This essay will cover the reason for my attendance at the upcoming UNAOC Global Forum in New York, the topics I will be focusing on and plan to bring to the forefront of discussions.
UNAOC Global Forum 2018
On 19 – 20th November 2018 United Nations Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) will hold its 8th Global Forum at the UN headquarters in New York City. The UNAOC promotes cultural dialogue, greater understanding and respect among civilisations, religions and beliefs.
The rise of violent extremism, xenophobia and discrimination, religious and cultural intolerance as well as fear of the other has become some of the most pressing issues facing the world. UNAOC aims to establish platforms that commit to inter-religious and cultural dialogue by promoting toler-ance, diversity and culture of peace. This year under the theme of “Commit to dialogue; Partnerships for Preventing and Sustaining Peace”. UNAOC will bring together almost 1000 participants from political leaders, representatives of regional and international organisations, faith-based organisations, the private sector, civil society, academia and youth leaders who are all UNAOC alumni including my-self.
In my previous experience as a UNAOC summer school Alumna in 2015, I was exposed to vast and endless amount of knowledge, expertise and ideas. I met other inspiring youth leaders from 75 countries across the world, and learned from their experiences, stories, tried and tested methods; These were inspiring future leaders all passionate and determinate to make a difference in people’s lives, Meeting and learning from them has undoubtedly equipped me with strength, and vision to pursue a peace-building discourse in my own community. Meeting and connecting with UN per-sonnels and experts in fields of humanitarian, peace and youth related work, including the former UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, has also enabled me to grow and have a deeper understand-ing of what it means to be a peace-builder in today’s chaotic world.
One thing those who strive for values such as peace and/or justice have in common is the under-standing that these are ongoing effort, one that you might not see completed in your own lifespan, However knowing that every one of us is a small part of the cement on the road to peace – is good to keep us going.
Over the years, I have met many of my fellow Somalis at home and in the diaspora and had the op-portunity to learn a great deal from the incredible work they carry out in their daily struggle. It is truly remarkable when one contemplates the resilient and defiance o Somali people, who have en-dured so much loss and grieve for a long period of time, yet remain steadfast in their pursue to re-build and heal their communities in the mist of widespread instabilities. The numerous works car-ried out by Somali-led organisations, groups and Individuals who inspire communities to progress and develop in all fields of humanitarian and peace-building efforts is also worth mentioning. All stakeholders who commit to dialogue and democratic processes, namely the United Nation Mission in Somalia, AMISOM, European Union, Turkey and all other international partners in the interna-tional community, who continue to invest in Somalia’s path to stability and peace, including eco-nomic development and environmental sustainability such combating climate-change need not to be forgotten.
I would like to acknowledge international organisations such as the Crisis Group, Save The Chil-dren, Oxfam and many others who carry out impactful work in Somalia. Local organisations, youth groups, women-groups, journalism forums and individuals who strive daily for the betterment of the Somali people in all aspects of life.
The Role of Islam in preventing and/or countering violent extremism
Being an activist in my own community working with SAVE (a global peace building movement led by Somali youth), which I founded shortly after returning from my UNAOC training in New York, and working with Somaliland Y-PEER, (local Somaliland youth organisation concentrating on youth development, FGM and youth unemployment) along with other Somali Youth leaders and peace-builders, we have been able initiate dialogues and set up platforms where young people are able to discuss topics pertinent to youth development, migration, peace-building and countering vi-olent extremism,, breaking down barriers of fears and taboos in talking about the impact of viol-ence on the individual and on community level, and how to overcome it through non-violent and sustainable means. Doing campaigns and lobbying at governmental departments for inclusive youth-friendly policies, where the public and society at large are given an opportunity to discuss and en-gage with one another among others at the heart of SAVE, underpinned by its founding principle which is, that Islam means peace, and violent extremism has no basis in islamic values and tradi-tions.
