The ‘Shabaab’ of Gaza and Somalia

Bakir Oweida
Bakir Oweida
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First of all, I would like to explain that I do not mean the youth of Gaza today. I am referring to my own generation in the title, and will explain why later.

Last Monday evening, Frank Gardner, the BBC security affairs correspondent, translated the word Shabaab for his viewers to the English term “lads.” Many Arabic terms have found their way into the English dictionary over the years, but over the last three decades the most famous of them have been “intifada,” “al-Qaeda,” and “Shabaab.”

What a massive difference there is between the reactions of non-Arabs to the first term, “intifada”—one of sympathizing with a people and understanding their struggle—and their reactions to the second term, “al-Qaeda,” and its offspring, “al-Shabaab,” and other similar terms, to which they react with terror and revulsion towards Arabs. What is even worse, and more dangerous, is the resulting hatred and distrust towards Islam and Muslims, which has become a recognized phenomenon and has found its way into all dictionaries as “Islamophobia.”

It was not difficult for the Palestinian people to earn the respect of most people around the world. People could see young men leading the masses with their bare chests and rocks in their hands, facing Israeli occupation forces’ machine guns, supported by armored vehicles on the ground and helicopters in the air.

What was surprising was that Islam was blamed for the atrocities of 9/11 in 2001. But the attacks in the name of Islam by al-Qaeda continued all around the world: in Spain, Britain, Indonesia and Australia. And al-Qaeda built bases anywhere they could, in North Africa, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia, from where they attacked Kenya while the world watched using the most modern forms of media. Somewhere, there was an office worker receiving a notification on their smart phone, telling them a massacre was being committed in Nairobi and that the main suspect was al-Qaeda. Is it any wonder that Islam and Muslims are under suspicion after all that?

Many Arabic terms have found their way into the English dictionary over the years, but over the last three decades the most famous of them have been “intifada,” “al-Qaeda,” and “Shabaab.”

Bakir Oweida

For their part, governments of countries–such is Kenya, in this case–who suffered from the terrorist atrocities of al-Qaeda and other affiliated groups, made great efforts to urge their citizens to differentiate between the religion of Islam and its followers on the one hand, and those who committed atrocious crimes in the name of the religion on the other.

However, those efforts, appreciated as they may be, are not enough. They also do not eliminate the necessity of the more significant effort, that which should be made by Muslims, both officially through their governments, and socially through their institutions, such as universities and research centers, especially those which specialize in religious studies. Muslims must confront an ideology that has succeeded in hijacking the minds of many Muslim youth–although even that may not be enough.

Islamic action to liberate Islam

Quite simply, there is great need for Islamic action to liberate Islam from the terrorism of al-Qaeda and its branches once and for all. If this does not happen, Muslims, who are deeply connected to their religion and are hurt by the damage and harm caused to it, should expect worse to come. Some may ask how that can be achieved. It is clear that the confrontation of terror cells in a number of areas around the world should be extended, in order to stop the al-Qaeda organization expanding further.

The shocking truth is that the terrorists did not only prove they were heartless, mindless and short-sighted, they also proved they were capable of striking anywhere they wished, whenever the opportunity arose, meaning it was only a matter of time. The Westgate Mall massacre in Nairobi and the slaughter in the Peshawar Church last Sunday are only two recent examples, and are no less atrocious than what some of them are committing in Syria in the name of Islam.

Where did these Khawarij [Muslims who break away from mainstream Islam] come from, to commit more atrocities than their predecessors who came centuries before them?
The question takes me back to the youth of Gaza all those years ago, of whom I was a member, and who had no likeness whatsoever to the Somali al-Shabaab movement. I was careful to differentiate between my generation and the current Gaza youth, because I could not, while living in London, pretend to know Gaza very well.

The number of Gaza youth who sympathize with the Somali al-Shabaab may be larger or smaller than what I expect it to be, but it does exist. This is where the difference lies. In my days, there was no place for such people at all. The things we disagreed on, and they were many, did not justify murder in any name, especially religion.

We agreed and disagreed, but the worst that we did after an argument was to shout loudly, or exchange descriptions which questioned each other’s intelligence. Sometime we would exchange accusations which would raise tensions, especially if the Muslim Brotherhood supporters or their sympathizers suggested Gaza should be liberated from Nasser’s colonization, which annoyed Arab Nationalists (I was one of them). We would demand they take back their accusations, and they would, apologizing.

That was Gaza, where my Uncle Ibrahim, the sportsman, grew up, whom I watched as a kid playing basketball at the Christian Youth Association basketball court in Remal district, without it taking away from his Islamic religion.

It is Gaza, where my Christian neighbor Elias lived safely. He would walk with me to the Omari Mosque, and I would walk with him to a church next to a small mosque in the Zaytoun district. We would revise some subjects together during the final exams.

Like everyone else, our families celebrated all occasions together, from the joyful days of Ramadan, to the Eid visits, both for Eid Al-Fitr (after Ramadan) and Eid Al-Adha (after Hajj), and Easter, and we would exchange greetings at both the Gregorian and the Hijri New Year.

Where have those youths of Gaza gone, with all their different ideologies (including some who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood ideology and were members of its Muslim youth association), compared to the Somali Shabaab movement and its likes? Nothing is shared between them. Therefore, the question remains: Where did these people come from? Where are Islam and Muslims going? And is it acceptable not to put an end to their madness and the madness of their terrorism, which has crossed all boundaries?

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Sept. 27, 2013.

Bakir Oweida is a journalist who worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant to Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for Op-Ed section, until December 2003. He can be reached on [email protected] and [email protected]

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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