Muslims & Terrorism in East Africa

Muslims & Terrorism in East Africa

Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal
Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal
The story of a young extremist Islamic cleric in Kenya gives us some insight into how Muslim extremism may be effecting East Africa.

Twenty-six year old Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal has already spent 4 years in British jails, eight years studying Islam in Saudia Arabia, and tonight is in Kenyan detention since no airline will fly him anywhere.

My disclaimer is mandatory: Christian fanatics in my own country are as responsible – if not more so than Muslims – for the religious tension and the wars they’ve provoked. I take a dim view of organized religion.

Click here to go to Wikipedia’s site to document that more than 90% of the terrorist acts in the last generation were perpetrated by non-Muslims, and before 9/11 there were more Christian acts of violence than Muslim ones.

But at the moment it is the threat of Muslim extremism that is worrisome to East Africa. Somalia is right next door. Christian fanaticism actually is responsible for much of East Africa’s misery, but that seems to be coming to an end in Kenya and Tanzania.

Weirdo Christians running around in white dresses and hoods (that for all the world look like Klu Klux Klanners) of which Kenya’s past dictator Daniel arap Moi was a part, seem to be subsiding.

Once upon a time you had to be a communist AND a Catholic to be a part of Tanzania’s ruling party, the CCM. But that’s been over for some time.

Only Uganda remains in the death-grip of Christian extremism. President Museveni’s proposed death-for-gays bill was spurned by individuals associated with Washington’s “Family”, a weird fanatic Christian group including not but a few prominent politicians like Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. Museveni is as much a modern-day Christian crusader as there will ever be.

FYI: (Increasing world denunciation of the death-for-gays bill might be working: the Ugandan Parliament seems to be modifying it to “life in prison” rather than death.)

But the power that Al-Shabaab now wields in Somalia, and the growing conflict in Yemen, are battles being won by very extreme Muslims. And today’s story about Faisal may help us understand how vulnerable East Africa is to fanatic Muslim politics.

According to Kenya’s Minister of Immigration, Otieno Kajwang, Faisal was arrested New Year’s Eve in Mombasa on accusations of links to terrorism, ten days after entering Kenya overland from Tanzania.

Kajwang said Faisal had slipped into Kenya through a small border post, explaining that had he used an airport or one of the major border posts where the immigration controls are linked by computer, his name would have shown up on the watch list and he would not have been allowed entry.

“We have fears that it is not in our public interest to allow him to either preach or live here,” Kajwang said.

The immigration minister said that even though the cleric hadn’t committed any crime, “the fact that he is on the international terror watch list said it all.”

“We are walking a tightrope here…we have been attacked by terrorists and it is only right if we seriously defend our borders,” Kajwang said.

Yes, But… The Tanzanians claim he was never in their country.

Sixtus Nyaki, the acting Arusha regional immigration officer, said Friday there was no truth in reports that the radical preacher had entered Kenya from Tanzania.

“I can confirm that the Jamaican preacher has not entered Tanzania,” Nyaki told Tanzania’s The Citizen newspaper.

Well it’s clear Tanzania doesn’t want him, either, but it’s not clear they didn’t have him.

One report in The Coast, a small Mombasa publication, claimed that Faisal’s passport showed that he definitely was in Tanzania and that he entered Tanzania overland from Malawi. There is no indication how he got into Malawi but the paper reported his passport also showed recent stamps from Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique and Swaziland.

Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal was born to a British Christian Salvation Army couple in St James, Jamaica, where he was christened Trevor William Forrest.

Obviously not impressed with Salvation Armyism he left home at 16 before finishing secondary school, eight years later graduating with a degree in Islamic Studies from an institution in Riyadh, Saudia Arabia.

He then returned to the UK, where indictments from his trial claimed that this then under 20-year-old preacher was urging his audiences to kill Jews, Hindus and Westerners. He was tried and convicted in Britain in 2003 and jailed.

Released after serving his term four years later, he returned to Jamaica where the Islamic Council of Jamaica banned him from preaching. He then went to South Africa where he did preach extensively in mosques, there.

There are many more Muslims in Tanzania than Kenyan, but Tanzanian society is not as open as Kenya’s. All of Tanzania’s media has reported this incident, but none has quoted any Islamic cleric response.

It’s much different in Kenya.

“This is curtailing al Faisal’s freedoms of expression and association in a very discriminative manner that is totally unacceptable,” said Al-Amin Kimathi, the chairman of the Muslim Human Rights Forum (MHRF) in Kenya.

“It follows a pattern we saw throughout last year where Muslim scholars and aid workers were arbitrarily arrested and deported from the country on very flimsy grounds,” Kimathi added.

The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims chairman, Prof Abdulghafur El-bussaidy, said he knew little about Mr al-Faisal’s visit, but directed journalists to another powerful Kenyan cleric, Sheikh Mohammed Dor, who has recently been nominated to the Kenyan Parliament.

“[Faisal] is an honest man who came into the country legally… he has not done anything wrong,” El-bussaidy told Kenya’s Nation. Dor also dismissed reports that Faisal had called for the killing of non-Muslims.

“I have CDs of his preaching … from what I have seen and heard, you will love him. He only talks about the rights of Muslims but has not in any way called for the killing of anyone. Those are rumours being propagated by the western world.”

“Why is it that it is only in Kenya that he has been arrested, based on malicious information from the West?” Dor asks.

Yes, that’s the question. Why Kenya? Why not Tanzania? And what does this mean?

Why did Kenya act on the likely enhanced terrorism communications that occurred after the Christmas Day incident, and why didn’t Tanzania? Why did clerics in the more Muslim country of Tanzania not react to this, and why did they in Kenya?

It’s an election year in Tanzania. Friday in Dar-es-Salaam, the President of Tanzania addressed all the local diplomats and warned them against making any public statements about the upcoming election. It was a chilling meeting.

In the last Tanzanian elections in 2005 there was widespread violence in Zanzibar. The divide was definitely a religious one: Muslim vs. non-Muslim. The violence in Kenya in 2007 was much more severe, in part because Nairobi is a hundred times bigger than Zanzibar, but the divide there was rich vs. poor. Later an ethnic component would emerge in the Kenya troubles, but it was never religious.

Tanzanian power is apparently as good at silencing its own population as its foreign diplomatic core.

I don’t believe that’s wise. It’s a lot hotter in Tanzania than Kenya. Tightening those bottles of fizzy water only shakes them up and increases their explosive power.