12 Dec 2005
Efforts to counter the threat of jihadi Islamism in Somalia will backfire unless international actors embrace Somali priorities – the restoration of peace, a legitimate government and essential services.
Somalia’s Islamists,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the real but limited threat of terrorism in and from Somalia, and argues that the best way to confront jihadism in Somalia is to assist the vast majority of Somalis who desire a democratic, broad-based and responsive government that reflects the Islamic faith. Counter terrorism strategies must include the Somali perspective and concerns if they are to succeed. That Islamist extremism has failed to take broader hold in the country is due to Somali resistance, not foreign counter terrorism efforts, Crisis Group concludes.
“Unless the international community is prepared to confront the complex challenge of helping Somalis establish a broadly inclusive government of national unity, they may continue to score victories in their battles against terrorism in the Horn while losing the wider war”, says Matt Bryden, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director.
Since the collapse of the government in 1991, there has been a rise in Islamist reformist movements, the majority of which are non-violent and opposed to ideological extremism. The groups responsible for the murders of Somalis and foreigners, and linked to other terrorist attacks, are by far the smallest in number and do not have popular support. International actors should, therefore, make clear that their counter terrorism efforts are aimed at a handful of criminals – many of them foreigners – not the Somali population at large.
The international community should also resist the urge to back one faction of the Transitional Federal Government, which since its creation last year has seemed determined to repeat past mistakes. Partisan interventions will only backfire by uniting jihadi Islamists, moderates and rival political factions in a common cause, which would in turn amplify the jihadi threat rather than remove it.
“Western fears that the growth of Islamist courts, charities and businesses translates to a conspiracy to transform Somalia into an Islamic state are not well grounded”, says Suliman Baldo, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “The reality is that Islamic activists are diverse and defined more by their differences than their similarities. They will only be driven to cooperate with each other if the international community fails to address Somalia’s real needs”.