A+ R A-

Picking up the Cold War pieces Part II: Muslim diaspora

E-mail Print PDF
US policy in Somalia, Ethiopia and Afghanistan from 1979 on helped reduce all three countries to failed states. It created massive refugee populations from all three. This was not intended nor foreseen, and has been a headache for the West ever since. Also unintended and unforeseen, this brought millions of Muslims to the West, undermining "Judeo-Christian civilization", which is really just a pseudonym for imperialism, with little sign of anything 'Jewish' or 'Christian'. These Muslims are by definition anti-imperialist and are forcing the West to deal with Islam, now an integral part of western society.

There are more than one million Somali refugees, spread from Sweden to the US, and Somalis abroad are forced to downplay the clan system, though it still exists where enough of one clan can form a community. But the second generation exiles are not interested. Andrew Harding, author of The Mayor of Mogadishu: A story of chaos and redemption in the ruins of Somalia (2016), was told by an interviewee that Somali exiles are almost like a new set of clans. The American Somalis are "a bit more outgoing, they like to push things harder." The Scandinavian Somalis are the opposite, "endlessly trying to bring everyone on board." The British are somewhere in between.

New kinds of foreign aid

They are also remitting billions of dollars to relatives in theie devastated homeland, doing far more good than bureaucratic official aid, much of which is embezzled and otherwise used as the West sees fit, rather than as the locals would like and need. This in turn is pushing westerners who really, really want to help, to restructure aid programs to meet local needs (microloans, cell phone banking, hands-on local infrastructure using traditional techniques tweeked by modern technology, just giving a 'basic income' to penniless peasants).

Imperialism is greedy, cruel, selfish, but all people living under the system are not, and this peoples' diplomacy is slowly gaining momentum. The jury's still out on the final outcome of the imperial saga. The dreams of socialism are more or less dashed, but for Somalis and Afghanis old enough to remember, their days of socialism in the 1970s are fond memories, before the lure of empire (Somalia) and secularism (Afghanistan) took over, masterfully manipulated by the US.

A bright spot in Somalia's recent history is the subject of Andrew Harding's biography of Mohamud (Tarzan) Nur, The Mayor of Mogadishu: A story of chaos and redemption in the ruins of Somalia (2016). Nur is the son of a shepherd, born in 1956 in what is now Ethiopia. He and brother Yusuf were sent to Mogadishu by his widowed mother, and he grew up in the famous orphanage there that produced many of Somalia's future political leaders. He gained his nickname as a fighter and basketball star. When Barre invaded Ogaden, Nur saw the light, and escaped certain personal disaster via Djibouti. His journey over the next 16 years is a testimony to resourcefulness, forged passports, visa violations, and lots of hard work, earning enough money in Saudi Arabia to help him bring his wife and six sons to London in 1993.

Somalia was then ruled by warlords, awash with lethal western arms. The famous 'Black Hawk down' incident, when the US attempted a mini-invasion in Mogadishu, took place in 1992. The same warlord scenario was playing out in Afghanistan in the 1990s as well. The same reaction -- rural, devout Islamists filling the power vacuum -- arose. The people of both countries embraced a strict Muslim 'student' movement; in Afghanistan, the Taleban, in Somalia al-Shabab, who disarmed the clans and instituted a strict but fair sharia legal and economic system, governed by the Quran. Both were sympathetic to al-Qaeda, which had abandoned its flirtation with the US in the 1980s, and was now America's implacable enemy.

US diktat


The US was against both, given their animosity to the US and support for al-Qaeda, newly labelled "terrorist", and undermined the legitimate power base in both countries. Afghanistan suffered full scale invasion in 2001. The West pushed to establish a (western-backed) Transitional National Government (TNG) in Somalia in 2000, but without 'troops on the ground', had no credibility. After six years without any national government, a genuine alternative coalesced in 2006 --  the Islamic Courts Union, a coalition of Islamists, but still including Shabab.

Nur returned to Somalia in 2006, hopeful that Somalia had succeeded to walk the tightrope of US ire and clan warfare, where Afghanistan had failed. "The ICU are the right people to make peace in Somalia. No more clan rubbish." Like Karzai in Afghanistan in the 1990s, he was willing to work with ICU and their 'student' allies, despite their radical Salafism, and hoped to be a bridge with the West, where he had established himself and his family.

But the US nixed any support for the ICU because of Shabab. Instead, they convinced Somalia's enemy Ethiopia to invade Somalia in 2007, and, when that failed, to have African Union peacekeepers occupy, and help the newly formed Somali army crush the ICU.  Nur went back to London, actively organizing protests against the US support for the Ethiopian invasion, but otherwise, biding his time. Like Karzai, Nur passed the US litmus test, and when the new western-backed coalition government was set up in 2009, Nur was invited to return as mayor of Mogadishu from 2010 to 2014.

The first year and a half were harrowing, with warlords controlling half of Mogadishu, and constant phone threats to kill him, but Nur was unfazed. His family was safely in London. His younger brother Yusuf told Harding, "fatalism is misunderstood in the West. In Islam, you do all you can to stay alive. You do your best. But after that, you don't worry." Harding's admiring biography of Nur is full of near-miss assassination attempts and attacks. Particularly tragic was the attack on a modest street festival in 2011 celebrating peace and reconstruction, where four civilians (including the brass band leader) were gunned down Nur was the target, but had left the festivities minutes before.

Phoenix from the ashes

Finally, possibly because of the worsening famine, or just ashamed at their pointless, unpopular attacks on innocent civilians, the warlords packed up and left Mogadishu two months after the festival debacle, and Nur was able to rebuild the power grid, pave roads, build schools, create a modest night life for Somalia's capital. Nur was not as corrupt as Karzai (jokingly referred to as the 'mayor of Kabul'), was not handicapped by US invaders, and his success as mayor is heart-warming.

In 2014, Somali confronted insurgent-held pockets in the countryside. The insurgency at home and in the Ogaden continue in 2017, but compared to Afghanistan, Somalia has hope.

Nur had/has every intention of becoming president some day, but that is unlikely. While well-liked and capable, he has no chance given the complex clan system, his boot-strap education and British passport. Somalis like the remittances from relatives abroad, but they also resent the fact that these emigres lived a relatively easy life when most Somalis were suffering at home. Nur understands this, and is probably just grateful that he and his family are alive, well and well-educated.

The story of the mayor of Mogadishu is heart warming -- Nur's cheerful resourcefulness, love of family (six sons), unscathed by the decade of collapsing Somalia and the subsequent two decades of nightmare as a failed-state. The Mayor of Mogadishu gives a much needed corrective to the image of Muslims and Africa in disarray, of Somalia caricatured as a land of terrorists, starving children, and refugees fed to us in the mass media.
Crescent International

Part I Picking up the Cold War pieces: Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan

Search

Connect with Eric Walberg


'Connect with Eric on Facebook or Twitter'

Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

Purchase Eric Walberg's Books