Magazine article Newsweek International

Africa's Taliban; the Islamic Courts Union Has Tamed a Chaotic Land of Warlords with Strict Islamic Discipline. Sound Familiar?

Magazine article Newsweek International

Africa's Taliban; the Islamic Courts Union Has Tamed a Chaotic Land of Warlords with Strict Islamic Discipline. Sound Familiar?

Article excerpt

Byline: Rod Nordland

It might seem that somalis were put on this earth to suffer. For the past 15 years, they've had civil war. For most of the past decade, there's been drought. The few times the drought has eased, there've been floods. The state has collapsed so totally there are no public services whatever. Potholed roads have been replaced by tracks in the bush. Water is sold by private entrepreneurs. Hospitals tell patients to bring their own mattresses, even their own beds, and enough money to fuel the generator if, for instance, they need the use of an X-ray machine. Early this year the drought was even worse than usual, and the meager crops failed. Aid agencies poured in relief--now going to 2.1 million out of 10 million Somalis--but only half the budgeted amount made it. Much was lost to thieving warlords; pirates even seized two World Food Program vessels and shot up a third. A humanitarian disaster was averted this spring, thanks to indifferent rains and determined relief work, but only just--U.N. officials warned that renewed warfare could spell doom. Then in July, of course, there was renewed warfare.

This time, however, the fighting was brief, and by Somali standards relatively bloodless (400 died). Afterward, for the first time, the warlords who had been running amok were chased from Mogadishu. A visitor last week was able to spend five days in the capital without hearing a single gunshot or negotiating a militia roadblock (there used to be 10 just on the road to the airport). The Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a popular movement built around traditional Islamic Sharia courts and financed by fed-up businessmen, collected the militiamen's guns and rounded up their "technicals"--jeeps with gun mounts in the back. "In 15 years, no one was able to do what they did in 15 days," says U.N. official Saverio Bertolino.

Instead of warlords now, though, Somalis have what many are calling an African version of the Taliban, bent not only on imposing a harsh, Wahhabi-style Islam on the country but allegedly also providing a safe haven for international terrorists. Movies, music and mixed wedding ceremonies have been banned; open-air video parlors showing World Cup matches were shut down. Recently the group appointed a majlis al-shura (consultative council) to be its supreme spiritual and policy-setting body and appointed as its leader Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is on the U.S. terrorist watch list for his connection to a Somali militant group, Al-Itihad al-Islamiya. In an interview with NEWSWEEK, Aweys praised Osama bin Laden, likening him to Nelson Mandela, and tried to justify Al Qaeda's attack on the World Trade Center. "Since Osama was fighting against his enemy, he could use any tactic he had available to him," Aweys said. …

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