Islam in Africa
by Hugh Fitzgerald (August 2009)
Last week, in an unlikely encounter near the Sangre de Cristo mountains of Colorado, I met a couple who had just returned from a sabbatical year in Togo. I asked them about Togo. They told me they had last been in the country ten years ago, and this time had been horrified by the visible signs of Islam in Lomé. Ten years ago, the wife, a native of Togo, told me, there could not have been more than four mosques in Lomé, and now, she said, “there are four hundred.” And what is more, these four hundred are now equipped with P.A. systems, used by the muezzins to make sure that everyone – Muslim and Christian and animist – all over Lomé, hears five times a day the Call To Prayer.
I began to think about Islam in Africa, and the steady advances it appears, largely, at the level of mosque and madrasa and missionary work, through the deployment of oil money from the rich Gulf states, to be making all over sub-Saharan Africa. It is amazing, when one considers the long history of Arab depredations and Arab cruelty, and Arab seizure of black Africans in the longest-running, and cruelest, slave trade in history.
In the Western world, when we write or speak about Slavery in Africa, we usually have in mind the Atlantic Slave Trade, conducted by Europeans, who never entered the interior of Africa, but instead bought slaves from African tribes, almost exclusively on the “Slave Coast” of West Africa. These slaves were brought to the New World in order to work on plantations. The Arab slave trade in Africa, which began many centuries before, and ended (where it did end, and only where Western pressure was brought) at least a century later, was of a different sort. The main use of African slaves was as eunuchs, for harems, and thus it was that the Arabs tended to seize, in the bush, young – sometimes very young – black males, and castrate them in situ, and then bring those who survived the painful operation and then the travel, by slave coffle and then by dhow from East African ports (Pema and Zanzibar were well-known entrepots for the Sultan of Muscat and Oman), to the slave markets of Arabia, where they were sold. According to Jan Hogedoorn, author of “The Hideous Trade,” an economic study of the Arab slave trade in Africa, the mortality rate for the black Africans was about 90% -- that is, only 10% survived – and the millions seized by the Arabs far exceeded the numbers who were bought by Europeans in the Atlantic Slave Trade. And unlike the whites of Europe, the Arabs managed to penetrate deep into the interior of Africa, and relied on their own slave-raiding, which was always regarded by Europeans, rightly, as exceptionally cruel, and we can find descriptions in the works by such travelers and adventurers as Bruce, Livingstone, Burton, and many others.
There never was, and never could be, a Muslim Wilberforce. Why not? Because Muhammad had slaves. It doesn’t matter if he “treated them well” as apologists for Islam suggest. He had slaves, and because Muhammad is the Model for All Time, uswa hasana (a phrase that occurs three times in the Qur’an, twice applied to Abraham, once applied to Muhammad), The Perfect Man (al-insan al-kamil), his practice, the “sunna” of the Arabs of the seventh-century, can never be declared wrong. And that is why the Arabs most faithful to Islam, the Saudis, refused to abolish slavery, and finally did so only under enormous Western pressure, in 1962, when OPEC had not yet been formed, and oil revenues not nearly as dramatic as they are today.
Again, the “hideous” Arab slave trade began earlier, and ended later, than the Atlantic Slave Trade carried on by Europeans. Unlike those Europeans, who never went beyond the coastal forts to which black Africans brought other black Africans, and traded them for goods (see “What Did They Trade For the Slaves” by the thoroughly-reliable scholar Stanley Alpern who, not holding an academic post, is free to write truthfully about pre-colonial Africa in a way that many of his inhibited colleagues can only dream of emulating). The Arabs went deep into East and even Central Africa, and Arab slavers from North Africa went on raids into West Africa as well to seize mainly young and defenseless boys. The Europeans were interested in both male and female slaves. Both were regarded as valuable property that had been bought from slavers who had bought them, in turn, from black Africans who brought them to the coast, and because both sexes were regarded as valuable property, the Europeans wished, if they could, to keep them alive.
