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Somalia offers case study in problems with war on terror

By Taylor Jackson

Despite what Newt Gingrich might tell you on Fox News, World War III won't begin in Israel. It won't be broken down into neat sound bites and competing organizations with names like Hezbollah and Hamas. It will begin well outside of the American consciousness, in places like Somalia, where tens of thousands die with no more than a blurb in the news ticker on the bottom of your television screen.

The situation is one that should give us pause in the "war against terror." It proves that terrorists do not have to belong to an organization. They do not even really need the support of their home country. What they do need is an ideology, a scapegoat and a group of people looking for something to save them from the chaotic desperation of their lives.

It should make us realize that we are beginning to live in an age where the power of an army is no match for a dirty bomb. It is easier to believe that our army will keep us safe despite this new reality — that war anywhere is a threat to peace everywhere.

The story of Somalia is one that we've heard before. Civil war engulfs a fragmented Muslim state. Non-Muslim troops come in to prop up makeshift militias and warlords. Playing up notions of freedom from Christian incursion, fundamentalist Islamic leaders gain a new foothold for their movement in popular support.

Fighting intensifies, to the point that violent deaths are a part of everyday life.

Anywhere else in the world, this would be news. Yet after more than a decade of famine and civil infighting, Somalia barely registers on the Reuters report. The unwanted presence of troops in Somalia from the primarily Christian nations of Ethiopia and Eritrea has met little response from the preoccupied United States.

Meanwhile, slowly but surely, violent incarnations of Islamic fundamentalism have grown from barely existing blips on the political radar to the most powerful political force in the country.

It is little surprise that violent radicals are able to gain support in a country where the only thing resembling a national government is a gang that functions solely because of the support of the United States — a place most Somalis cannot begin to imagine — and Ethiopia, a country Somalia has been at war with for hundreds of years.

Somali militias may seem underfunded and inconsequential now, but plenty of people were saying the same thing about Afghan warlords and Saddam Hussein 20 years ago.

All this goes to show that the war on terror cannot be won as a fight against terrorists. It must primarily be a fight against the conditions that allows violent ideologies to flourish. Our war should be a fight against desperation, closed-minded ideology and the collective memory of America's arrogant, failing foreign policy abroad.

We could spend our money attacking illiteracy, which affects almost half the population of Somalia, or cleaning the water. Three-quarters of the country has no access to clean water.

Instead, the U.S. has vacillated between neglecting the country entirely and spending its foreign-aid money on military help.

There is little the U.S. can do effectively in Somalia now. Thousands more will die before peace and stability can be brought to the country. Violent religious doctrinaires will likely flourish in the interim.

U.S. military strength cannot fix Somalia. Nor can it win a war against violent radicals anywhere. Somalia is only the latest in a long stream of warning signs. It's time to start paying attention.

Taylor Jackson is a graduate student studying biology at ASU
E-mail: [email protected].

The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "Hiiraan Online"

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