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Is United States Policy Creating A Radical Islamic Regime In Somalia?

Some have written that United States Policy in the War on Terror may actually be contributing to a rise in radical Islamic fundamentalism.

In its language the National Security Strategy Of The United States Of America may be contributing inadvertently to the motivations of al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, in the War on Terror. In its preface, the President clearly states the policy of the United States to "actively work to bring the hope of democracy" to "every corner of the world."

In Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, Anonymous (Michael Scheur) argues that it is precisely American policies and actions of the past 30 years in Muslim nations, including pressure to conform to democratic principles, that have lead to the War on Terror. American policies and actions "provide Muslims with proof of what bin Laden describes as 'an ocean of oppression, injustice, slaughter, and plunder carried out by you against our Islamic ummah. It is therefore commanded by our religion that we must fight back. We are defending ourselves against the United States. This is a "defensive jihad" as we want to protect our land and people.'" Anonymous supports this argument with public opinion polls in the Muslim world, which indicate an overwhelming negative view of the United States.

Whether democracy is a clear and obtainable objective in the War on Terror is open to debate. In Beyond Terror: Strategy in a Changing World, Ralph Peters takes the position that "Democracy must be earned and learned. It cannot be decreed from without. In a grim paradox, our [United States] insistence on instant democracy in shattered states... is our greatest contribution to global instability." Efforts to push democracy on other sovereign nations may be perceived by those nations and their cultures as the ultimate example of American hubris. It is this example that may lead them to respond to calls of war against the United States.

In a manner similar to the arguments of Scheur and Peters above, Samuel P. Huntington, in The Clash of Civilizations, illustrates how the effort to spread democracy to societies that do not desire it can backfire. He describes the use of phrases such as "the world community" or "the free world" as euphemisms that are used to give global legitimacy to actions that reflect the interests of the United States and other Western powers. In Huntington's view the West essentially uses international institutions, military power, and economic resources to maintain Western predominance, protect Western interests, and promote Western political and economic values. He further refers to Western efforts to impose liberal Western values on non-Western societies as "human rights imperialism."

These efforts produce instead a backlash in the form of reaffirmation of indigenous values, as demonstrated in the form of increased support of religious fundamentalism by the younger generations in non-Western cultures. Modern democratic government originated in the West and when it has appeared in non-Western societies it has usually been the product of Western colonialism or imposition. In non-Western societies, these actions by Western powers call into question democracy's legitimacy and put them - non-Western societies - into conflict with the West. Huntington's argument is made more powerful today because, while elements of it are visible in the post-9/11 era, it significantly pre-dates the events of 9/11 and the War on Terror by a decade.

These statements could be attributed to the academic pondering of intellectuals. However, this week both the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Wall Street Journal reported on developments in Somalia that indicate the possibility of some truth to the writing of Scheur, Peters, and Huntington that United States policy may be having an effect quite opposite to that of its intent.

In an article titled Somali Leaders Say They Warned U.S. (June 18, 2006) the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that

"In early March, nine of Mogadishu's most prominent community leaders secretly flew to neighboring Djibouti and pleaded with U.S. military officials there to stop funding the warlords who were devastating the city. Backing the warlords, they said, would end up strengthening an Islamist militia with a shadowy radical wing.

The Americans ignored their warnings, three of the Somalis at the meeting said in separate interviews, and the community leaders' fears came to life this month when the Islamic Courts Union militia defeated the warlords and took control of the Somali capital...

With Mogadishu under their control, Islamic Courts forces have continued their offensive. They control the town of Jowhar, 55 miles north of Mogadishu, and are preparing for an assault on Beledweyne, 190 miles north, near the Ethiopian border...

Some of the warlords are surrendering their weapons to the Islamist militias, providing the militias with new weaponry - most of which was bought with U.S. funds, Somalis contend."

Similarly, in an article titled The New Taliban (June 19, 2006) in the Wall Street Journal J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, wrote that

"On June 5, an armed Islamist group, the Union of Islamic Courts, took control of Mogadishu, Somalia's largest city, after heavy fighting against "warlords" representing an ad hoc alliance apparently recently underwritten by the CIA and the Department of Defense. Since then, the Islamist forces have also seized the strategically important town of Jowhar, which controls the route to Baidoa, where Somalia's internationally recognized but utterly ineffectual "Transitional Federal Government" camps out...

Alas, the truth is that the Union is made up of at least four major jihadi groups: al-Ittihad al-Islami ("Islamic Union"), a group which used to appear on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations (the folks at Foggy Bottom apparently bought at face value the group's previously self-proclaimed dissolution); al-Takfir wal-Hijra ("Excommunication and Exodus"), a group so extreme that it considered Osama bin Laden too moderate and tried to kill him in Sudan in 1996; al-Islah ("Reconciliation"), an Islamist group pushing for the establishment of a Islamic state in Somalia; and al-Tabligh ("Making Known"), an Islamist "missionary" group with links to the same madrassas in Pakistan which gave us the Taliban...

Today, it is an open secret that the same dynamic is at work in Somalia as was at work in Afghanistan a decade ago. Ironically, while senior U.S. officials have had even less reaction to the fall of Mogadishu to the Union of Islamic Courts than their predecessors had to the fall of Kabul to Taliban, even the U.N. has acknowledged the existence of terrorist training camps in Somalia. One report prepared for the Security Council last year listed 17 of them by name. Yet not only are the U.S. military personnel of the Combined Joint Task Force, Horn of Africa, based in nearby Djibouti (and not allowed to take direct action against the camps), but official U.S. policy does not even make provision for shoring up Somaliland as a bulwark against the rising tide of radical Islamism in the horn.

Unfortunately for Somalia, its neighbors, and ultimately the U.S., it seems we're well on our way to proving once again the truth of Santayana's warning that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

So, is it true that United States Policy in the War on Terror may actually be contributing to a rise in radical Islamic fundamentalism?

Time will tell in Somalia.

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