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Overview of religion and Conflict
There have been diverse views regarding the role of religion in unifying people across the world. These views have been upheld for a long period. While religion is a factor that is critical in unifying people, there has been one critical question about the level of unification that is promoted by Islam. This concern emanates from features of Islam that allow war and violence. These features have been eminent in different regions of the world, where Islamic fundamentalism and extremism has been associated with the growth of insecurity in different regions of the world. This phenomenon has been profound in the Middle East region of the world, where Islam is the dominant religion. The question that comes to the minds of most analysts of peace initiatives concerns the nature of relations that are prevalent among Muslims and people from other religions. In Africa, religious conflicts between Muslims and other religions have been prevalent in several countries like Nigeria and Tanzania. These conflicts lead to massive loss of lives and destruction of property. Therefore, questions of extremist activities by religious factions are not new in Africa (Glickman, 2011).
The rate of insecurity in East Africa has been on the rise for around two decades now. This rise in human insecurity is partly attributed to the growth of radical Islam in the region. It is important to put into the picture the issue of Somalia as one of the countries in the larger East African region. Somalia is purely an Islamic country. However, the country has been witnessing internal rivalry since the beginning of the last decade of the 20th century, resulting in its destabilization. Most analysts argue that the destabilization that is being witnessed in Somalia is one of the factors that back the growth of Islamic extremism in East Africa; Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. These are the main countries bordering Somalia. Islamic extremism is associated with a number of violent events that have been witnessed in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, with a number of extremist Islamic groups having been associated with these events. Examples are the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on 7th August 1998. This attack was linked to the activities of Al Qaeda, one of the extremist Islamic groups in the world. In recent times, there have been a series of attacks in the region, most of which are linked to the activities of Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab is an Islamic extremist group that has been linked to Al Qaeda. It is important to explore the history of Islam in East Africa in order to establish a profound explanation of the factors that promote radical Islam in the region (Gatsiounis, 2012).
History of Islam in the East Africa region
One important thing to note about Islam in East Africa is that there is no candid documentation about the development of Islam in the region. While Islam in the region is as old as the civilization of the region, it has been noted by a substantial number of analysts that the exploration of history and the subsequent documentation of Islam in the region has been triggered by the resurgence of Islamic extremism in the region witnessed towards the end of the 20th century into the 21st century. Most of the studies about Islam in the region have been molded around the rhetorical reflective in the media that has been based on the link between Islam and terrorism. However, these studies have failed to bring out the developmental features of Islam that can help people to understand Islam from a broader perspective, rather than the presentation of history in a nutshell as depicted in media studies (Vittori, Bremer, & Vittori, 2009).
Militant Islam in East Africa
According to International Christian Concern (2013), an international inclination of terrorism has resulted in a shallow look at the radical events in the realms of religion within countries. Recent studies that have been conducted by different organizations in different countries within the region denote an increase in the number of such events in the recent past. Tanzania embraced multiparty politics in the early 1990s. This was a time when militant Islam was taking root in the East African region. A critical in look into the militant Islam that took place during the period revealed that it was rampant in areas bordering Somalia and other regions that had large numbers of Muslims, like the coastal region of Kenya. Prior to the event, the developments in Tanzania indicated a force in the struggle for economic fundamentals for the Muslims inhabiting Dar es Salaam (Gatsiounis, 2012). Muslim preachers spread messages of hate through their sermons, leading to street violence involving Muslim youth and Christian groups. Domestic Islamic militant groups have enhanced their capacity to an extent that their capacity and their impact supersede the capacity and impact of the internationally recognized radical Islam groups like the Al Qaeda and the Al Shabaab (Christian Concern, 2013).
One of the main concerns about radical Islam in the East African region is that a lot of resources are being diverted to the East African region by Islamic extremists in other regions of the world in order to destabilize Christianity and attain their broader goals. The East African region has for a long time been identified as a welcoming place for western civilization by virtue of embracing and allowing western organizations to operate in the region. It can be argued that the East African region is one of the periphery areas in which the contest between Islam and western civilization, which is largely associated with Christianity, takes place. The funds and support are channeled through extreme Islamic groups operating in the region like the Al Shabaab. An example that can be enlisted here is the recruitment of youth by Al Shabaab across the three countries (Stevens, 2011).
Factors necessitating radical Islam in East Africa
According to Glickman (2011), there has been a rise in the state of vulnerability for the populations inhabiting Africa, south of the Sahara. Countries that inhabit this region have been characterized by an acceleration in levels of violence. The violence is associated with jihadist Islamists in the region. While there is a closer association in the incidences of violence and insecurity in the region to radical Islam, there is no profound research about the underlying factors for the scale of radical Islam witnessed in the region (Springer, Regens & Edger, 2009). Just as observed in the international scene, Islamic extremism is tied to a number of factors, besides the features that are inherent in certain religions. As observed earlier, the radical nature of Islam witnessed in the region is tied to several factors, most of which revolve around doctrines of governance embraced in the region (Stevens, 2011).
