There is nothing new about Islamism in Africa

22 January 2013

1:12 PM

22 January 2013

1:12 PM

The Algerian hostage crisis is over and the Prime Minister has warned that the focus of the al-Qaeda’s franchise has shifted westwards. In his statement on the situation, he was channelling Tony Blair, which at least makes a change from channelling the Foreign Office. But the initial reaction from Downing Street was deeply unimpressive. The BBC’s Nick Robinson quoted a nameless, sneering voice, apparently exasperated at the Algerian response to the crisis. It would be interesting to know whether this patronising individual had ever spent any time working outside SW1 or had any idea that the Algerian people have lived on the frontline of the struggle with violent Islamists for more than 20 years. Still more disheartening was to hear William Hague speaking on the BBC Today programme in classic colonial ‘spheres of influence’ terms about North Africa being a largely French concern.

Nick Robinson wrote a good blog on Mali and Algeria a few days ago, which concluded: ‘I suspect we are all going to have to learn a great deal more about these places, what’s happening in them and what our government might have in mind for them.’ Some might argue that this learning process should have started a little while ago.


The historical amnesia of the political class is a wonder to behold. There is nothing new about al-Qaeda activity in Africa. Indeed, the organisation first came to international prominence after the bombing of the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. The idea that terrorist activity in the Maghreb  is a new phenomenon is also deeply insulting to those who lived through the decade-long civil war in Algeria (and the tens of thousands who died). And have we so quickly forgotten the Casablanca bombings of 2003 against largely Jewish targets that left 45 people dead?

When I was living in Paris in the early 1990s, Algerian dissidents, caught between a murderous regime and an Islamist insurgency, told me of their concerns about the wave of ‘Afghan Arabs’ who had returned to their country after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 intoxicated by violent jihad. These dissidents told me that their problem would soon become the world’s problem and they were absolutely right.

The British government didn’t listen when the French warned them of the dangers posed by Algerian Islamists seeking refuge in the UK in the 1990s. When the authorities finally caught up with what was happening a decade later, the danger had moved elsewhere. I still remember the senior officer who spoke to me with utter conviction on July 7th 2005, immediately after the suicide bombers hit London. ‘It’ll be the Algerians, no question,’ he said.

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Show comments
  • rndtechnologies786

    Good view.

  • Eddie

    There’s nothing new about hoardes of do-gooding white Westerners rushing into Africa to join the swollen ranks of self-interested ‘saviours’ who use it as an exotic backdrop for their own ends either. A relative of mine is one of these pious hypocrites, actually. Bless him…

    I have noticed that these Westerners – whether religious or not – seem to prefer dealing with those Africans with really dark black skins – (maybe it make them think of Morgan Freeman or Will Smith?) – but if the kids look a bit Arab, I don’t suppose they’d mind dishing out plenty of ignorant sanctimony to them too.

    They definitely aren’t interested in helping the poorest whites in South Africa though; which is odd really, because they also seem uninterested in helping in any way the poor little black babies in inner city London, who often grow up in poverty only to become semi-literate muggers and other criminals. Maybe because it’s coz it’s their nice houses and pretty white-skinned privately-schooled children who’ll will be robbed eh?

    Oh well. I suppose they just like to go somewhere sunny where everyone smiles all the time…

  • NiceTeaParty

    What is he doing over there ?

    Apart from sowing the seeds of yet more conflict

    Confusing the ancient conflict between the nomads and the urbanists

    Hyping up the language of danger and risk

    Treating what has been happening for centuries as an existential threat

    And completely ignoring the nest of vipers on our own turf

    While patronising the natives like some 19th Century Colonial Secretary who has forgotten his history

  • chan chan

    Stop calling it ‘Islamism’. It doesn’t exist, except in the collective imaginations of duped westerners. There is just ‘Islam’. End of story. Good luck with finding a so-called ‘moderate muslim’ (aka a unicorn) who will admit this. They may not subscribe to the hate and violence themselves, but they will lie through their teeth that it exists at all in Islamic doctrine, and is at the very heart of the political ideology and legal system that is Islam.

  • richardarmbach

    Amazing, Martin gizzajob Bright, the Political Editor of The Jewish Chronicle, the journalistic equivalent of the Arts editor of The Beano, takes his Islamophobia to the Spectator

    • Dogsnob

      In what way does this article display phobia? Or did you really mean that it makes observations which you know to be truthful and accurate, and which you don’t wish to hear?

  • Daniel Maris

    Indeed, Islam has been persecuting African animists and also Christians for 1400 years.

    Black male slaves captured in sub-Saharan Africa were subjected to horrible full castration. That’s why there is no equivalent of the African-American ex-slave population in the Arab world, but enslaving has gone on until the present day.

    • Declan Kennedy

      I’m shocked! To be in 100% agreement with Daniel Maris! Well said that man.

    • cyllan2

      you wont hear a peep about this from A Massie

  • SirMortimerPosh

    Our troops fought armed religious fanatics in Sudan in the 1880s. Remember General Gordon in Khartoum and the Mahdi? Much of that uprising and slaughter was about Islamic revivalism and enforcing religious purity. There were other factors too, but that was the rallying cause.

  • MaxSceptic

    “There is nothing new about Islamism in Africa.

    It started in the 7th Century.

  • Curnonsky

    When, during the American presidential election debates, Mitt Romney stated that jihadis in Mali were a cause for concern he was roundly mocked for making much of an obscure issue. Now that Britain and the US have embarked upon the dismantlement of their military forces in order to free up funds for more diversity coordinators and climate change compliance officers, there is every incentive to continue to minimize the scope of the problem.

    You know things are bad when you have to rely on the French to save your bacon.

    • SirMortimerPosh

      I think you may find the Frech are quite effective these days in dealing with Islamic terrorists. They were certainly warning us here about the problems we were brewing up in London during the 1990s whilst most of our leaders were cheering multi-culturalism in the face of Captain Hook and a variety of rabble rousing Mahdi types chanting in the streets. We still have cloaked villains warning English men and women about entering ‘Muslim Areas’ like Tower Hamlets. At least the French clamp down on that kind of thing and have made it a crime to appear in public in an all enveloping desert robe which hides your face.

      • The Elderking

        The French coined the name Londonistan years ago as the British authorities positively encouraged the immigration of Islamists to run their affairs in safety on our soil.

        French security agencies were aghast at our blithe acceptance of these creatures and we airily dismissed French warnings.

        A constant issue for me now is – how do the French, ruled by the same Human Rights laws as the UK, manage to quickly and easily expel radical muslims, and even strip them of French nationality, whilst we spend years and £millions tossing off over the likes of Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza?

        • FrenchNewsonlin

          They put them on the plane first and let them try to ask questions about it at the other end of a poor and very long distance telephone line.

  • Adrian

    There’s nothing wrong with it in Africa either, just so long as it isn’t imported over here, which I’m afraid it is.