Al Jazeera Blogs


Conflict solutions in Mauritania

There’s a really new trend that has started to emerge since last year, one of peaceful dialogue with al-Qaeda.

Last modified: 23 Jan 2010 14:07
Photo from EPA

Mauritania is a tiny nation on the margins of the modern world. It’s been through several coups. Most of them not bloody. But there’s a really new trend that started to emerge since last year, one of peaceful dialogue.

The former ruling junta finally sat around the negotiation table with the opposition. The deposed civilian president gave up his democratically earned chair. And so did the head of the military junta who accepted the taking over by a new government to oversee the elections. Half of that government’s members including the interior ministry were chosen from among the opposition. Elections were organised and the opposition accepted the results whereby the former military ruler won the ballot.

So a dangerous standoff that could have mired the country in bloodshed was averted via peaceful dialogue.

Now the same approach is being taken to deal with al-Qaeda in Mauritania.
In an impressive and unprecedented show of goodwill, local and foreign television cameras were let into the central prison in Nouakchott to film the proceedings of a series of negotiations between the country’s top clerics and about six Salafi prisoners. 

Those prisoners include the alleged al-Qaeda commander in Mauritania, Al Khadeem Ould Al Samman, and a few individuals accused of killing Western nationals in the country.

In one of the sessions Ould Al Samman displayed a T-shirt with the inscription: ‘Al-Qaeda’. And he very clearly announced his group’s absolute right to fight against ‘Western occupiers in the lands of Islam’. 

The Clerics are trying to convince Ould Al Samman and his young colleagues that violence is not a solution and that killing Western nationals will not help liberate the land of Islam.

Whatever can be said against this approach, no one can deny that it achieves two important objectives from the very outset. One, it helps understand the real motives behind the behaviour of those al-Qaeda groups. Otherwise how can you deal with ‘an enemy’ whom you don’t even understand? Two, it addresses their sense of dignity instead of the dehumanising approach of torture and killing without trial.

Those two goals would no doubt pave the way to a better dialogue and would make it more likely those people would listen and understand the different point of view, in this case the of the clerics.

The same approach has worked in Iraq, when the Americans had to choose between defeat in Iraq and talking to the Sunnis. The result was that they were able to sever the ties between the Iraqi Sunni tribes and al-Qaeda.
The same approach worked – at least partly – in Algeria. It has led to thousands of armed men leaving the mountains and rejoining the civil society.

I know that the Americans have been trying to talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan. But they are trying to talk only to ‘those Taliban’ whom they consider moderate already! In fact it’s those who are ‘extremist’ who need to be talked to. Something grave had certainly caused them to be extremist. That thing should be listened to, heard and heeded.

The same thing applies to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and everywhere around the world. Without being apologetic on behalf of al-Qaeda or trying to defend their actions, I think force has failed to weed out this organisation. In fact, after nine years of violent measures against it, al-Qaeda is now looking much stronger and more widespread around the world.

Violence breeds violence and more violence. So, somehow someone needs to start changing the course of events by breaking the chain of violence. This ‘someone’ is more likely to be those who possess more knowledge, more wisdom and more ability to take independent decisions.

In a war that has the most ridiculous imbalance of force between the belligerents, it’s more logical that those who have the upper hand militarily and logistically should be the ones to take the decision to stop or change the course of events.

In more practical terms: occupation of small and weak nations should end, supporting despotic regimes should stop, and international law should take its course with regard to pending problems between peoples and nations. Peoples’ dignity and their religious and cultural beliefs should be respected. 
Once this approach is taken the problem of terrorism will automatically disappear…and it will become very clear that we have not been going through a war between good and evil or between Islam and the West, but rather a war of absurd confusion and pure lack of understanding between nations and cultures.