Where Is the War of Ideas Against Al-Shabaab?
In the history of mankind, there has not been any conflict carried on by force of arms without a narrative to kill or die for. Basically, violence is the means to advance an idea. Therefore, a war starts with an idea, and it is won or lost by the idea it champions.
Al-Shabaab’s war on the Somali people must be understood not for its deadly violence only, as costly as that has been, but for its foundation on and from which Al-Shabaab insists to continue warring until its last man!
What Al-Shabaab has been fighting for, and continues still, can be summed up by the latest lamentations of one of its spiritual and military leaders (Sheikh Hassan). This man, in singling out certain clans, is accusing Somalis of “departing from the Holy Qur’an.” In a nutshell, this is the grand idea Al-Shabaab has and continues to wage its war for; that this organizations’ version of Islam must be imposed by the barrel of the gun on Somali Society.
Make no mistake that Al-Shabaab has been successful in propagating its version of Islam in Somalia, for the many Somalis it has attracted to its ranks and swaths of land it holds testify to this. The real and solid defeat of Al-Shabaab, therefore, cannot only be achieved by borrowed foreign forces, as important as that may be in the short term. Al-Shabaab’s idea-version of Islam must be defeated, if it must go away completely. What, for example, Somalis would have gained if Al-Shabaab is destroyed militarily, yet their Islamic ideas remain?
Winning on the military battlefield is not necessarily winning the war. The Mongol invasion of the Islamic World is one example, where the Mongols would defeat the Abbasid Dynasty, completely destroyed Baghdad, yet the Mongols would convert to Islam. In just a decade the invading Mongols had gone from building towers of human heads to building Mosques glorifying God.
Where is the war-of-ideas against Al-Shabaab? I ask because such a war is not one the Burundians, Kenyans and Ugandans can fight or win for the Somalis. The more than 1000 year old Islamic religion foundation of the Somalis has and is under assault by Al-Shabaab. What started, with good intentions I would assume, as means to an alternative (on Islamic tenants) to a prevailing anarchy in Somalia has transformed into an imposition of a new type of Islam on the Somalis. Obviously, in a desperate situation, any idea with credible force behind it could be easily sold to many as the solution. Al-Shabaab’s success in the field of ideas on Islam clearly has been by default, with no other to push back against it with force on the existing and well-established religion institution in the country.
Could Al-Shabaab be right on its theology, yet be wrong by its usage of violence to advance it? The answer, without quoting any verse of the Holy Qur’an or citing a Hadith, is how a suicide-bombing by explosive laden truck on Muslim students lined up for a scholarship to a Muslim country Turkey could possibly be of sound religious basis! It could never be!
Today, the Somali Government has control of Mogadishu, thanks to AMISOM. Understandably, this government cannot fight Al-shabaab militarily without the help of others. But, who is this government waiting for to take the bigger and more important war, which is the war of ideas, to Al-Shabaab? This government has now all the breathing room to implement and carry out relentlessly this war!
It is moronic not to use a 10,000 year-old unique social culture and more than a millennia deep rooted Islamic foundation as sources to destroy completely the Johnny-come-lately ideas, violent or not, of Al-Shabaab. The Somali people, like any other people, should live or die by their solid identity of social and religious, ancestral heritage. Without that, what are we?
If the goal is to win the hearts and minds of the Somali people, their cultural and religious history is the way to empower them. Al-Shabaab has been busy in eradicating Somali culture, from Social, national to religious. They replaced the Somali flag, for instance, with a black flag. They banned Somali folk culture of comedy, dances, poetry, songs, sports and stories. They replaced the Somali women’s modest dress codes with Hijabs. I am not against Hijabs, but this is not the only type of dressing for women which will satisfy religious requirements. Hijab means cover up, and there is more than one way for women to show modesty in covering up. Surely, our mothers and grandmothers, before Al-Shabaab, were not naked or immodest! They wore Malkhabad (Shawl) on top of a Massar (head scarf) on top of Dirrac (tunic) on top of a Guntiino (long underwear). That was Hijab on top of Hijab on top of Hijab.
How is the government to execute an effective war of ideas against Al-Shabaab? It is very simple, really. In order to answer Al-Shabaab point by point on matters of worship and customs on sound religious grounds, who better would know how to do that than the traditional Somali Ulima. They would take apart the Al-Shabaab arguments by chapter and verse of the Holy Qur’an, by Hadiths and by Islamic consensus precedents. The Ulima are there, and they must be given a platform to educate the public on daily basis, on the air!
A campaign of culture must be waged against Al-Shabaab. National and traditional songs, poetry and other Somali customs tailored for educating the people, reminding them their way of life, must be employed and unleashed on the airwaves for all to hear. Another means of such a campaign against Al-Shabaab is employing Somali traditional elders to talk to the people about Somali ways and appeal to the public on peace-making and solidarity of all Somali people.
In conclusion, the government will do well to reach for the effective tools at her disposal, of Ulima, artists of all cultural traditions and the elders, against the foreign ideas at every level of Al-Shabaab. It would be wrong to underestimate this type of war. The lies of Al-Shabaab, if not challenged constantly, will continue to pass for the truth by default. Al-Shabaab, after all, is a Somali organization. Without some sort of support from the public, it would not have been an effective entity. And, without some appealing aspect of Al-Shabaab, however falsely based or by default, many Somalis would not have been led astray by it. The way to deprive Al-Shabaab of any public support is to expose this By Abdul-Aziz Mohammedorganization for what it is: A retroactive bad news and a deadly foreign virus on Somali way of life, from the beginning to now!
By Abdul-Aziz Mohammed: Where Is the War of Ideas Against Al-Shabaab?