Shi'i Cosmopolitanisms in Africa: Lebanese Migration and Religious Conversion in Senegal

Shi'i Cosmopolitanisms in Africa: Lebanese Migration and Religious Conversion in Senegal

Shi'i Cosmopolitanisms in Africa: Lebanese Migration and Religious Conversion in Senegal

Shi'i Cosmopolitanisms in Africa: Lebanese Migration and Religious Conversion in Senegal

Synopsis

Mara A. Leichtman offers an in-depth study of Shi'i Islam in two very different communities in Senegal: the well-established Lebanese diaspora and Senegalese "converts" from Sunni to Shi'i Islam of recent decades. Sharing a minority religious status in a predominantly Sunni Muslim country, each group is cosmopolitan in its own way. Leichtman provides new insights into the everyday lives of Shi'i Muslims in Africa and the dynamics of local and global Islam. She explores the influence of Hizbullah and Islamic reformist movements, and offers a corrective to prevailing views of Sunni-Shi'i hostility, demonstrating that religious coexistence is possible in a context such as Senegal.

Excerpt

Africa is increasingly playing a role in U.S. foreign policy and the Western fight against terrorism. the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, 2008 coup in Mauritania (where attacks against European tourists led to the canceling of the Paris-to-Dakar rally), 2012 coups in Mali and Guinea Bissau, piracy off the coast of Somalia, Invisible Children’s viral Kony 2012 video campaign, and growing visibility of Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement brought Africa into America’s immediate agenda. Journalists and diplomats focus on al-Qaʾida’s role in Africa, seeing “extremists” or “terrorists” everywhere, yet sometimes lacking concrete proof of their activities.

Douglas Farah, a former Washington Post correspondent who described himself as “covering largely poor and obscure West African countries” (2004:9), published a book entitled Blood from Stones: the Secret Financial Network of Terror. the back cover reads, in an exaggerated manner: “After 9/11, at a great risk to his own life, Farah hung out with drugged out killers and arms traffickers in West Africa to trace the links between the underground diamond trade and international terrorism.” What surprised me was not his accusation that Lebanese Shiʿa were using Liberian blood diamonds to finance Hizbullah, but his use, interchangeably, of Hizbullah and al-Qaʾida, linking these two organizations in the same sentences as if they were one and the same. in 2011, the New York Times ran a series of articles vaguely outlining similarly unproven “accusations.” Does this connection really exist?

Knowledge is often produced through less-than-objective media coverage, and for many in the West, Africa is a land of poverty, starvation, war, and “fundamentalism.” French celebrity journalist Pierre Péan wrote his own sensationalist account entitled Manipulations Africaines (2001), linking the 1989 Libyan bombing of uta flight 772 to Hizbullah’s 1987 taking of French hostages (freed by Senegal’s Shaykh al-Zayn). Both Péan and Farah claim to uncover networks of Arab “terrorists” on the African continent, blaming Africa’s chaos for allowing such men to run loose and conduct illicit, unmonitored activities. Farah’s reporting in particular was widely quoted and formed the basis for U.S. military and policy reports on Lebanese involvement in conflict diamonds, concluding with the need for “those prosecuting the Global War on Terrorism” to carefully monitor West Africa (Laremont and Gregorian 2006:34; see also Gberie 2002; Lev-

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