Friday, 9 January 2015

Je suis Charlie

As shock-waves spread after the murderous attack on staff at the Paris weekly Charlie Hebdo on 7 January, African security officials are weighing the implications for their own countries. Given the global coverage earned by the attacks in Paris and on the Westgate Mall in Kenya in September 2013, some Islamists see such armed assault as a means to bludgeon opponents, divide communities and step up recruitment. Even in remote areas of north-east Nigeria, the repeated attacks by Boko Haram on schools – with a far higher death toll than the 141 children killed in December’s jihadist attack on the military school in Peshawar, Pakistan – has won the group the notoriety it sought.

Some, like the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, are bold enough to speak out against the Islamists, while others have been cowed. Some of Africa’s foremost intellectuals have fallen in these battles. Libyan human rights lawyer Salwa Bughaigis, who campaigned against Colonel Moammar el Gadaffi’s brutal secularist regime and then against Islamist repression, was murdered in Benghazi in June. At the start of this cycle of confrontation, the left-wing Algerian intellectual Salah Chouaki was shot dead in September 1994 after a succession of threats from the Groupe islamique armé. That was in the early stages of the war between Algeria’s security state and its Islamist opponents. An unrelenting opponent of Islamism but a doughty defender of religious freedom for all, Chouaki wrote: ‘The best way to defend Islam is to put it out of the reach of all political manipulation’.

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