Before Islam appeared on the scene, the Arab tribes would contend with each other in endless wars that continued for hundreds of years and cost many lives. When Islam appeared in the first quarter of the seventh century CE, it was meant to be a new, religious basis for the definition of the individual and the group; a unifying focus of ideological identification that would substitute for the divisive tribal identification from which the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula suffered. The tragedy of Islam is that it failed in this important task, so the Islamic peoples and the tribes remained divided and fragmented, bickering with each other and quarreling with each other as if they had forgotten the explicit saying in the Qur’an, (Chapter 3, verse 103): “Cleave, all of you, to the religion of Allah and do not part from each other”. The worst thing is that throughout history, Islam has been used as fuel for the fires of internal conflicts, and many times in the course of the history of Islam, both sides of an internal conflict justified the conflict in terms of Islam, and each declared jihad against the other.
European colonialism left behind it in Africa heterogeneous states, each of which is an aggregation of tribes that differ from each other. Therefore, for many years, most of the African states have been afflicted with violent conflicts that leave in their wake many thousands of dead and wounded. Cases of genocide, in Biafra in the late sixties and in Rwanda in 1994, are the direct result of the conflicts between tribes within African states. In cases where one side of a conflict is Muslim and the other side is Christian or Animist (pagan), the religious element becomes part of the reason for the war, fueling the conflict and turning it into a holy jihad, thus justifying acts of mass slaughter.
When conflicts between the tribes are colored with a religious hue, situations are created in which Muslim dictators behave with total brutality: Idi Amin, the dictator of Uganda between 1971 and 1979 eliminated about a half million Ugandans in cold blood. Some of them he threw into Lake Victoria, teeming with crocodiles, to be food for the predators. These days a film is circulating on the nternet of a different case: a mass murderer in Uganda, Joseph Kony, who forcefully enlisted children, armed them, and turned them into mass murderers totally lacking in compassion or conscience.
For about fifty years, in the second half of the twentieth century, a terrible and destructive war was carried out in Sudan, between the Arab-Muslim North and the Christian-Animist South. Over the years, this war has caused about two million fatalities, and it ended in an agreement in July 2011 that brought about the division of Sudan into two states, a northern state which is Arab and Muslim, and a southern state with a Christian and Animist population.
In the Darfur region of Sudan, genocide has been taking place since 2003, in which Arab Muslim militias, aligned with the Sudanese government, have been methodically eliminating African Muslim tribes, burning their villages, slaughtering the men and making abused slaves of their wives. As of today, about half a million people have been killed as a result of the battles, arson, and starvation that have afflicted the population of Darfur, and millions of its people were forced to flee to Libya, Chad or Nigeria. At the crux of this conflict is the popular belief that prevails among Arab Muslims, that Muslims who are not Arab are not true Muslims, but rather second class Muslims only pretending to be Muslims, and therefore it is permissible to shed their blood.
It is important to note that in Arabic, a person with black skin is called “abd”, “slave”, and Arabs were the biggest slave merchants, selling Africans to work in America. This view of the people of Africa turns them into easy and legitimate prey. In the countries south of the Sahara – Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania – there is a Muslim majority, because most of their inhabitants converted to Islam during the course of history in order not to be considered as slaves. Therefore Arab Muslims consider them not to be true Muslims.
In the battles over Darfur there are organizations with an Islamic character such as “Jamaat Ansar al-Sunnah” or “Group of the Followers of Sunnah”; “Jamayat al-Kitab wal-Sunnah Alh’irih” – “Charity Association of Koran and the Tradition”; and the “Salafion” – “The Glorious Past”. And the texts that these organizations distribute are reminiscent of the texts of Usama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, past and present leader of Al-Qaeda respectively. It is important to note that during the 1990s, Al Qaeda had bases in Sudan. In 1988 the terrorists who struck the American embassy in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya and Dar-es-Salam, the capital of Tanzania emanated from these bases; those attacks resulted in more than two hundred fatalities.
During the years that Al Qaeda was present in Sudan, members of the organization would deal with their opposition in the acceptable way: decapitation, of journalists and politicians alike.
Regarding Sudan, we should recall that for several years in the nineties, a Muslim religious leader, Hasan Al-Tourabi, led this state, and his close relationship to the ruler Al-Bashir allowing him to impose the Muslim laws of Shari’a in Sudan. Alcohol was freely spilled out onto the ground, cinemas were closed and a radical dress code was enforced upon the women. Sudan’s acceptance of the presence of Al Qaeda on its territory should be seen in this context.
