In February 2001, Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban movement which controlled the Afghan government between 1996 and 2001, ordered the destruction of centuries-old Buddhist statues. The order was made after the Taliban imposed its own Sharia law on the country, which prohibited women from studying or working and required men to grow out their beards. All of this took place in a country where tens of thousands die of hunger and poverty every year.
Though the destruction of the Buddhist statues was condemned and rejected internationally, to the world it seemed like nothing more than a local Afghan incident. Some said that the Taliban probably decided to destroy the statue to pressure the international community into recognizing its government in Kabul. Delegations of sheikhs [clerics] went to Mullah Omar to discuss the religious legitimacy of his decision. At the time, very few recognized that the issue was actually far more complicated, and that religious extremism is not limited to religious edicts, ideological beliefs or political maneuvering.
We all know what happened later. The demolition of the statues became a secondary issue. The age of terrorism dawned, ushered in by the Taliban and al-Qaeda. At the end of the same year, the twin towers in New York were destroyed and fear of terrorism spread throughout the whole world.
Today, the tombs of [Muslim] saints in Timbuktu have been defiled. The “insanity” that stands behind the this incident and the destruction of the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan is the same, as will be the result. After Afghanistan, which ignited the Middle East, another “Afghanistan” will emerge in the heart of Africa. Mali will only be the beginning.
Today, it is no longer a secret that three terrorist organizations are cooperating closely in Africa: al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Al-Shabab movement in Somalia, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. These three movements may agree to combine forces in northern Mali to implement the principles of jihad in the area where Sharia law is applied. Furthermore, groups close to al-Qaeda enjoy a strong presence in Libya and possess large quantities of weapons. Tunisia itself has become a bastion of the so-called Jihadi Salafism, whose adherents have raises the slogan “We are all Osama bin Laden” in demonstrations. This movement, which is sympathetic to al-Qaeda’s ideology, has become a part of the [Tunisian] political scene. The incumbent government is still withholding the results of investigations into the terrorist acts that took place in Tunisia after the revolution. We still do not know exactly which sides were involved in these terrorist acts.
The “Arab Spring,” which began as youthful protests over unemployment, injustice and repression, has been taken hostage by many contesting sides. Many competing actors claim to represent it. It is no surprise that al-Qaeda has re-emerged at this particular time. Perhaps the indirect argument that recently took place between [Head of Ennahda] Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi and [al-Qaeda leader] Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri is significant.
Ghannouchi believes that “the Islamic project” can be achieved through the use of political and popular action, and that the leadership of this project belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, which had condemned violence since the events of 2001. On the other hand, Zawahiri believes that the same project can be achieved by undermining the influence of the United States in the Middle East, by pushing it to abandon its puppet regimes and involving it in direct confrontations, which have revealed to the Muslims its hostility to Islam and all that Islam holds sanctimonious.
Sheikh Ghannouchi believes that al-Qaeda’s interference damages and confuses the Islamic project, as well as attaching the stigma of violence to it. He adds that al-Qaeda has had disastrous consequences on Islam and on Muslims wherever the organization has made an appearance. Zawahiri, however, accuses the Muslim Brotherhood of giving up on the Islamic project and re-opening the doors to US and Zionist interests on the pretext of moderation and gradualism.
The United States itself did not deny the fact that it is betting on the Muslim Brotherhood to counter the advancement of al-Qaeda, both before and after the “Arab Spring.” Also, US leaders do not hide their concern over the expansion of al-Qaeda’s activities in Africa. Thus, the US continues to reinforce its military presence and intelligence operations through AFRICOM (the US military command in Africa). The world will hold its breath once again, since we all remember the result of the US intervention in Afghanistan a decade ago. Terrorism has been extracted from its Afghan bastions, only to proliferate throughout the whole world. We hope that a US intervention in Africa will not produce similar results.
It seems that we have buried terrorism and al-Qaeda somewhat hastily. The issue may have not ended with the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011, even though US President Barack Obama announced from the Hall of Honor in the White House that “the mission has been accomplished.”
Many indications call for serious caution regarding a new cycle of terrorism that is based in Africa this time around. This comes amid reports that indicate the presence of huge oil reservoirs in Africa, below the Sahara, where terrorist organizations are currently operating away from the surveillance of US forces. There is no doubt that the tripartite of “oil, terrorism and the US” has always been a bad omen, wherever it is found. North Africa is on the front lines of possible future confrontations between the West and al-Qaeda, especially in the vast African Sahara.