This is still a folk memory in Africa, and the continuing mistreatment of black Africans by Arabs, who continue to enslave them wherever the two populations co-exist, in both West Africa (Mali) and in East Africa (Sudan) suggests that if the Western powers were entirely out of the picture, the Arabs would resume their slave trade, and forcibly bring black slaves to Arabia. And why not? The Qur’an and Sunna tell Muslims that this is not wrong, but right, a practice sanctioned forever by the practice of Muhammad himself.
A brief and true relation, focusing mainly on the period after Africans obtained their independence (in the colonial period, the European powers could control whatever the then-weak Arab states might try to impose), would not be amiss. For so much has been forgotten. How many in the Western world, or for that matter in black Africa, remember the vast, intelligently-run, tremendously successful aid program run by the Israelis all over Black Africa? The Israelis were particularly good at small-scale agricultural projects, intended to increase yields. They did far more, with these projects, than what the larger European powers, lavishing money on Big Men (aid that has been described as transferring wealth from the poor and the middle-class in the rich countries to the rich in poor countries).
That aid program, despite its success was, through Arab pressure, ended after the Six-Day War.
The Arabs, now determined to win through diplomatic and other means what they had failed to achieve, and realized they could not, given the current balance of forces, achieve by making war on Israel any time soon. In order to more easily win over public opinion in the Western world, the Arabs came up with a revised or camouflaged version of the Jihad against the Infidel nation-state of Israel whose real aim had not, by the Arabs, been hidden from view before, even if little attention was paid to it: neither Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League in 1948, nor Gamal Abdel Nasser, the most important Arab leader, nor Jamal Baroody, the representative of Saudi Arabia at the U.N., nor the predecessor of Arafat as the leader of those Arabs who were soon to metamorphose into “Palestinians,” the forgotten Ahmed Shukairy, had bothered to worry about hiding Arab intentions to wipe out Israel. But after the Six-Day War, those Arabs (“Arab refugees” as well as Arabs who had never left) became the “Palestinian people,” and the Jihad against Israel became a “struggle” for the “legitimate rights” of that “Palestinian people.”
But in Black Africa another strategy was executed. In most countries, at the local level, tribal chiefs told their people whom and what to support, and at the national level, The Big Man with his One-Man Rule would be the Sole Decider. There was no need for the Arabs to win over “public opinion” in sub-Saharan Africa; they had only to win over the rulers and their courtiers. And that is exactly what they did, spreading money around, buying up votes at the U.N. and paying off African leaders to cut ties with Israel, even if that meant losing the benefit of Israel’s aid programs. The latter, after all, were not gigantic construction projects or arms deals where the Big Man could get his cut, but rather programs of direct benefit to the people.
There was Idi Amin, who converted to Islam because the price the rich Arabs paid was right. And, in becoming a Muslim, he found that later on, despite his being wanted for mass murder in Uganda, he was safe, along with many wives and children, in Saudi Arabia, until his death from natural causes many decades later. Later on, there was the man who would declare himself “Emperor,” the fantastical Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who was temporarily persuaded by Khaddafy to become a Muslim, on the promise of enormous reward:
“After a meeting with Qadhafi in September 1976, Bokassa converted to Islam and changed his name to Salah Eddine Ahmed Bokassa, but in December 1976 he converted back to the Catholicism. It is presumed that this was a ploy calculated to ensure ongoing Libyan financial aid. When no funds promised by Gaddafi were forthcoming, Bokassa abandoned his new faith. It also was incompatible with his plans to be crowned emperor in the Catholic cathedral in Bangui.”
Khaddafy apparently thought an initial bribe would be enough. In the case of Bokassa, it wasn’t. And we do not know exactly how much money changed hands, with what booster-shots of bribery required, to keep others doing the bidding of Khaddafy, or the Saudis, or other Arabs eager to make sure that this or that African country would do what it could to prevent relations from being re-established with Israel, and to vote with the Muslim Arabs at the U.N. and other international forums and, more recently, to make their countries more rather than less vulnerable to the use of Arab money to spread Islam.
