The explosive transition: an examination of the role of radical Islam in the failed mission to Somalia, 1992-1993
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United States involvement in the international effort to prevent the mass starvation of the people of Somalia began during the Bush Administration in August of 1992, and continued after Bill Clinton defeated George Bush for the presidency. Political considerations, a strong Washington D.C. establishment aversion to casualties and horrific pictures from news agencies such as CNN influenced decisions to either assist or take the lead in distributing relief alongside the United Nations. Untold thousands of Somali lives were saved because of the intervention, but when compared to recent foreign policy triumphs the mission is largely viewed as a failure. Unfortunately, intense clan warfare and internal division still persist in Somalia, over a decade after many demanded action to avert genocidal disaster. This chaos has implications for the United States and other countries intent on combating terrorism. An environment for Islamic extremism is created when either the central government is sympathetic or has no means of control. Somalia is a prime example. The people of this strategic East African nation are overwhelmingly Muslim. This fact looms over the power struggles that have taken place since the deposition of long-time dictator Siad Barre in January of 1991. Islam, especially in such an area of lawlessness, is useful both in the physical power struggles of individuals seeking to rule over others and those who wish to export terror. Because of deeply rooted traditions and the specific directions of holy texts, religion and society are intricately interwoven in many Muslim-majority countries. At the same time, states such as Turkey might be regarded as exceptions. The Somalia of the early 1990s dramatically illustrates the dilemmas of today in countries such as Afghanistan. It is necessary to build stable central governments to avoid internal chaos and prevent "hideouts" for terrorist groups beyond the reach of state authority. Unfortunately, the United Nations is likely too weak to accomplish this alone. Should United States troops become heavily involved as peacekeepers, the level of commitment and sacrifice necessary may be too much for American politicians, especially in a post-Cold War world. Yet what other country is willing or capable to become the occupying power when there are determined and divided nationalistic groups seek to advance an agenda of their own with no regard for building a responsible national government? Indeed, a potential danger of international inaction in such cases can create safe havens for international terrorism. In Muslim-majority countries, the motivations of extremist groups for violent terror against outsiders and one's own countrymen are hardly ever solely religious. Religion, however, remains a powerful and encompassing cultural influence. Religious law and practice can provide a centuries-long tradition and institution for the formation of a religiously centered society. Sometimes, as warring factions fight for power and resist foreign influences, appeals of religion can be tragically misused, and become a vehicle of those ambitious for even greater power. Such was the case in Somalia. Religion is Somalia is powerful unifying force in a remarkably homogeneous society. Paradoxically, clan warfare and deep tribal divisions also persist. However, both are present and an integral part of the region's tragic recent history. As such, the power of Somali religious conviction must be understood and dealt with carefully and knowledgably by the outside world. Islam, not unlike other religions, can lend itself as a justification for violence. The results are predictably disastrous, especially in poorer countries. A strict and narrow interpretation of the Koran is a total and comprehensive way of life. It is indispensable in politics, law and society, and not easily compatible with the powerful currents of Western-style modernization and its steadily creeping cultural influence. As such, intervention by the United States or a coalition of Western nations might be viewed skeptically at best, and met with a tenacious, stealth resistance at worst. As this thesis contends, this is likely the case even if that contact is to avert mass human suffering on a devastating scale. The building of a civil society is necessary for the safety of citizens and the world at large. Without a government capable and willing to resist violent fundamentalist groups in Islamic countries, there exists a safe haven for international terrorism. Islam can be a central cultural factor in this process, either for good or evil.
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 55-59).
Jones, Jonathan Leamon (2002). The explosive transition: an examination of the role of radical Islam in the failed mission to Somalia, 1992-1993. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from