The political landscape in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania is still confronted with several issues, making it unable to contain the divergent views and issues that come from divergent religious realms. These governments are secular, but their constitutions embrace the right of religions. This implies the existence and recognition of many religions in the region, Islam included. However, the genesis of the rift between Islam and other religions, which fuels negative reaction from the Muslim, is that they are not given and treated with equal measure as other religions. In Kenya, Islamic regions are major hot spots of violence that are enhanced by the Islamic groups. The same trend is observed in Tanzania and Uganda, where more complaints of marginalization are reported. The marginalization of Muslims by virtue of their religion pushes them to resort to defensive mechanisms of retaining their status and economic and social stance in the society (Christian Concern, 2013).
Areas bordering the lawless Somalia, where almost the entire population embraces Islam, have been subjected to violent acts that depict Islamic fundamentalism. Picking from this point, researchers denote that the current status of Somalia is a key fueling factor for radical Islam in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, as well as other countries within East Africa. Somalia acts as a safe breeding ground for radical Islamic groups in the region. These groups are incubated in the country, after which they set ground their operations in the main border countries; Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The stability of Somalia is a key step in as far as taming the spread of extreme Islamic ideologies that result in unleashing of violence as a means of attaining the broader goals of social and economic inclusion are concerned. Most of the people in the three countries, including the Muslims, harbor intense feelings of disillusionment and disappointment due to economic and political marginalization. This creates a state of restlessness and extreme activities as a way of salvaging their status (Storm, 2009).
Impacts of radical Islam in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda
Radical Islam is a problem that is eminent in the East African region, considering the high level of terror activities that have been witnessed in recent times in the three countries. Violence is one of the fundamental courses that are pursued by Muslims in the region as a way of furthering their agenda. Violence is an undesirable activity as it results in deaths, destruction of property and suffrage. Attacks and kidnappings of Christians have been reported in the three countries. Nonetheless, what worries a lot is the rise in the number of calculated terrorist attacks by the supposed groups of Muslims. These attacks result in massive harm on people and property. An example is the 2010 terror attack in a restaurant in Uganda as people were watching the 2010 FIFA World Cup final. Over seventy lives were lost in the attack that was executed by Al Shabaab, the radical Muslim group that has gone rogue in the region (BBC News Africa, 2010). Direct attacks have direct impacts that are short-lived. Nonetheless, the worry about such attacks is that they have far-reaching impacts on the economic and political stability and sustainability of a region that is in the quest to grow its institutions; political, economic and social (Haynes, 2011).
According to Rubin (2010), Muslim migration has increased due to the rise in socioeconomic problems. In East Africa, the main migratory trend that is witnessed is the massive movement of Muslim population into Kenya and Tanzania through the porous borders. The North Eastern province in Kenya is the main entry point for the Somalia refugees, who are Muslims. The fact that the region is dominated by Somalis, who are Muslims, makes it difficult for the border security organs to differentiate between the original inhabitants and the Muslim extremists from Somalia who enter through the borders in the region (International Crisis Group, 2012).
Population pressure is, thus, the main consequence of the immigration of Muslims across the countries. However, population pressure is just a basic consequence of the migratory trends witnessed in the region. There are other deep-seated issues that emerge from such trends. One of them is the refugee problem and the growth of insecurity due to the movement and trade in illicit weapons and firearms that are entered into these countries through the porous borders of the three countries. Somalia is the main home to the radical Islam groups in the region; therefore, the fact that a vast number of people move from Somalia into these countries indicates the flow of lawlessness from Somalia into Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania (International Crisis Group, 2012).
Rubin (2010) ascertained that Islamic extremists find their way into Kenya through the porous borders and access the other two countries via Kenya. Addressing the problem of radical Islam has to begin with beefing up internal security, which implies that the three countries have to cooperate in securing their borders rather than rushing into Somalia without an established mechanism of containing the supposed extremists in the countries. The refugee problem compounds the problem of security. It is quite daunting to differentiate between genuine refugees and other groups of Muslims who move into these countries not as refugees, but as agents of Muslim groups that seek to advance terror activities (Haynes, 2011).
Containing radical Islam in East Africa
According to Vittori, Bremer, and Vittori (2009), it is logical to relate the unprecedented levels of insecurity that are being witnessed in the East Africa region to the rise in radical Islam in the region. Proper intervention mechanisms need to be set up, and they should entail negotiation and mediation with the respective Muslim groups in the region instead of embracing stereotypes on Muslims in the regions. Stereotyping only escalates the level of extremism. What has come out of the research conducted in this paper is that there is a narrow basis on which issues of Islamic fundamentalism are looked at and addressed by different stakeholders. It is vital to ascertain both the domestic grounds on which the issues of extremism revolve around, as well as the international inclination of the various aspects in Islamic fundamentalism in order to make tangible conclusions about Islamic radical Islam in the region. This provides a favorable ground for the development of radical Islam (Rubin, 2010). While the focus of the three governments has been on beefing up security as the core strategy of containing Islamic fundamentalism, researchers in the field of diplomacy argue that this strategy has failed. Researchers link several factors to the failure of the strategy of beefing up security by security organs in the region as a key measure of containing Islamic radicalism in the region (Rabasa, 2009).