While Saudi Arabia has funded Wahhabi mosques, or the takeover of non-Wahhabi mosques by Saudi-funded Wahhabi imams (see, for example, the visible changes In the dress and behavior of Muslim women in Togo and Niger), Khaddafy continues to win favor through bribery or the promise of bribes. He was elected, this past year as the head of the African Union (see here). More recently he has, outside of the African Union, been inviting black African tribal chiefs, not heads of state, to come to Tripoli to anoint him as Africa’s Chief of Chiefs, or King of Kings. In so doing, they were also were pledging their (bought-and-paid-for) allegiance to a despotic man who frequently declares – often at meetings of the Arab League – how fed up he is with “the Arabs” (as if Khaddafy were himself not an Arab, but a Berber, or a Black African) and to declare that from now on his attention will be on uniting all of Africa under the obvious choice for leader – Muammar Khaddafy.
In the same year as the Six-Day War, and the subsequent breaking – as a result of Arab bribery or the hope of future Arab rewards—of relations with Israel by the rulers of black African states, another war broke out, and continued for two years. In that war, more than a million black African Christians were murdered by Muslims, and among those Muslims were Egyptian pilots who, in their MIGs, strafed at will the helpless Ibo villagers who were in the self-declared state of Biafra. As some may have forgotten, it was repeated massacres of the Christian, mainly Ibo, people, by Muslims in the north, that finally led to the attempt, by the Christians of southern Nigeria, to declare themselves members of an independent country, Biafra. This was a conflict never understood, outside Nigeria, as a war of Muslims against Christians, but inside Nigeria, among those who called themselves Biafrans, it was well understand. For one example one should look at the Ahiara Declaration of Colonel Ojukwu, which he made in the last year of the war, and in which he mentioned the “Jihad” that had been waged against the southern non-Muslims, of many different tribes (not only the Ibo) who had tried to create – and if conditions warranted it, might well try again – the state of Biafra.
An excerpt from Colonel Ojukwu’s Ahiara Declaration of 1969 may make clear what lay behind the attempt to create an independent Biafra:
"Our struggle has far-reaching significance. It is the latest recrudescence in our time of the age-old struggle of the black man for his full stature as man. We are the latest victims of a wicked collusion between the three traditional scourges of the black men - racism, Arab-muslim expansionism and white economic imperialism.
The Biafran struggle is, on another plane, a resistance to the Arab-Muslim expansionism which has menaced and ravaged the African continent for twelve centuries....
"Our Biafran ancestors remained immune from the Islamic contagion. From the middle years of the last century Christianity was established in our land. In this way we came to be a predominantly Christian people. We came to stand out as a non-Muslim island in a raging Islamic sea. Throughout the period of the ill-fated Nigerian experiment, the Muslims hoped to infiltrate Biafra by peaceful means and quiet propaganda, but failed. Then the late Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto tried, by political and economic blackmail and terrorism, to convert Biafrans settled in Northern Nigeria to Islam. His hope was that these Biafrans of dispersion would then carry Islam to Biafra, and by so doing give the religion political control of the area. The crises which agitated the so-called independent Nigeria from 1962 gave these aggressive proselytizers the chance to try converting us by force.
"It is now evident why the fanatic Arab-Muslim states like Algeria, Egypt and the Sudan have come out openly and massively to support and aid Nigeria in her present war of genocide against us. These states see militant Arabism as a powerful instrument for attaining power in the world. Biafra is one of the few African states untainted by Islam.
Therefore, to militant Arabism, Biafra is a stumbling block to their plan for controlling the whole continent. This control is fast becoming manifest in the Organization of African Unity.
"On the question of the Middle East, the Sudanese crisis, in the war between Nigeria and Biafra, militant Arabism has succeeded in imposing its point of view through blackmail and bluster. It has threatened African leaders and governments with inciting their muslim minorities to rebellion if the govern-ments adopted an independent line on these questions. In this way an O.A.U. that has not felt itself able to discuss the genocide in the Sudan and Biafra, an O A.U. that has again and again advertised its ineptitude as a peace maker, has rushed into open condemnation of Israel over the Middle East dispute Indeed, in recent times, by its performance, the O.A.U. might well be an organization an organization of Arab unity.
"From this derives our deep conviction that the Biafran revolution is not just a movement of Igbos, Ibibios, Ijaws, and Ogojas. It is a movement of true and patriotic Africans. It is African nationalism conscious of itself and fully aware of the powers with which it is contending.
