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Postglobal: Somalia's Islamic Courts
Bashir Goth and Ioan Lewis
Journalist and Professor
Wednesday, August 30, 2006; 11:00 AM
Somali journalist Bashir Goth and London School of Economics Anthropology Professor Ioan Lewis will be online Wednesday, August 30, at 11AM ET to debate the influence of the Islamic Courts in Somalia. Are they a positive force for peace or the new Taliban?
Submit your questions and comments before or during today's discussion.
Bashir Goth is a veteran journalist, freelance writer, the first Somali blogger and editor of a leading news website. He is also a regular contributor to major Middle Eastern and African newspapers and online journals.
Dr. Ioan Lewis is the Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics where he wrote prolifically on Somalia. He is the author of Modern History of the Somali: Nation and State in the Horn of Africa among other works.
Bashir Goth: The Somali Islamic Court’s deceptive positive role
Compared to the situation that existed before them, one may be tempted to describe the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) as a positive force. Somali people admire them for defeating the notorious warlords and for restoring a semblance of peace and stability in the capital Mogadishu.
But we may remember that Somalia enjoyed peace and stability for many years under the dictatorial regime of Siyad Barre. Peace also prevailed in Afghanistan under Taliban, Cuba, Former Soviet Union, Iraq under Saddam and many other dictatorial states. Therefore, restoring peace and stability by force cannot be taken as a measure for positive change. Indeed, I can say that the UIC will be worse than Taliban and the longer they are allowed to stay in power they more dangerous the situation will grow.
Ioan Lewis: May I introduce myself as a social anthropologist who has been studying Somali culture and society since the early 1950s. I started my research in Somaliland and moved on to Somalia. I had the privilege of meeting many of the founding members of the modern political movements and became very interested in Somali politics, I was always very interested in the sociology of religion, not as a believer but as someone who studied how religion molded social and political organization. Consequently, I looked particularly at the Sufi brotherhoods and their interaction with Somali society. Of course I was aware of religious developments especially that of Ina 'Abdullah Hassan's Dervish which rejected the Sufi cult of saints such as the Wahabis in Saudia. This as I understand is the position of the Islamists currently in control of Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia. So we should presumably start from this attempting to understand the beliefs and social programme of the Islamic Courts movement.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada: While the separation of religion and state is popular in the western culture, it is, to different degrees, the norm in most of the Muslim world, i.e. early days of Islam and current Wahabi ideology/governance. Do you think UIC leadership is somehow influenced by the latter (Wahabism), knowing that most of them were trained in the Gulf? Will the Somali culture accept it? Please comment.
Bashir Goth: To a great degree most of the top clerics of the Islamic Courts adhere to strict Islamist schools like Wahhabism and Salafism. Although Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the moderate face, of the Islamists has denied any knowledge of Wahhabism during an interview I conducted with him in early June, it is clear from their actions and statements that the ICU is following the same school of thought as that of Taliban.
Westchester, NY: The international community seems overly impressed about the ICU's ability to bring law & order to the city of Mogadishu. However, the Somaliland gov't has brought a higher degree of law & order to 'One-third of the former Somalia' for over 10 years, yet is still ignored as an alternative structure for the international authorities to deal with in a formal manner. Why this double-standard? And why is it that only those who engage in active warfare & destabilization seem to get leading Western Powers' attentions?
Ioan Lewis: I entirely agree. There are several problems. The so called African union is to a significant extent hostile to what it sees as dismemberments. Those who for their own political motives oppose Somaliland's independence harop hypocritically on this theme. More specifically Egypt which follows an ancient 'Pharaonic' foreign policy of 'protecting the Nile waters' sees a 'united Somalia' as a protection against Ethiopia. Ironically, the residual transitional authority (the TFG) which is devoid of power and has made no contribution to the well fare of the public is now of course in league with Ethiopia which has become its protector!
Bashir Goth: I completely agree with Dr. Lewis. But I believe the double standard of the AU is due to the influence of Egypt supported by some Arab countries like Saudi Arabia. Egypt believes that independent Somaliland can leave the Arab fold and establish ties with Israel, hence Israel which already has friendly relations with Ethiopia will have another strong ally in the Horn of Africa, particularly given the strategic position of Somaliland.
The Western position is dominated by Italy which is the former colonizer of Somalia, former Southern Somalia. Italy has made every effort to block Somaliland's efforts to get support from the EU.
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Source: Washington Post, Aug 30, 2006