by Mordechai Kedar
Read the article in the original עברית
Read the article in Italiano (translated by Yehudit Weisz, edited by Angelo Pezzana)
Ten months ago, in March of 2012, we spoke from this honorable platform about the awakening of radical Islam in Africa. We noted at the time that in the countries of North Africa - Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia - the organization called "al-Qaeda of the Maghreb" operates, and from time to time kidnaps and murders tourists and professional people such as engineers who come to these countries as tourists or to perform specific functions. Our conclusion at that time was,"The population of Africa is involved in a series of disputes with a tribal background, and in which the Islamist and ethnic components play an important, and sometimes critical part. The combination of 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), does not contribute to the easing of relations between various groups of the African population, and developing trends also do not indicate a tendency toward calm."
The events in Algeria last week are the proof of what was already apparent: an area that is neglected by the government will become a hothouse for terror. Most of the territory of Algeria, which is more than ten times the size of Israel, is located in the vast, largely unpopulated Sahara Desert. There are small concentrations of population situated near sources of livelihood such as a spring or a well, and recently, mines and sources of energy - oil and gas. These clusters are isolated and exposed to armed groups that roam the area freely, propounding slogans and messages characteristic of al-Qaeda.
One of these groups, which calls itself the "Signed-in-Blood", under the command of Mukhtar Belmukhtar, and numbering about forty fighters, carried out the attack on the gas drilling installation in 'Ayn Aminas, abducted about 700 workers, some of whom were European, and held them as hostages. The subsequent attack of the Algerian army on the gas installation caused 55 fatalities: 32 terrorists and 23 hostages, and freed 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreign workers. The attackers, who arrived in several all-terrain vehicles, used heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, grenades and personal weapons, and a number of Algerian soldiers were killed and wounded in the course of the battle with them.
The world, especially the European countries, severely criticized the clumsy and unprofessional way that the Algerians dealt with the matter. In response, the government of Algeria defends itself with the claim that if they had not acted quickly and decisively, the number of victims would have been far greater.
But the question that naturally arises from this is why a gas production facility was attacked, and what motivates the terror organizations to harm especially Algeria. The answer has to do with the developments of recent years in North Africa. The dictators of these states rule their oppressed peoples by the use of force. When Libya fell, along with it fell the doctrine that guided the West, which holds that these dictators will deal in the accepted way in Africa (with determination and ruthlessness) with terrorist elements such as al-Qaeda of the Maghreb, who roam the area, threatening to overthrow the fragile regimes and establish upon their ruins Islamic states that will then export terrorism to the more affluent parts of the world.
Radical Islamic agents are involved up to their necks in the wars of Mali and Somalia and in battles that are being waged in Libya, Tunisia, Niger, Nigeria and in Kenya. The murder of the American ambassador in Libya last September was only one example of these groups' activities. The governmental chaos that reigns in these countries creates a situation that allows the jihadi organizations to control vast territories, which serve them as a base for organization, storage of armaments and training,so that they can continue their efforts to bring down the African states, whose illegitimate boundaries were demarcated by colonialism, with the aim of dismantling the nation of Islam into small, weak units.
European workers who come to the African countries are perceived as an offshoot of colonialism, because their whole task - in the eyes of the jihadists - is to strengthen Western hegemony over the peoples of Africa, on their habitat and their natural resources, to employ and exploit them and turn them again into slaves of the smug and arrogant West. That is why these organizations abduct European workers; it is to discourage other Europeans from coming. And the ransom money paid by the companies greases the wheels of these jihadi organizations. They spend the infidels' money on acquisition of weapons, ammunition, communications equipment, navigation equipment and vehicles, and the money also allows the organizations to purchase collaborative activity from other groups among the population, and to bribe governmental officials and military and intelligence personnel.
Another important detail is the fact that the jihadist groups are not unified; on the contrary, they compete with each other. The leader of al-Qaeda of the Maghreb, Abdul Hamid abu Zaid, prefers small-scale subversive actions, like terror attacks and abductions, more than wide-scale actions with many casualties such as that which was carried out by Belmukhtar in the gas facility in Algeria. Abu Zaid believes that large-scale actions such as 9/11 2001 could provoke the West into large-scale action against the jihadists, similar to that in Afghanistan, while small actions such as blowing up the American embassy in Nairobi the capital of Kenya, and in Dar a-Salam the capital of Tanzania (August 1998) achieve the goal without giving the West a reason to launch wide-scale, destructive military operations.
Dilemmas in the West
The question for the governments of the United States, France and other NATO countries is what to do about these developments in Africa. Clearly, if the Islamist organizations are left alone, they will establish "Islamic Emirates" in Africa, which will export terror like Afghanistan did after Usama bin Laden took over. On the other hand, the continuing failure of the West to bring a legitimate, effective and stable regime to Afghanistan and Iraq proves that Westerners cannot cure the ills of these countries by spreading ideas of democracy.
France took initiative three weeks ago and became involved in the war being conducted in Mali using French air and ground forces.Will France succeed to free the two thirds of the territory of Mali that are today under the control of radical Islamists? Perhaps, but the achievement will be short-lived, because a) the jihadists can easily move to other places where there is no French army, and b) as long as people remain living in the area, the radical Islamists can hide among them, and emerge to attack the occupying forces.
In Washington there are deep differences of opinion: the pentagon and Defense Department understand that if the United States doesn't deal with the problem of Africa at its core, African jihad will spill over into Europe and the united States, and then the United States will be forced to become involved, as happened in Afghanistan, and therefore it is better to take care of the problem while it is still small. The White House and State Department, on the other hand, are very much against any military involvement in Africa because the president and the diplomats think that American occupation is the main factor that agitates and radicalizes the relationships between the United States and other countries, and the action of American soldiers on African soil - which may deteriorate into severe violence, with fatalities and wounded - will only damage the American image and arouse opposition to the West and the renewed Western colonialist hegemony in Africa; American solders will be wounded and return to the United States in coffins and the chances to sell the African peoples on American-made democracy will decrease.
The White House and American State Department prefer to send weapons, equipment and money to existing heads of state to help them stand strong against the attacks of the Islamist militias, to help their armies by supplying intelligence, just as NATO helped the rebels against Qadhaffi with attacks from the air, without a single Western soldier setting foot on Libyan soil. But there is some doubt as to whether support such as weapons, ammunition, equipment and money actually reach the intended hands, because the governments in the African states are infiltrated by hostile agents, who collaborate behind the scenes with the jihadists, and the bribery and protectionism that exist within those governmental systems supported by the West, arouse the rage of the jihadists even without the involvement of Western soldiers.
Implications for Europe
The increasingly complex jihadist muddle in Africa raises concern about harm to the stability of Europe, because African and Muslim immigrants who live in Europe might damage the infrastructures of the host countries in revenge for the Western activities in Africa, and this may cause severe harm to the economy of Europe, which is in poor shape to begin with. The status of European Jews might be harmed also, because peculiarly, Africans and Muslims might direct their rage against the Jews.
Dr. Kedar is available for lectures
Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.
Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.
Additional articles by Dr. Kedar
Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the author.