One critical thing that stands out in their argument is that Islamic radicalism is a complex issue since it is built around several issues, among them the feature of the religion and the economic, political and social inclinations. Therefore, dealing with the issue from a mere security threat perspective amounts to a blanket solution. This can hardly work. Dynamic approaches are more desirable when dealing with the issue of Islamic extremism and the factors that culminate into the security issues that are depicted by the religious activities of the Muslims in the region (Vittori, Bremer & Vittori, 2009).
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Focus on strengthening the security organs and the establishment of new security organs in the region is a pragmatic step that depicts an undesirable level of objectivity in handling the matter. This observation is backed by the increase in the level of security threats from radical Islam irrespective of investment in security by the three governments. While the real acts of violence must be contained as a way of minimizing the impacts that they cause, a desirable course in eliminating the habitual threats that come from Islam is through establishment of a broader agenda that explores the underlying issues like economic, political and social marginalization of Muslims in the region, among other issues (Read, 2009).
Apart from the normal aspect of religion, Islam is considered to be one of the renowned political ideologies that are growing in the region. There is the need to put emphasis on the soft options that seem to be sustainable, instead of relying on the hard options that have not borne fruits. Soft options of pacification often entail a deeper excavation into the attributes of religious conflicts, thereby offering long term solutions. Soft options are more desirable as far as developments in Islamic extremism are concerned (Read, 2009). Military options as advanced by the United States have proven to have far-reaching impacts, yet the ultimate goal of taming the extremist ideas among the Muslims is not attained. The main initiatives of countering terrorism in East Africa are led by the United States with a view that terrorism in the region is a factor that is promoted by Islamic extremism (Keenan, 2008). The US-led counterterrorism unit is a demeaning factor as far as the cultivation of an environment that fosters dialogue with the Muslin networks in the region is concerned (Rabasa, 2009). The greater inclusion of Muslims in the political system is one of the means that can be used quell Muslims, thereby bringing down the rate of radicalism in their activities. However, thorough assessments have to be conducted before implementing this strategy. This is meant to draw away the problem of providing stable grounds for rogue Islam groups like pirates who take advantage of political loopholes in conducting their unlawful acts (Vittori, Bremer & Vittori, 2009).
The other thing that has to be reconsidered is the peacekeeping efforts in lawless Somalia by forces from the East African countries. This is something that has to be reconsidered by the three countries (Rabasa, 2009). The more the countries deploy their forces into Somalia to contain peace, the more the Islamic groups in the region go rogue and unleash more violence on innocent lives. Again, this is a critical area that denotes the need to weigh between soft intervention tactics and hard tactics. The gains of sending the peacekeeping troops in Somalia are replicated in terrorist attacks by Muslims in these countries. This denotes the need to conduct an evaluation of the peacekeeping mission that seems to be the main priority by the three countries as far as containing radical Islam is concerned (BBC News Africa, 2010).
Most East African countries are embracing democracy, yet the prevalence of insecure points in the region, like Somalia, provides a breeding ground for different Islamic groups who take advantage of the prevailing political situation (Storm, 2009). Provision of political support in the region can go a notch higher in reducing radical Islam in the region. Political reforms should be grounded on judicial reforms through the establishment of programs to back constitutional reforms as a basis of aging out the political and religious divisions eminent among the populations residing in the region. Sustenance of law and order is a process that calls for grounding of reforms that touch on the contentious rifts between Islam and other religions in East Africa (Read, 2009).
A number of actions and initiatives have been established by Muslim networks to aid in the establishment of initiatives that delineate Islam from terrorism owing to the precedent growth in Islamic extremism in the world exacerbated by September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the world. Despite the fact that these networks are meant to look into the marginalization of Muslims as a factor that promotes radical Islam, desirable cooperation between these networks and governments in the region has not been seen. In most cases, these networks have been strongly condemned for promoting Islamic extremism in the region, resulting in stereotypes and the further rift between the networks and the governments. A review of the agendas of these networks can be a basis on which they can be molded to provide an internal solution to most of the problems that are facing Muslims. The more the government stakeholders pay less attention to the demands of Muslims, the more the Islam groups are bound to resort to violent approaches and radicalism (Storm, 2009). According to the International Crisis Group (2012), the problem of radicalization is quite expansive. It begins with Muslim holy teachings and doctrines that are religiously instilled in the population.
Radical Islam does not only have severe impacts on the non-Muslim populations, but it also impacts negatively on the Muslim groups. The number of internal and external refugees because of violent acts that are enhanced by Muslim groups has kept growing. This implies that the agenda of the groups that engage in these activities go beyond the issue of religion. Religion is just but one of the several underlying factors in the spread of radical Islam in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. A substantial number of Muslims are relatively religious when it comes to matters of politics. Therefore, political and economic grievances have to be included in mediation efforts that are aimed at addressing religious face-offs between Muslims and other religious groups in the East African region of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania (Haynes, 2011).
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