: Feb 19, 2014

Habib Ali al-Jifri…

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Habib Ali al-Jifri

BRIEF ABOUT THE COUNTRY:

CAR falls between the two Sudans, Chad, Cameroon and the two Congos.

CAR has a rich mineral resource endowment, including oil, diamond mines and uranium.

It is a poverty ridden country with high rates of disease and illiteracy.

The population exceeds 4.5 million. According to some statistics around 50% are Christian, 25% maintain indigenous beliefs and the remainder 25% are Muslim. In any case, Muslims are considered the minority.

Since its independence from French colonial rule the country has been troubled by disruption. However, French companies hold the monopoly on mining concessions and oil exploration.

BACKGROUND TO RECENT BLOODY EVENTS:

An armed alliance of militias called ‘Seleka’ was formed mainly of younger non-religious Muslims extreme in their views towards the majority Christian population.

In retaliation an armed militia called “Anti-Balaka” was formed, consisting of younger Christians who held hostile and extreme views towards the Muslim minority and, despite being non-religious, entered into confrontation with Seleka.

Seleka came to power by force by seizing the capital and effectively deposing the Christian President, Francois Bozize, who himself assumed power by overthrowing the President before him.

Just as Bozize began to sense the threat being posed to his seat of power by the Muslim Seleka rebels, he began inciting the Christian Anti-Balaka militias against Muslims and calling for their killing, falsely claiming that the Seleka were immigrant Arabs who wanted to destroy churches and rule the country.

Seleka were successful in ousting Bozize only after the French withdrew their support for him after the financial corruption of his regime was exposed and no longer possible to hide nor defend. That and the fact that Bozize gave Chinese companies concessions for oil exploration and opened it up for competition, thus inflaming the anger of the French.

Mohammad Michel Djotodia, the Muslim leader of the Seleka, assumed power and dissolved the group. However he was unable to reign them in. Many ordinary young Muslims became zealous to join Seleka and began hostilities against Christians and churches. They would arrogantly boast about their rule over the country and how they will turn it into a Muslim country, despite themselves having little devotion to the dictates of sacred law. They operated more like gangs.

Local Muslim scholars strongly rejected Seleka’s hostilities towards Christians. Imam Omar Kobine Layama , president of the Central African Muslim community, stood firmly against their criminal activities, killing of Christians and their attacks against churches.

Seleka’s leadership threatened Imam Omar and he was exposed to harm but he continued with his insistence to protect Christians and their churches. He joined together with the Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonne Nzapalainga, to call people to peace. They went on a tour of European countries to address politicians on the necessity of bringing stability to the country and preventing the armament of the Muslim and Christian militias.

Sections of the community responded to Imam Omar’s call and 30 of them stood to protect the Catholic church in their neighbourhood, Kilometer 5, in the north of Bangui. They would face up to the armed Seleka militiamen and attempt to convince them that the Islam they claim to follow does not authorise them to attack churches. In the frenzy of feeling victorious and powerful the response was feeble.

Likewise, hordes of Christians joined Anti-Balaka and the confrontation between the two militias intensified. Fighting between armed people quickly extended to the killing of unarmed citizens, including women and children, and put the situation in the country out of control.

French troops intervened and tried to disarm the militias. It has been reported that there were some inconsistencies in their approach that tipped the balance in favour of Anti-Balaka, thereby leading to an increase in the killing of Muslims.

The Muslim President, Djotodia, resigned and a Christian interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, was sworn in. She announced her determination to stop the killings and asked the world to stand by her in her fight against the crimes being committed against Muslim Central Africans.

In the midst of the genocide being perpetrated by Anti-Balaka militiamen we have seen Christian church leaders come to the aide of Muslims by providing them with refuge and shelter and take the blame of extremist Christians and their threats as a result.

Xavier Fagba, a priest at the St. Peter’s Parish Church in Boali who offered refuge to more than 650 Muslims in his church, said: “Now is the time for men of good will to stand up and prove the strength and quality of their faith.” He further said, “When I did this, nobody in the community understood me. They attacked me and threatened me.”

The humanitarian tragedy continues and massacres against defenceless Muslims persist even as this piece is being written. Thousands have been displaced and tens of mosques have been destroyed.

IN CLOSING

These crimes are not religious in nature. They are political and occur against a backdrop of economics. The perpetrators have dressed them with religion to ignite sectarian violence and inflame the zeal of people on both sides.

As has been mentioned before, the interests of oil and mining companies competing for exploration concessions in Central African Republic is one of the main reasons for the massacres we witness. These companies are secularly oriented and control the conflict through exploiting the fervid solidarity the young and ingenuous feel for their religions.

Silence over these crimes and the absence of a serious intervention to save the lives of defenceless Muslims are no less a crime than that which is being perpetrated.

There must be an immediate end to these violations and aid must be hastened to the displaced until they can return to their homes.

If serious efforts are not put in place to end the massacres being committed against innocent Muslims we will witness young, angry Muslims respond to the calls of extremist organisations and movements to come to Central African Republic and defend them. The sphere of war will expand. Other armed outfits who claim religion, like the Lord’s Resistance Army, will incite angry Christians from around Africa to come and join their struggle. A fire will be lit that will be difficult to extinguish.

Worse still is the inflammatory language towards Muslims that we hear and see coming from far right and neo-Nazi groups in the West and the incitement against Christians coming from ‘Islamist’ movements and the Khawarij of our time in the Arab world. And similarly, how heinous crimes such as events in CAR and images of dead bodies, killings and fighting are exploitatively used to add fuel to the fire of civil strife and to mobilise angry mobs of people that only serves to expand the theatre of war in the region.

The time has come for sincere and right thinking individuals from the Muslim and Christian communities to take a courageous stand against this futility. Against religion being used as a game to justify crimes, whoever may be the perpetrator, whether it is by Muslims who give them a cover of religion by calling it jihad or by Christians calling them crusades. We must not surrender to extremists and their pressures and threats however they may manifest be it smear campaigns or even death threats.

God is our aide and upon Him we rely. May His deliverance be close.

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