Drawing on SAVE’s founding principles, I hereby put forward the proposition that islamic law, can and should be used in peace-building, preventing and countering violent extremism. As a starting point, Islam is clear in its ruling about ethics of war, the sanctity of human lives and issues sur-rounding suicide and indiscriminate destruction. These rulings alone, I will argue should be at the start of potent pedagogy to educate young people who might be confused on what the islamic ruling is on these issues. For instant what is the rulings on suicide bombings and killing innocent and non-combatant civilians? Religious groups who are well versed in aspect of the above rulings should play a role in assisting peace-builders challenge and address religious extremism and mis-guided ideolo – gies propagating violent narrative. The inherent benefit of this method can be illustrated in many other areas, for example if we look at international refugee Laws and conventions, not only are these compatible with the Islamic law, but their instances are well established in the Quran and in the traditions of Prophet Mohammed (Peace and Blessings be upon him)
The current United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres In his previous role as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, participated in a panel discussion which took place in Doha, Qatar in March 2015 leading up to The First World Humanitarian Summit that commenced in Istanbul in May 2016. As part of his speech, Mr Antonio Guterres said;
“When I came to UNCHR, I was convinced that key instrument for refugee protection in the world was The 51 Con-vention. It established universal law for the protection of refugees, and then one of the first visits I made was to Jordan, and Jordan is not a signatory of the convention, but Jordan has more refugees than many of the countries that are sig-natories to the convention, and I soon discovered that every single law that is in today the 51 convention was already established in the Holy Quran and the Dawah of the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him….every single…to the extend that we did a book together on the roots of modern refugee law in Islamic Law…but everything is there.”
So it begs the question – What is the role of Islam in preventing and countering violent extremism? When we say ‘Islam has nothing to do with violent extremism’ does it mean we abandon or ignore those who are part of our communities, and use the religion to justify violence that have no basis in our common Islamic understanding of what the Quran teaches us? How can we promote human-rights, peace-building and prevent from an Islam vantage point, when we fail to challenge, extrem-ism ideologies flourishing in our midst.
We must ask ourselves what is triggering and radicalising young people to join and to become part of violent group whether its Al-shabab. What are the driving factors motivating young people to make such a desperate and highly risky decisions? Is it due to extreme and mis-guided interpretation of Islam, that pushes one to the idea of joining these groups? Or is it due to socio-economic factors such as lack of human rights, good governance, opportunities and good job or is it psychological reasons; such as feeling detachment from society, or isolation? Is it whole range of issues that lead to that decision? These are part of the many questions we try to answer in our work. In that analysis, we must also include the facilitating role social media and the internet play and contribute to or ex-acerbate this issue.- a case point of youth radicalisation due to the above factors are those who car-ried out the Paris atrocities. They were radicalised within one year, most of them had a colourful social life of going out clubbing and taking substance. Some had criminal records. What they had in common was lack of social opportunities such as good education, good job and feeling disconnected from the society.
The process of becoming suddenly interested in islam, does not necessarily lead to radicalisation, but factors such as political violence, violation of human rights, lack of economic development and good governance all serve stimulus that motivate young people to become desperate enough to take up arms and join violent groups.
In any work and most definitely in peace-building there is always room for improvement, to learn from the past and tried methods. What does or doesn’t work.. As peace builders we must hold ourselves to account, be able to adept to the changing nature of violence in order to think of new an innovative ways to carry out our work. We must be able to listen to those who have experienced vi-olence, those who can express the devastation that it brings. Fighting violence with violence has been evidently being proven wrong and it’s not working anywhere and most importantly it’s not working in Somalia. Military force, law enforcement, Intelligence gathering, alone will neither erad-icate nor eliminate violent extremism from Somali soil.
The dangerous and terrorist groups Al-shabab are able to tax local shops and hotel within Mogadishu, and when these hotels and businesses don’t pay the tax, risk themselves of an attack on their lives and property. Alshabab has been able to infiltrate the National Army and National Secur-ity Agency. Ex alshabab high-ranking leaders who have allegedly disowned their previous violent past, have been granted amnesty without any form of criminal legal process. Ex terrorists should face justice for the crimes they have committed, before they aspire to start new lives and become politicians.
The war against Al-shabab is not a war that can only be won by bullets and bombs and furthermore counter-terrorism laws should be drafted, and implemented in context of social-psychological im-pact on society at large, by not allowing people with previous dangerous violent ideologies to have platforms, to influence the masses and be in political decision-making roles, without any form of rehabilitation, probation and psychological analysis. The Federal Government of Somalia’s meas-ured aim at addressing the terrorist threat, should also be developed and implemented in full com-pliance with international law, in particular international human rights laws.