For the full text of the Ahiara Declaration, which ought to be studied in courses on Africa, on colonialism, on Islam, and on the definition of statehoood, see here.
Of course, no one paid attention then, and almost no one has paid attention until today, to what the Biafra War was really about. It was the first successful violent Jihad in modern times (the wars against Israel have, so far, not succeeded). The Western nations, especially Great Britain, did nothing to help the Biafrans. Everyone was too concerned with doing nothing to imperil good relations with the “government” of Nigeria, because Nigeria had oil. The fact that all the oil was in the southern regions, where Christian and animist tribes lived, and that the oil could have been supplied by an independent Biafra, was not considered. And the belief that nothing should be done to “break up” Nigeria because…well, because it was the most populous black state, and therefore black amour-propre would somehow be offended, was another, equally idiotic, consideration. In the end, only two states – Ghana and Israel – recognized and maintained relations with the state of Biafra. The failure of the West to come to the aid of Christians being massacred by Muslims , the failure of the world’s press even to cover the story adequately, with two honorable exceptions – the dispatches of Frederick Forsyth, for the British press, and those of Renata Adler, in The New Yorker. Biafra was crushed, and the Christians of West Africa learned in a contest with Muslims, they could not count on the West.
Now, all over black Africa, and through money and money alone, Arabs have been attempting to spread Islam. Sometimes it is the Saudis, with those mosques and madrasas. Sometimes it is Muammar Khaddafy. A few weeks ago, as I said, I ran into an American couple, the wife a native of Togo, who had just returned from a year in Lomé. And their horror at the number of mosques – from 4 a decade ago to 400, they estimated, today, and the sullen Muslims who have suddenly appeared everywhere, with a way of life distinctly different from that of the Christians, is not something that one would necessarily know about if merely looking at an Annual Yearbook and reading that Togo has a population that is “13% Muslim” or some such figure. The American husband and his Togolese wife were equally scathing about the representatives of the U.N. and the F.A.O. and other putative aid organizations whose representatives drove about, they said, in their Mercedes – the white version of East Africa’s “waBenzi” –and saw nothing, understood nothing, stayed well above, in the sphere of the abstract, the reality of Togo, never daring or able to delve beneath the surface of life.
I asked them how it was that so many mosques had been built and how it was that all of these mosques had expensive P.A. systems that enabled the muezzins, five times a day, to force everyone, Muslim and Christian and animist, to hear the Muslim Call To Prayer. Oh, they said. It’s the dictator, Faure Gnassingbé. Khaddafy gave him the money for an $800,000 Lamborghini (in a country where the average wage does not break a thousand dollars a year). There’s not much paved road in the whole country, but the dictator (the son of the previous dictator, Gnassingbé Eyadéma) likes to rev up his Lamborghini and go ten or twenty or even thirty miles in one direction, and then turn around and race back. And though this President-for-life is not known to have converted to Islam, what he has done is allow Khaddafy to give as much money as he wants in order to spread Islam in Togo, and to keep it spreading.
If one thought the American State Department were vigilantly monitoring the spread of Islam in Togo as elsewhere in East – as in West – Africa, and if one thought that people in the American government understood that the spread of Islam in black Africa is not in America’s or Europe’s or Africa’s interest, and that the West had to find a way to check this advance, not merely by relying on private efforts by Christian missionary groups, but by actively raising, at every meeting with every African leader, the matter of the spread of Islam, and of what great concern it is, and giving them the sign that they will be supported by the West if they deal with this problem in their own way, then one might be less worried.
