Historical injustices and terrorism: Is there a nexus?
Hardly a day goes by without reports of a terrorist attack somewhere in the world. Technological sophistication is making it easier for perpetrators, especially proponents of violent extremism to propagate their convoluted and warped views of the world, views that are largely an antithesis to dialectics.
The cyberspace is now widely used by terrorist groups as a platform for recruiting, planning and executing attacks, presenting a myriad of challenges to security agencies tasked with the responsibility of combating terrorism. The threat terrorism poses to global security has never been greater.
Governments and security experts around the world continue to grapple with the threat of terrorism as well as the most appropriate strategies to combat the menace ostensibly because in its very nature, terrorism is an ever evolving phenomenon, so much so that security agencies have to adapt at neck breaking speed just to stay a step ahead of the threat in its many forms.
Devising strategies to effectively detect, disrupt and contain terrorism requires sound understanding of its root causes which are many and varied.
For millennia, perceived or real historical injustices have given birth to, fueled and sustained ruthless campaigns by some of the most violent terrorist groups in history. There is a plethora of examples that lend credence to the proposition that there exists a nexus between historical injustices and the rise of terrorism.
In some of the cases, grievances based on real or perceived historical injustices have morphed from relatively gentle clamours for justice to serious security threats.
Some of the earliest recorded acts of terrorism were by the Sicarii or ‘dagger-men’, an offshoot of the Zealot liberation movement in the 1st Century A.D, whose mission was the liberation of the Jewish people from Roman occupation.
The Sicarii in their violent resistance used particularly brutal tactics including kidnappings and assassinations of the Roman occupying forces as well as fellow Jews they deemed collaborators.
In more recent memory, perceived or real historical injustices gave rise to terrorist groups like the Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna also known as ETA, formed in the late 1950’s to agitate for an independent Basque homeland in response to the government’s ruthless suppression of the Basque language and culture.
Other terrorist groups that emerged under similar circumstances include the now defunct Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka who waged nearly 6 decades of civil war for an independent Tamil nation, the PKK in Turkey fighting for self-determination of the Kurdish people, Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) groups fighting for an independent Islamic state in the Philippines and Hezbollah, formed in response to the 1982 Israel invasion of Lebanon.
Closer home, the North Eastern region of the country is for all intent and purpose far removed from the rest of the country. Historical injustices in this part of the country are well documented, the most infamous being the Wagalla massacre at the height of the shifta war.
Trust in the government and security agencies is in short supply. Decades of systematic marginalisation of the region have only served to compound the problem.
Towns like Mandera and Garissa have suffered repeated incursions by Al Shabaab in which hundreds of people have lost their lives. The government has no significant presence on the ground to deter the attacks.
In the Coastal region of the country, deep seated resentment to perceived unjust land dispossession from locals and allocation of the same to outsiders in the 1970’s has been a source of great tension. The issue has been left to linger on unresolved for years and the country is now paying a heavy price.
A secessionist group, the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) emerged in early 1990’s as a platform to address perceived discrimination against the people from the Coastal region with grievances ranging from land dispossession to unfair distribution of resources and jobs that disadvantaged locals.
A key and radical demand by the group under the ‘Pwani si Kenya’ mantra was secession of the Coastal region.
These examples from the Coastal and North Eastern regions of the country are a clear illustration of how long running historical injustices if not resolved can morph into serious security headaches for any country.
Terrorist groups have become adept at exploiting these lingering historical injustices and other local rifts, religious or otherwise to advance their radical agenda.
A 15 minute video released by Al Shabaab in early March this year documenting the murderous rampage of June 2014 in Mpeketoni in which more than 50 people predominantly non-Muslim were killed is a good example of how the terrorist group managed to cleverly weave its agenda into long standing local grievances.
The predominant theme throughout the video is expulsion of non-locals and returning land that was forcefully taken from the locals back to its rightful owners.
Addressing long standing historical injustices in the Coastal and North Eastern regions of the country will initiate a compelling counter narrative that could potentially blunt Al Shabaab’s propaganda built on the idea that locals have and will always be marginalised and dispossessed by non-locals.
Although it will be naïve to think that redressing historical injustices will in itself eradicate terrorism, this should and must be considered as a cog in the broader strategy of combating violence extremism.
Gitaa Nyasani is a political and security analyst email@example.com, @gitaanyasani
Article first published in the Standardmedia Ureport January 27, 2016