Thursday, July 30, 2009
I participated in a BBC radio panel discussion "World Have Your Say" on July 28, 2009, on the subject of Islamic extremism in Africa. Much of the program focused on northern Nigeria, which was the location recently of extremist Islamic attacks against police stations and government buildings. I focused primarily on East Africa and the Horn, noting that the situation is especially worrisome in Somalia. There was much discussion about the relationship between poverty and Islamic extremism. I emphasized that poverty, social and economic inequality, political marginalization of ethnic and religious minorities, and corruption are not direct causes of extremism. The establishment of extremist Islamic groups requires persons with an extremist ideology and a commitment, often from outside Africa, to mobilize local people with grievances to join the cause. This is where poverty and the other factors play a role. They create a negative, local environment which extremists can manipulate for their own reasons. And we are not just talking about Islamic extremists. The Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda is a non-Muslim group, for example, that is as extreme as any Islamic group in East Africa and the Horn. Salafi and Wahhabi influence from Egypt, the Gulf States, and South Asia have reached East Africa and the Horn and, in the case of al-Shabaab in Somalia, become radicalized and politicized. Only a tiny percentage of Muslims in the region, however, agree with these extremist ideologies. To listen to the interview, click below (though the BBC producer has said that the clip will only be up for a few days).