Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Somalia: Tragedy and Opportunity

By Michael McClennen
Guest Contributor
Wednesday 27 December 2006

The tragedy unfolding in Somalia has the potential to destroy thousands of innocent lives and livelihoods. At the same time, it holds within it the seeds of international peace. We must urgently decide which side of the conflict to support, and our decision may well have immense repercussions for international relations in the 21st century.

The key point is this: The "legitimate" government of Somalia is composed of those very warlords whose lawless ways have terrorized the country for more than a decade. It has no popular support whatsoever, and controls only the territory around one small town. A new government recently came into being, seemingly with broad popular support. It has extended its sway with relatively little bloodshed over most of the country, and has been able to establish stability, rule of law, and economic revitalization.

What objection could anyone find to this wonderful state of affairs? Apparently, the objection of our country, and of many others around the world, is that the new government is "Islamist" and bases its code of law on the Sharia code. Notwithstanding this dire label, the reality on the ground (according to published reports) is that multiple points of view are represented in the government - some which advocate strict imposition of traditional Islamic social standards, but others that are much more liberal. Unfortunately, the pressures of war undoubtedly will increase the prestige and influence of the conservative faction, driving out those who are more liberal. International support for the new government, by contrast, could well produce the opposite effect.

This past weekend, the neighboring country of Ethiopia sent troops, tanks and bombers into Somalia in support of the "legitimate" government, which actually has no popular legitimacy, and against the "Islamist" government, which has the support of most of the populace.
Mogadishu was bombed and civilians were killed. The reaction of the international community so far has been a resounding silence. This is, essentially, a show of support for the Ethiopians. By failing to support the Islamist government, we are essentially playing into the hands of the conservative faction, pushing this society in the very direction that we do not want it to go. If we do not give them aid, they will perforce turn to whoever will offer it, and we all know who that will be. The notion that this new movement is contaminated by "terrorism" and "Islamic fundamentalism" thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy!

At this point, we have the option to respond to the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia with the same attitude we had toward the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, or to the Serbian invasion of Croatia: namely, to condemn it as an illegal intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation and to exert international pressure in the form of military aid and sanctions to bring the invasion to a close.
By dropping our support for the government of ex-warlords, and instead putting our confidence in the popularly supported government, we will accomplish three things. First, we will uphold the principles of international law, which are the foundation of international peace. Second, we will strengthen the hands of the more-liberal and international thinkers in the new government, weakening the hands of those who would proclaim holy war and invite holy warriors from other lands to aid them. Third, we will provide powerful evidence to the Muslim world that we intend to treat all nations of the world under the same set of standards, no matter what faith they profess.

By giving this newest of the world's governments the benefit of the doubt, we can demonstrate that we will judge it by what it is able to accomplish and by how it treats its citizens, rather than prejudging it by the claimed basis of its authority.

Bluntly, we must decide either to be true to the principles of democracy and international law that we espouse, or to demonstrate unequivocally that we consider any government based on Islamic principles to be illegitimate on its face. Our choice is clear: peace on one hand; on the other, a gauntlet thrown in the face of nations representing almost one-quarter of the earth's population. If we continue in our policy of silence - or worse, throw in with the Ethiopians - we will deal a terrible blow to the fragile international accord.

The choice is ours, and we must make it while we still have a chance.
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