In Nigeria, a state of 160 million residents, half of the residents of the country are Muslims and the other half are Christians. A radical militia, “Boko Haram” (“Western culture is forbidden”) has been active among the Muslims in recent years. The goal of this group is to eradicate all influence of Western culture on the population, and to impose Islamic Shari’a as the law of the land. In parts of the northern region – the Muslim section of Nigeria – Islamic Shari’a has already been implemented and therefore it is forbidden to sell alcoholic drinks, while women are punished with severe corporal punishment and even death if they are even suspected of a sin against Islam. To date, thousands of citizens have been killed in Nigeria in conflicts between Muslims and Christians due to religious differences.
Somalia has been the arena of bloody tribal wars for the past twenty years. These wars caused the involvement of international terror elements, like Al Qaeda, and the main Islamic militia, known as the “Consolidation of Islamic Courts”, is supported by the terrorist militia, “Shabab al-Thura” (“the Revolutionary Youth”). These militias are not repulsed by the use of any means against their enemies, and they carry out massacres against them. The civilian and economic infrastructures of Somalia are in ruins and most of its population suffers from malnutrition, but in the eyes of the Muslim militias this fact is not important. In recent years (Christian) Ethiopia has become involved because of the influence of the (Christian) United States in (Muslim) Somalia, and this involvement has exacerbated the religious component in the considerations and arguments of the Muslim militias in Somalia.
The situation of war and the lack of a functional government in Somalia has thrown the horn of Africa back hundreds of years, to the era of terror and piracy: thousands of Somalian Muslims find their livelihoods in piracy on the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, and they especially love oil tankers, because of their size, their price, and the precious cargo that they carry. Pirates don’t mind tourist yachts either, because those who sail on them are people of means and therefore will prefer to pay ransom on the spot instead of arguing with their captors. The determination of the European countries has caused this phenomenon to be almost totally eliminated, and it is important to note that on the high seas there are no courts of justice or human rights organizations – when a ship is attacked by pirates, security guards shoot to kill, without a trial and without a warning. The cultured world has succeeded in eliminating this medieval phenomenon, only because it did not impose upon its struggle against piracy the limitations that stem from modern ideas of ‘human rights’ and ‘judicial procedure’. The world understands that pirates have effectively excluded themselves from the domain of modern humanity, and therefore they do not deserve the rights that modern humanity awards even to criminals.
It is important to note that in this matter the Iranian Navy has cooperated with European navies. Iran, like Europe, saw in the pirates an economic danger, and therefore cooperated with the European “infidels” on this particular issue.
In neighboring Kenya, about one tenth of the population is Islamist, and international terror organizations exist among them as well. The double attack that was carried out in 2002 against the Paradise Hotel is a painful example of this, in which three vacationing Israelis and 13 local employees were killed. And there was also an attempt to shoot down an Arkia jet, which, if it had been successful, would have resulted in a large number of Israeli fatalities.
In the states of Northern Africa – Morocco , Algeria, Libya and Tunisia – “Al Qaeda in the Countries of the Maghreb” is active, which, from time to time kidnaps and murders tourists and professionals such as engineers who come to these countries as tourists or to work in their various occupations. In parallel, Islamist groups are known to attack European volunteers who function as doctors and nurses, usually in the clinics that the World Health Organization establishes, because the Muslim Africans see the volunteers as missionaries of a sort, but camouflaged and hidden and, therefore, also dangerous.
In Ghana, about one sixth of its population is Muslim, and here too, Saudi propagandists are inciting the Islamist population against the state authorities.
Every few years in the states where there is an Islamist population in Africa, an event recurs with similar characteristics: a television is placed in the road, usually in front of a restaurant, in order to attract customers, and hundreds of people crowd around in order to watch the film or the soccer game. At that same time a murderous attack is carried out, in order to warn the population not to watch the immoral thing called the television. Events of this sort have occurred in Somalia and in Nigeria.
Another African issue that draws fire from the Muslims is the matter of witchcraft. Among the African tribes, many believe in the power of magic, spirits, demons, and ghosts, while the rituals that include components of exorcism by sorcerers are attractive to them. According to Islam, a sorcerer has no right to live, so any time Muslims encounter an event that includes a component of sorcery, some lose control and act violently against the sorcerers and those who believe in them.
