The rise and fall of the Islamic State of Somalia

It is difficult to imagine the scenes on the ground in the small and remote Somali village of Hayo on January 9, when a heavily-armed American AC-130 gunship appeared in the sky and “rained gunfire” into the village. Officially the raid on Hayo, and others on the same day and later in the month, were aimed at suspected al-Qa’ida members, conveniently linking the Somali war with Bush’s “war on terror”; in reality they had more to do with publicly associating Washington with Ethiopia’s successful toppling of the Islamic government that had brought Mogadishu a few months of peace and stability after 15 years of civil war. Having quietly supported the Ethiopian invasion with weapons and intelligence, the Bush administration evidently decided that it wanted some of the credit for a successful war. The fact that up to 100 people were killed (and valuable homes and livestock destroyed) was incidental; they were neither Western nor Israeli, after all.

The last few months have been exceptionally busy for the Ummah as a whole, with the escalating war in Iraq; Israel’s defeat at the hands of Hizbullah in Lebanon, and its war on Ghazzah; political strife between Fatah and Hamas in Palestine; and increasing American belligerence towards Iran. Despite our best efforts in Crescent International, the developments in Somalia have not received the attention that they deserved in the Ummah. So let us understand exactly what has happened there.

Between 1991 and last year, Somalia suffered 15 years of lawlessness and chaos, with no effective state institutions and warlords controlling the country by force. Most of Somalia was without leadership or order of any kind. In this situation ordinary people needed to survive as best they could; to do that they needed community institutions, so they created their own. The basis for the institutions that they created was their common faith in Islam and their trust in the ‘ulama among them. The Islamic movement in Somalia thus emerged from the grassroots of Somalian society, to serve the needs of ordinary people, in a political and institutional vacuum. This movement, evolving over time according to the demands made on it by Somalia’s people, gradually developed military power in order to be able to protect Somalia’s people from the warlords abusing them. Thus it was in June last year that the militias of the Islamic Courts Union took power in Mogadishu, bringing peace and stability to Somalia’s capital after a decade and a half of war and anarchy. As numerous Western media reported, for the first time it was safe for local people and foreigners to move around the city; for the first time there were no guns on the streets; for the first time businesses, schools and hospitals could operate safely, without fear of attack. And it was this that was unacceptable to America.

Like the Islamic Revolution in Iran, albeit on a smaller and less prominent level, the Islamic movement in Somalia demonstrated that ordinary Muslim people, in one of the poorest and most deprived parts of the world, could address and solve their own problems, and survive and thrive independently of Western power, on the basis of Islam. They also demonstrated that it was possible for Muslims of differents understandings of Islam to work together to create an Islamic order that worked in Sufi-dominated Somali society; that, contrary to Western propaganda, Muslims who opted for Islamic rule were not bound to fall into the hands of Taliban-style hardliners or al-Qa’ida extremists.

The Western response was telling. After years of ignoring the plight of the Somalis, they suddenly discovered that they needed to be ‘liberated’ from the forces of “Islamo-fascism”, and immediately launched political war on the new government. When all else failed, they encouraged Ethiopia to invade in support of “president” Abdullahi Yusuf, another warlord. They supported the Ethiopians from behind the scenes, and then came into the open once Mogadishi had been captured and success was assured. Today Mogadishu is in fear and chaos again.

And that is the short, painful history of the Islamic State of Somalia. In the West it will be forgotten, as just another minor part of the war on terror, and another part of Somalia’s tragedy. But Muslims should remember it as another crime committed by the US against the Ummah, and another reason that Muslims must strive to their utmost to free themselves from Western hegemony sooner rather than later, insha’Allah.