And just imagine how relieved we would feel if we learned that the Voice of America had a special broadcasting effort, aimed solely at Black Africa, in several dozen different African languages as well as in English and French and Portuguese, where black African natives, non-Muslims (Christian or animist), who had themselves endured or suffered from Muslim and Arab treatment (such as Francis Bok, and other Sudanese refugees), or where black Africans who have studied the history of the Arabs in black Africa, including the Arab slave trade – the scholar Tidiane N'Diaye the author of “Le génocide voilé. La traite négrière arabo-musulmane,” comes to mind – could offer historic and contemporaneous accounts of what the Arabs, and Islam as a vehicle of Arab imperialism, have wrought in Black Africa. And others could be brought In – economics, political scientists, sociologists – to discuss all the ways in which the political and economic (especially the economic), and social, intellectual, and moral failures of Muslim peoples and polities can be rightly attributed to Islam itself, to its texts and tenets, and the attitudes and atmospherics that the teachings of Islam naturally create. The latter requires a little work, but in the end is not very difficult to explain. And this point – relating Islam to political despotism and economic paralysis (oil revenues are not the same thing as an economy, and what is amazing is how little economic progress has been accomplished by the Arabs and Iranians, despite the more than twelve trillion dollars they have received in oil revenues since 1973 alone) needs to be repeated and repeated, and broadcast all over sub-Saharan Africa, by powerful American transmitters, possibly located in friendly states – Ghana comes to mind – where the worry about Islam is palpable among the aware.
And given the changes that Arab money can effect, whether that money is used to bribe a Big Man -- an Idi Amin permanently or a Jean-Bedel Bokassa temporarily -- into embracing Islam, or whether it buys the sworn loyalty of tribal chiefs to Muammar Khaddafy (and to the causes for which he stands), or whether it merely, in supplying a Lamborghini to a local despot, ensures that public address systems will change the lives, for the worse, of the now-imperilled Christians of Togo - that is palpable.
And the Western world does nothing. Or rather, it sends some military aid and advisers to countries near the Horn of Africa, and the rest is left up to the hapless locals.
What the Christians of Africa need is a dramatic sign of Western support in halting the progress of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa. An obvious example presents itself: the Sudan. There, a few thousand troops, and a very few planes, could take care of the threat from the Arab north, and hold, and secure, both the Southern Sudan, and Darfur, as part of a well-publicized “humanitarian mission” that would be undertaken after, so President Obama could declare, every possible effort was made to allow the government of Sudan to change its ways. The very next outrage – it need not be a large one – by the Sudanese Arabs should trigger such an intervention.
But would it not, some would say, be a fiasco and a waste, just like Iraq? The answer is: No. In the Sudan, most of those being saved would be non-Muslims. And even the nominal, black African Muslims of Darfur, having suffered so much from Muslim Arabs, might be amenable to hearing about how Islam is and always will be a vehicle of Arab supremacism, and some might even welcome Christian missionaries (possibly black Africans themselves, eager to Christianize as many fellow Africans as possible – they could be brought in, and protected, by American and other Western troops).
Furthermore, there would be no goal other than that of determining the views of the people of the southern Sudan and Darfur as to whether or not they wished to continue to be part of the Sudan, the largest state, by land area, in Africa, artificially constructed by the British government as a way to extend, through Egypt, its own control in northeastern Africa. This child of colonialism has been disastrous for the black Africans. They have been persecuted and attacked by the Arabs for a half-century, and during the last twenty years nearly 2 million were killed by the Arabs – yet this slow genocide was hardly recognized by the U.N. or any other outside power, and even today, it is the war on the black African Muslims that, for reasons that deserve to be pondered, has received almost all the attention at the U.N.
No doubt it is easier for the Western, non-Muslim world, to come to the rescue of people who, as in Darfur, are called Muslims, and to pretend, as such people as Samantha Power do, that such conflicts have “nothing to do with Islam because all parties are Muslim.” But it isn’t true. The war in the southern Sudan, against Christians (almost all Catholics) and animists (about 1/6 of the population), is a classic war against Infidels. But the war made on the Muslim blacks in Darfur by other, but Arab, Muslims (or those who think of themselves as Arabs, and thus in a special and higher category of Muslim) is also attributable to another aspect of Islam – Islam as a vehicle for Arab supremacism.