The Islamic radicalization that has encompassed African countries over the past twenty years is a direct result of the Islamist preaching that arrives from Saudi Arabia in three main ways: local leaders learn in Saudi madrasas and then return to their countries in order to pass Wahhabi (radical) Islam on to the population; Saudi leaders who move to African countries and convince its people to adopt the radical Wahhabi stream of Islam; and mosques, libraries, radio stations, internet sites, support organizations, and madrassas that Saudi Arabia establishes and underwrites serve as centers of dissemination for Wahhabi Islam. The economic plight that prevails in most of the African countries turns the populations of these countries into easy prey for the “dawa” that is provided by the petro-dollars of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Mosques established by Saudi money run loudspeakers in the public space, creating religious tension because of the feeling that the Muslims are taking over the country. Printed and recorded Islamic material that is distributed free of charge to people in the streets creates among the non-Muslims a feeling that they are victims of Muslim propaganda, which usually is foreign in spirit and character to the pluralistic culture of Africa.
An additional problematic characteristic that exists in Africa is the widespread presence of Sufi Islam, which is based on spiritual and mystical concepts, not political or jihadist. Sufi Islam is relaxed and does not concern itself usually with matters of this world. It is suitable to the spiritual atmosphere that exists in various parts of Africa. In Sudan there is the Mahdi movement, which also has spiritual, mystical characteristics. Wahhabi Islam considers the members of Sufi sects to be infidels, and tension between the Wahhabi adherents and the Sufi adherents rises from time to time rises to the level of a struggle between the violent Wahhabi that is imported from Saudi Arabia and the serene and spiritual Sufis whose origin is more local.
The events of the past year, which collectively are called the “Arab Spring”, also added fuel to the Islamist fire of Africa: The battle in Libya between Qadhaffi and his opposition took on an added African quality in the form of mercenaries who arrived from Chad, Niger, and Sudan in order to support Qadhaffi. Many of them were caught, and the color of their skin betrayed the fact that they were not Libyans, but foreigners, and not Muslims, but rather those who came to Libya in order to murder Muslims. In parallel, it became clear that in the dispute within Libya there is also an ethnic element: among Qadhaffi’s opposition there were Berber tribes, who were also citizens of Libya. This involvement of Africans in the events between Arab Muslims does not foster a relaxed climate between Arab Muslims and non-Muslim Africans.
In Morocco there is also great tension between the ruling Arabs, and the Berber Africans who are ruled by them. The Berbers are suspected of being disloyal to the state and to the Islam that was forced upon them, and therefore their status in the state is fairly problematic. A similar phenomenon exists in Algeria, and it is the source of tensions between residents of the cities and the Arab North, and the desert, Bedouin, Berber periphery.
Egypt, an important African state, also his its part in the African crises recently: millions of Africans have fled to Egypt from the wars and famine in Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and other African states. The deterioration of the economic situation in Egypt as a result of the events of 2011 push many of them into a life of crime and many attempt to emigrate to Israel via Sinai, where the Bedouins exploit them shamefully, extort their money, and even harvest their organs.
The economic crisis in Eastern Africa encourages the governments of these states to invest in economic initiatives – in agriculture, tourism and industry – all of which need water, and therefore they take advantage of the rain water that falls in their fields. This water would have contributed to the sources of the Nile in the past, but now it is trapped within the states of the horn of Africa. Therefore, the flow of water in the Nile is decreasing, and Sudan (in both of its parts) and Egypt, which are downriver, receive a smaller quantity of water, and of a lower quality, because there is not infrastructure for treatment of waste water anywhere along the Nile. This raises the tension/pressure between Egyptians and Sudanis and they are investing much effort to prevent the retention of water in the horn of Africa. Tension in this matter between the states is increasing, and this does not contribute to a relaxed atmosphere between Arab-Muslim Egypt and Sudan on the one hand, and the states of Eastern Africa on the other. The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis won two thirds of the seats in Egypt’s parliament represents a threat to the other states of Africa, who fear the encroachment of a strengthening Islamist trend, as well as increased involvement by Islamist Egypt in what happens within their borders.
Conclusion: The population of Africa is involved in a series of disputes with a tribal background, where the Islamist and ethnic components play an important, and sometimes critical, role. Saudi Arabian money, Wahhabi propaganda, the presence of terror organizations, and wide distribution of weapons (some of which disappeared from weapons storehouses of the Libyan army as a result of the fall of Qadhaffi), do not contribute to a calming of the tensions between the various groups of the African population, and developing trends do not point in the direction of calm.
About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.
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