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Wednesday 29 May 2013

Wanted: Peaceful Religious Co-existence in the Sahel Region

By Fr Kizito Sesana

I do not think that what is happening in the Sahel, Mali and Sudan, through the Niger, northern Nigeria, Chad, all the way to the Central African Republic, is part of a grand Islamic scheme. The question I ask is why a brother who is following with interest and expertise in social and religious developments in this area, where he spent most of his life, speaks Arabic discreetly. I have the answer but knowing him very well, I do not want to disappoint him.

We cannot close our eyes to the great forces that stir the Islamic world. It may be that in this Islamic world there are people or organizations who would like to emulate Osama bin Laden. I believe, however, that even if this were true, the focus on them, highlight the most brutal terrorism, do not help us to understand what is really going on.

The discomfort is widespread and the situations are different. There is no need for generalization. No doubt, a number of influences have contributed to this. Needless to say, much of the current instability was unleashed after the fall of Gaddafi in Libya. It seems unlikely, however, to think that someone has organized and led the whole thing as a global design. If there is a global design, this is grafted on local discomfort and anger, without which it would not have hooks. 

It is important to know the local situation, the details of the story. Mali is not the Central African Republic and both are very different from Chad. Of course, it is more difficult to try to understand the many existing outbreaks and their possible connections that do not identify a global culprit and try to hit him to death. It all amounts to scapegoating. As experience shows, what was done to Osama Bin Laden does not work. Even after his elimination,  the "war against terrorism" was not won; it was reborn in other forms, as in anger exploded in Sweden, as in the recent terrible, inhuman terrorist attacks in Boston and London. 

When you deny the humanity of others, they refuse to listen to their reasons - even those that are wrong - it's no wonder that those who feel powerless and denied react with blind violence and unreasonable. So the widespread terrorism, without organizations and without leaders, it becomes virtually impossible to prevent.

Commenting on a report published a couple of weeks ago, Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, super-moderate career diplomat, said that tax evasion, the mining uncontrolled and illegal export of capital are depriving Africa of the benefits that could result from the boom in commodity prices. These operations cost Africa some 38 billion dollars a year. Annan added: "Africa, through these channels, each year loses twice the funds it receives from donors ...  It's like stealing food from the table of the poor! Is it any wonder some people think that the spoliation of Africa and the wars in Islamic nations are the result of a great design of Christian dominance, given that identify, unfortunately, and mistakenly, rich with Christians?

In the Sahel the poor are at war with each other, are attracted by ideologies of all kinds (even of Christian origin, sometimes) because they do not understand what's going on, perceive themselves as victims, impoverished, confused, frightened, dominated by outside forces too powerful . The preachers of hate, the Boko Haram, the Seleka, the Muslim Brotherhood ... have an easy way to propose solutions in which they themselves do not believe. It is likely that their immediate interest is to grab power.

Nobody wants to justify the actions against Christians who are taking place in a wide band of the Sahel. But the methodical, chronic theft of African resources made ‚Äč‚Äčanonymously and globally, as reported by Annan, is certainly one of the main causes of the widespread anger against the West. 

I do not need to endlessly repeat that the inspiration of terrorism is not in 'Islam, as did British Prime Minister David Cameron. Sounds too hypocritical, especially if these claims are not accompanied by a serious effort to understand the arguments of others, and their sense of helplessness.

On a personal level , in London we saw what could be done. That a man mad with hate, with blood on his hands, was stopped by a woman; a single woman. A mother, ready to sacrifice herself to save other people's children and that, with maternal instinct - as she said in an interview - saw in that "terrorist" just a confused boy, and began to talk to him. Staying human, closer to others as human beings, does not mean surrender. It is the greatest strength:  stay human even in the face of who is no longer human . You understand the dynamics of hatred to overcome it and win it. Translating policy into such an approach is not easy, but you have to try.

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