Imagine the electrifying effect on the imperiled Christians of black Africa if the most powerful Western army, that of the United States, simply flicked aside like a harmless insect the Sudanese airforce, destroyed it overnight, and then came to the rescue of the black Africans of the south and of Darfur. What a spectacle that would be. And how silent the corridors of the U.N. would be, where the representatives of the Arabs and organized Islam would have a hard time receiving a sympathetic hearing, and even the attempt might finally cause a rift with the black African countries that, ever since the bribery by the Arabs that followed the Six-Day War, might now split, finally, with the forces of Islam, and the local Big Men who have been the bought-and-paid-for agents of Islam, whether or not they actually have themselves converted.
Just how would the sputtering members of the Arab League publicly demand that the Western powers withdraw their handful of troops – so clearly welcomed by the populace that would benefit from its protection from Arab depredations and mass murder? Could they invoke the divine right of Arabs to continue to commit mass murder, or to be in a position to do so if the spirit again so moved them? It wouldn’t look good. The Arabs would be in an impossible position, and they would know it, and so would black Africa. Khaddafy would rant and rave, and so what? Why wait until the complete cleansing of Darfur is accomplished, and the Arabs have moved in? Why wait until, as we all know will happen, the Arabs of Khartoum renege, when the southerners vote for independence, and instead of allowing such a result, renew their war against the black Africans of the southern Sudan?
Is there, anywhere in the Pentagon, or the State Department, an office where people are working to figure out how to halt the advance of Islam here and there and everywhere? If there is, they might start with the Sudan. And before proceeding, they might refresh their memories as to what the forces of Islam have done, to black Africa, in the last half-century, as the Islam of the Arabs, not the syncretistic easygoing slightly-unorthodox Islam of black Africa, has been on the march, with the enslavement and killing millions of non-Muslims – from West Africa (as in Nigeria, during the Biafra war) to East Africa, (as in the Sudan, over the past quarter-century) with the more powerful Western world doing little or nothing to rescue the black Africans to whom, at least, it owes protection from the depredations of the most dangerous, and most successful, imperialism in human history – that of the Muslim Arabs, who not only impose Islam, but in so doing, suppress all interest in, even knowledge of, the indigenous pre-Islamic or non-Islamic civilizations. (View some of the art of Burkina Faso here.)
Islam is visibly expanding its presence all over the place (just look at Lomé), in the enslavement of blacks in West African states such as Mali and Mauritania (a “cultural practice” that Islam will forever legitimize) and in East African states (such as the Sudan (where slavery is only part of a long, drawn-out war conducted by the Arabs against black Africans) of those who are, in the latest decision, out of ownership of an important oilfield that will now go, undisputed, to the North, while the southerners are supposed to content themselves with the notion that someday – so they have been promised, and so they and their Western backers seem to think will happen – a referendum on independence will be held, and if the black African Christians and animists vote for it, then the Arabs of the North will allow them to depart in peace, and with them the remaining oilfields of the south. By now it ought to be clear that the Arabs of the north will never permit this to happen, and it is better to draw a line, against expansion of Islam, now.
Why now? Because the farce and fiasco of the Iraq venture will soon become clear, and might lead some to think that no use of military force is useful. That is the wrong lesson to be drawn. An intelligent application of limited force, with the aim not of creating, as in Iraq or Afghanistan or possibly Pakistan, a “viable Muslim state,” one where the natural tendency of Islam to favor despotism, disfavor democracy, encourage inshallah-fatalism and hatred of innovation that result in economic stasis that OPEC oil revenues have temporarily hidden from view, will somehow – it’s never explained how – be overcome.
Now is the perfect time –under a Presidnent who never lets us forget his African roots – to do something dramatic to halt the advance of Islam in black Africa. If you think that Islam is not a threat, but merely “one of the world’s great religions” that has been “misinterpreted by extremists” – if that is, you wish to ignore the texts and tenets of Islam, and the 1350-year history of Islamic conquest and subjugation of non-Muslims, then you will not worry overmuch about the spread of Islam in black Africa, nor worry about the arabization that inevitably accompanies islamization. You will find the suggestions I have made absurd, or even malevolent.
If, on the other hand, you are well-prepared, and know the texts, the tenets, the attitudes, the atmospherics of Islam, and are familiar with that 1350-year history of conquest and subjugation in which so many local histories, cultures, artworks were made to disappear, physically and from the minds of those conquered, then you may have quite a different attitude.
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