All parties with vested interest in peace- building in Somalia, must recognise and adapt to the cur-rent situation, and find ways to collectively work on challenging and eradicating what enables viol-ence, and where the financial networks of Al-shabab flourish both locally on the ground, interna-tionally and on online platforms/social media that facilitate the spread of the narrative of violence, and distorted perception of Islamic laws, hatred and recruitment of young Somalis.
Many young Somalis are activists, peace-makers and change-makers. They are passionate about the future they aspire for themselves and their communities. They are also the most affected by lack of stability. They deserve to have their voices heard and access to decision-making that will impact their lives for many years come.
Somalia and Somaliland
Somalis don’t have to look far to find examples of Somali-owned path to peace-building and pockets of stability in Puntland and Somaliland. In particularly Somaliland, an autonomous independent seeking region; where democratic processes such as one-person one-vote elections has taken place. Most Somalilanders are pleased with the law and order enforced in Somaliland, and they take pride in overcoming the challenges of violent extremism, which continue to be seen as threat to national security.
Although the challenges facing The Federal Government of Somalia are many and overlap each other such as the challenge of defeating Al- Shabab, upholding peace and establishing local gov-ernance. The FGS is also dealing with The Federal Member States expressing disagreements and boycotting partnership on numerous occasions in a political power struggle between the two parties, that has negatively impacted inter-regional cooperation and partnership. The FGS continues to struggle with coming up with a plan to engage Somallland and reach tangible agreements.
Lack of comprehensive dialogue between Somaliland and Somalia governments, lack of political determination in creating an environment conducive in encourages both parties to start talking with an intention to reach an agreement, has stagnated progress on both side of the border.
In the Southern regions – An unfinished constitution leading to confusion on separation of powers and wealth, Federal Member States and central government detached and at political conflict. The continued use of 4,5 tribal governance model, which undermines democracy, human rights and the empowerment of minorities.
In the Northern Regions; lack of an economic boom, lack of injection of opportunities in the job-market, where the 70% of the society is jobless, idle or contemplating migration cross the Sahara, and into the Mediterranean sea risking their lives.
The longer it takes to reach political stability, the longer it will take to find solutions to the most pressing issues that affect all Somalis such as instability, migration and youth unemployment, cli-mate-change, poverty, Lack of economic development and corruption.
Scoring political point, and indulging on political manoeuvres in country where the majority of the population live below the poverty line, struggling to feed themselves and youth-unemployment is over 70%, is like living in bubble detached from the realities on the ground.
We desire both sides to come to an agreement that benefits everyone with the flexibility to com-promise. A landmark agreement and breakthrough we can all build on and which will fuel the hope we have for a sustainable peace between the Somali people, and in the horn of Africa.
Even if Somaliland receives international recognition, it does not mean both parties will be unable to collaborate and partner on economic prosperity, strengthen the territories Somalis reside in, rein-force Somali sovereignty and with a common agenda on horn of Africa international foreign policy. Even if Somaliland receives international recognition, it will continue to remain neighbours with Somalia and share borders, as the East Africa continental plate is moving due to a rift system, lead-ing to the creation of a new plate boundaries in the future. In other words we could break off from
the rest of the African plate and form a large island. Even in future we will be closer and connected, continuing to share borders.
Young Somalis on both sides of the border are tired of pity internal feuds that doesn’t benefit any parties besides delay our path to sustainable peaceful agreement. Somalis need fearless and prag-matic leaders who are able to put our interest in the context of the global geopolitical situation and the most pressing challenges we face.
More than ever before Somalis needs to wake up the challenges they all mutually face from political instability to climate-change. Finding a middle ground or solutions are harder but more noble than sowing hatred, animosity and distrust between the people.
The threat of violence extremism that has no place in the common Somali understanding of Islam-ic values and principles, climate-change that we unfortunately had no role to play in exacerbating or starting it, coupled with global-political and economic insecurity should encourage us to reach sus-tainable political agreement for the greater good of All Somalis.
By:Sagal M. Ashour