September 16, 2011
The decapitated body of a Christian man, Juma Nuradin Kamil, was found in Bakool region of southwestern Somalia on Sept. 2. The killing, one of the numerous such incidents in recent years, comes at a time when tens of thousands of Somalis have died, and about 750,000 more are at risk of death, some of them Christians who are being denied aid, in the wake of the 21st century’s worst drought in the Horn of Africa.
The Christian, whose head was severed and put on his chest, was killed by the Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (Mujahideen Youth Movement), commonly known as al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked terror group that controls and runs a de facto government in most of southern Somalia. The group is also restricting international aid from reaching the starving population in territories under their control, especially to the Christians, WEA-RLC has learnt.
The al-Shabaab splintered from a now defunct group of Sharia courts, the Islamic Courts Union. It is fighting to overthrow the Transitional Federal Government, created in 2004 backed by the African Union, the United Nations and the United States. Since the outbreak of the 1991 civil war which overthrew President Siad Barre’s regime, most parts of Somalia have had no formal government. The transitional government controls only a small part of the country.
The al-Shabaab, which generally wages war against enemies of Islam, was created after the Islamic Courts Union was ousted by forces from neighboring Ethiopia in 2006. It had the backing of Iran, Libya, Egypt and others in the Persian Gulf region, according to a UN report. And after Ethiopia withdrew from Somalia in 2009, the al-Shabaab grew stronger and turned even more extremist.
Somalia tops the Failed States Index 2011 by Foreign Policy magazine.
The al-Shabaab imposes an extremely strict version of Sharia, or Islamic law, in southern parts under its control. In 2008, a 13-year-old girl accused of adultery, but actually gang-raped, was buried up to her neck in the field of a soccer stadium packed with spectators, and then stoned to death, according to an article in The New Yorker.
Recently, African Union forces were able to drive out al-Shabaab from the capital city of Mogadishu, but reports suggest that the militants moving out was a tactical decision to bring about a greater destruction.
There are roughly 10 million people in Somalia, mostly Sunni Muslim. It is estimated that the country has little more than 1,000 Christians, most of them from the Bantu ethnic group. The country has no church building; Christians meet for worship underground, especially in southern parts.
The al-Shabaab particularly hates the minority followers of Sufism, which it finds heretic, and the miniscule Christians, who it labels as agents of Ethiopian intelligence agencies. The Christian-majority Ethiopia supports the interim government, although it had troubled relations with Somalia.
Agence France-Presse recently quoted an al-Shabaab spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, as saying that providing aid during calamities was a strategy of the United Nations to transport them [Somalis] abroad, especially in Christian countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, so that their faith can be destroyed and that they could be staff and soldiers for the Christians.
Al-Shabaabs hatred for Christians surpasses its concern for the lives of over four million people, the majority of them Muslim, who are affected with the drought. The group is distributing aid as per its limited capacity, but no one who is a Christian, or suspected to be one, is receiving any aid, some Christian groups have reported.
The famine has also hit the al-Shabaab, as hundreds of thousands of people who pay protection taxes to the outfit have fled its territories to Kenya and Ethiopia. And many, even within the terror groups leadership and powerful local clan leaders, are holding the al-Shabaab responsible for the crisis, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
However, the crisis may not lead to a temporary ceasefire or lifting of the ban on international aid agencies, which could also eventually help human rights groups to discuss protection of minorities. Since the al-Shabaab is no longer a group with a centralized power and there are many factions, intervention by an outside force is extremely difficult in the absence of a true representative of the group.
While the style of functioning of one faction in one territory may be different from that of another faction in another territory, each faction is known to be equally brutal in implementing Sharia and enforcing compliance from the residents.
While there are some Sufi armed groups under the banner of Ahlu Sunna Waljamaa to fight al-Shabaab militants, Christians in Somalia have no voice or protection at all. Christians complain that even the Transitional Federal Government does not treat them well. President Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who heads the internationally recognized government, has also adopted Sharia law with death for apostasy.
The international community is rightly being blamed for the current crisis, at least partially, in terms of the response to the unprecedented drought. The same is true in case of the rising Christian persecution in Somalia.
Like there were early signs of the drought worsening in the region that once used to be the bread basket of the country, international Christian groups had been reporting on killings, rape and torture of members of the countrys most vulnerable minority. But little was done to avert either of the crises.
Despite sanctions imposed on Eritrea by the UN Security Council, it reportedly continues to supply arms to the al-Shabaab, according to a 2010 report by the UN International Monitoring Group. If the sanctions have not proven to be effective, an alternative must be formulated.
In addition, it is widely believed that the military and police of the transitional government though trained by the European Union, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya are weak and inefficient, and the administration corrupt. The government relies heavily on the roughly 8,000 troops of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
Moreover, the Transitional Federal Government occupies Somalias seat in the United Nations, maintains embassies in 19 countries, and has fairly good relations with the West, and yet it could not be prevented from enacting laws that violate international law or encouraged to show respect for religious freedom.
Concerning the al-Shabaab, it is extremely difficult to deal with the group. But inaction is definitely not the correct response it requires. Perhaps, efforts should be made to reach out to the militants, or their various factions, for the sake of the innocent people living in the territories under its control, even if that involves making some concessions initially. Or else, a strategy should be made to gain control over al-Shabaab territories.
World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) sponsors this WEA-RLC Research & Analysis Report to help individuals and groups pray for and act on religious liberty issues around the world. WEA has a consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council.
This report was researched and written by Fernando Perez, and moderated by the WEA-RLC Executive Director, Godfrey Yogaraja. It can be used for distribution or publication with attribution to WEA-RLC.