Saturday, June 15, 2024
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How to Deal with Al Shabaab? Thinking Outside of the Box

By Dr. Abdurahman Baadiyow

October 14, 2017, a truck loaded with explosives exploded at the center of Mogadishu leaving about 400 deaths and about 500 injures. This was one of the most lethal terrorist acts anywhere in the world since 9/11.  This barbaric act was attributed to
Al Shabaab which has appeared publicly in 2007 after Ethiopian Military intervention in Somalia in support of the fragile government in 2006.

FILE – In this Oct. 30, 2009 file photo, al-Shabab fighters sit on a truck as they patrol in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Armed organizations fighting in the name of Islam could be characterized as a reactive and defensive movement which emerges whenever Muslim society encounters external threats, and when the state is failed, weak, or collapsed. In addition to that, most of the armed groups are influenced by the literal interpretation of the Islamic text easily designating even Muslims who differ them to be apostates. Thus, extremists in the name of Islam misinterpret Islamic texts and invoke what they call Jihad against all to express their grievances contrary to the mainstream understanding of the Islamic principles. Their ideology follows the famous extremist phrase you’re either with us, or against us”. This ideology attracts less educated segments of the society with grievances and mostly in the underdeveloped rural areas.

The ideology of extremism appeared in Somalia as a reaction to the military regime’s execution of 10 Islamic scholars who opposed peacefully secular family law adopted in 1975. This event was a defining moment in the history of Somalia and could be considered the beginning of extremist ideology in the name of Islam in Somalia. It was the time when takfir ideology appeared in the Muslim world and hundreds of young students fled the repressive regime to the rich Gulf countries and joined Islamic universities in Saudi Arabia.

The core ideology of Al Shabaab is similar with all other armed groups wagging wars in the name of Islam such as Al-Qaida, ISIS and Boko Haram. These organizations believe common ideology and differ from each other only in their tactical approach depending on circumstances and context. They use the same educational literature, inspired by same Islamic scholars and adhere to mixed Salafiyah Jihadism and takfir ideologies. In their operations, they do not discriminate between Muslims whom they consider apostates and non-Muslims. For them, all are legitimate targets for their Jihad.

Certainly, there is no sound justification for the extremist’s violence and terrorism in Islam. However, it is unfortunate to associate Islam with violence and extremism while Muslims are most victimized societies from terrorism. We should all acknowledge that violation of human rights and use of violence had no specific race and religion. Thus, associating terrorism with Islam advances terrorists’ propaganda as heroic protectors of Islam against aggressive Christians and secular states.

In the history of Islam, there is no specific terminology in the Qur’an and Prophetic traditions which qualifies governance in a Muslim society as “Islamic state.” This term was simply coined in the 20th century in reaction to the secular state. However, adding the prefix “Islamic” means adopting Islamic principles as ultimate reference to the legal system of the state. There are few countries among 50 Muslim majority countries who adopted this prefix like Iran, Pakistan, Mauritania and Afghanistan.

The important question is how to deal with Al Shabaab. Can we defeat them with though military means only? Can foreign forces defeat Al Shabaab physically and ideologically? The answer is of course no. To face the bitter reality, we must think outside of the box. We must first and foremost accept our responsibility as fathers and mothers that Al-Shabaab are our children, belong to our clans and live among us. However, they are our neglected children, our angary children, deprived from dignity, education and descent live.

They are mostly from marginalized clans and territories, and a product of erroneous Islamic education and injustice committed in the name of the state and warlords. Therefore, we must bear our responsibility and develop various strategies to save our children and save ourselves. This strategy should be a collective endeavour participated by all segments of the society, Somali government, and other external actors.  This means to develop comprehensive strategy and multiple coordinated activities.

Therefore, Somali government, civil society organizations, clan elders, Islamic scholars  and the international community must embrace besides military actions and effective ideological warfare, genuine negotiation as an effective instrument in building durable peace and functioning state in Somalia. Negotiations must be understood as an effective instrument which weakens hardliners while empowering moderate elements of Al Shabaab. However, such negotiations will be meaningful when there is functioning state institutions and Somali security forces which can make war and peace “carrot and stick”. Honestly, in the presence of the foreign forces, bad governance, predatory and rent-seeking elites and rampant corruption, Al Shabaab have no apatite for productive negotiation. Therefore, conducive environment should be prepared in order to defeat extremism and dissuade our children to destroy us and destroy themselves.

In conclusion, we should not allow Al Shabaab to monopolize our Islamic religion and the government should demonstrate their sincerity to implement constitutional provisions relegating Islamic principles as the ultimate reference of the law of the land. It is our actions which are counts, and without real action, it is just a meaningless slogan!

Dr. Abdurahman Baadiyow

Dr. Baadiyow holds PhD in Modern Islamic History, socio-political activist and writes on the topics of Islamic movements, traditional authorities and state-building of Somalia. He published a number of books, book chapter and papers. He could be reached on: [email protected]  

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