, communications and computer capacity" in Gabon. The partnerships between these governments and the U.S. military are kept secret from the public and for good reason. Imperial domination by the U.S. military, perceived or real, in Africa would be extremely unpopular and complicate their efforts to cling to political power.

Several of the most corrupt governments in Africa are using the cover of the "war on terror" to justify the continuity of clientelism, neglect of socio-economic rights and centralization of power under the protection of the U.S. African Military Command. Billions of dollars in U.S. tax-payer money for new weapons systems, development aid and financial assistance are sure-fire methods to consolidate political authority in a region where political opposition movements are fragmented and struggle without financial resources. The actions of African governments to marginalize not only political Islam but all political opposition, will inevitably fuel violent expressions in the future.

Make no mistake about it, violent expressions of political Islam won’t loosen these inept government’s grip on political power or respond to the fundamental social, economic and environmental needs of African people.

Egyptian economist and activist Samir Amin has accurately described both the lack of coherence and strategy among political Islamists responding to U.S. intervention,

"The exclusive emphasis on culture allows political Islam to
eliminate from every sphere of life the real social confrontations between the
popular classes and the globalized capitalist system that oppresses and exploits
them. The militants of political Islam have no real presence in the areas where
actual social conflicts take place and their leaders repeat incessantly that
such conflictsare unimportant. Islamists are only present in these areas to open
schools and health clinics. But these are nothing but works of charity and means
for indoctrination. They are not means of support for the struggles of the
popular classes against the system responsible for their poverty."

Nevertheless, as the U.S. continues its covert militarization of Africa through alliances with otherwise contemptible political regimes, violent political Islam may be the only opposition group which can effectively organize moral and financial support against the status-quo. By making ties with foreign Islamist organizations like al-Qaeda, these groups can tap into the material resources necessary to wage a sustained insurgency. This is a tragic moment of self-fulfilled prophecy the poorest continent in the world can do without.

1 comment:

  1. "the Islamic resistance in Africa being characterized as terrorism or "jihadism" is a new expression of anti-imperialism as well as a decade’s old opposition to political centralization and a perpetual lack of human development."

    Name check, the Sanusiyya of Libya!

    To add to your point, the Euro-colonialists in Africa also viewed their role in parts of Africa as "protection" against what they viewed as the harmful influence of Islam. This is a primary reason why Islam never spread extensively to Southern Sudan, even though the north had extensive trade links with the south. Read Robert Collins's Shadows in the Grass about British colonial administration in the Southern Sudan for a revealing look at how the British tried to hermetically seal the south from Northern influence, including preventing the spread of Arabic language.

    And Yemen's recent plea to the US to help fight "al-Qaeda" there is just the most recent chapter in governments using anti-terrorism rhetoric to channel funding from the US to prop up a weak central gov't.