Putting Islamic Sects & Extremism in Context

As a non-religious person it pains me that instruction in religion is still required to understand many present day world events. When I say non-religious – I mean that I do not subscribe to what is known as institutional or organized religion.

Many beliefs so fanatically pursued today by devoted adherents bear little to no resemblance to the goodness or opinions that inspired them in the first instance and say more about human weakness, geopolitics, ambition, greed and intolerance than spirituality.

Evolution & Interpretation of Islam  

Over the last thousand years Islam has spread through various groups spread and hundreds of ethnicities and in the process has evolved very differently in different locations.

The Indian sub-continent has a greater Muslim population than all the nations of the Arabian peninsula put together. With Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran and Bangladesh in the mix then the the Arabs become a very small minority among Muslims worldwide.

Many Muslims (especially ones outside the Arabian peninsula) have adopted some elements of the surrounding culture and their traditions from pre-Islamic practice and look very different to the beliefs at the root of most of the trouble at the moment.

Islam is not Monolithic

Islam does not have a monolithic structure and is rather made up of many different sects. These sects vary widely in their interpretations of Hadith (Islamic customs), have varying internal structures, follow different worship patterns and have different attitudes to externals and other religions and belief systems.

For example the the Sufi school of thought is more tolerant of other religions a trait shared by the Ibadiyyas while the Saudi Hanbali sect is conservative and Wahhabi/Salafist movement is downright fascist in its views. Persian Muslims identify more as Persians than Muslims. The Shafi’i muslims of Southeast Asia and the Kurds of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq are moderate in their interpretation of Sharia. Sufism is prevalent in Southeast Asia but this also giving way to a more extreme Deobandi movement that has inspired the rise of Taliban. There are also a few very moderate schools like Ahmadiyya and Mahdavia a lot of it influenced by Indian cultural elements.

Almost every major religion has a conservative segment that interprets the religious edicts more seriously than the mainstream. Sometimes these extreme sects also get quite violent. Even the highly pacifist Buddhist religion went on a rampage against the minorities in Sri Lanka and Burma/Myanmar.

Tolerance and peaceful co-existence is the worldview of the majority of Muslims and the radical sects represent a very small but highly visible percentage of the total. It is the saturation coverage in the mainstream media of radical Islamism, much of it without context, that represents one of the greatest dangers we face in terms of marginalizing Islamic moderates in Western society.

Much of what is going on in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and North Africa at present has its roots in the actions of external groups and interfering foreign interest groups.

Monarchies & Dictatorships

Many successful Muslim countries – Indonesia, Turkey and Malaysia are democracies. The majority of Muslims in these countries are moderate given the level of social stability although this has changed significantly in Turkey over recent years. Historically though the Arab world has in the main been defined by monarchies or dictatorships promoting a tendency towards extremism in the population manifested in 2011 in the Arab Spring which kicked off events in Syria and Libya.

Foreign influence

The 2004 BBC television documentary series by Adam Curtis called The Power of Nightmares explains the evolution and escalation of the current conflict over time and the external influences and politics that motivated many of the actions that have the region where it is today.

The Middle East is of course a very strategic region and thus a number of external players have always operated there out of self-interest preventing democracy and in many cases supporting tyranny. The Saudi regime is supported by the Americans who have also fomented sectarian conflict in Iraq by supporting the anti-Sunni government some years ago. Over the last 50 years Russia, France and Great Britain have all sought to overtly and covertly influence events in the region.

The Many Forms of Extremism

Salafi is the most extreme Islamic school of thought (Sayyid Qutb) and is the biggest source of terror groups funded by Saudi oil money. They are ~1% of the world Muslim population, but are responsible for a big chunk of the trouble. Al Qaeda and ISIS are both Salafi groups.

The Taliban is a Afghan Pashtun organization based on the Deobandi school of thought. The Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas in the Gaza Strip are Sunni. Hezbollah is a Shia organization. The civil wars in Syria and Iraq have exposed the radical sectarian tendencies within Islamism and the Saudi-Iranian proxy conflict in Yemen has showcased the fact that much of the funding and motivation for the sectarian conflict in the region has its roots in these two countries as they compete for regional influence.

Controlling the Ummah

Conservative extremists have not agreed on how they should remove the non-Islamic influences and even what is counted as non-Islamic. Many of the extreme groups believe their own interpretation of the Quran (religion), Hadith (customs), Sharia (law) is correct and that the other schools of thought are deluded or even demonic. And they go to extreme lengths to prove the other one is incorrect. Fundamentally, it is all about power. Each ethnicity and each school of thought wants to be the one that controls the Ummah.

The Management of Savagery: The Baathist Blueprint for ISIS

This post in its entirety is re-published in a summarized form from an article by John Glaser published in Newsweek on 11/21/15

ISIS has its origins in the Sunni insurgency following the invasion of Iraq by the George W. Bush administration. This gave rise to Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which eventually split from core Al Qaeda, in part because of its shocking violence towards other Muslims.

The Management of #Savagery: The #Baathist Blueprint for ISISIt is the opinion of some that it is highly ironic that…

Posted by TMG Corporate Services on Monday, November 23, 2015

In or about 2006 AQI leaders published a book called The Management of Savagery. It laid out a strategy of employing spectacular acts of brutality and displaying them across media platforms in order to goad Western powers into ground wars in the Middle East.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsThis took notice of the jihadi lesson of the guerrilla war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, that this was the only way they could do any real damage to a great power like the U.S.

AQI, like ISIS now, includes in its highest ranks former Baathist members of Saddam Hussein’s military apparatus, who joined the militant group after the Bush administration’s de-Baathification policies and after the U.S.-backed sectarian regime in Baghdad proved unwilling to include Sunnis in government.

It is the opinion of some that it is highly ironic that those calling for a hardline interventionist approach to ISIS are unwittingly falling into ISIS’s trap.

Nicolas Hénin, a French citizen who escaped from the captivity of ISIS, said military intervention is “what ISIS wants.”

They attacked Paris, Hénin wrote recently, “knowing all too well that the attack would force us to keep bombing or even to intensify these counterproductive attacks.”

An intensified air war or ground invasion to battle ISIS would be incredibly costly and has a high likelihood of yielding counterproductive blowback and unintended consequences.

But more than that, it’s the very approach that will give the struggling terrorist group a new lease on life. Nothing could be better for their recruitment than a renewed battle with the Crusaders.

So, is it in our interest to entangle ourselves in another complicated and vicious Middle Eastern war that has little chance of success and high chances of making everything worse? No, probably not but doing nothing is not an option either.

Acknowledgments & References:
John Glaser Master’s degree candidate in International Security at George Mason University.
See full article here

Travelling in West Africa – Sénégal & the borders with Guinea, The Gambia & Guinea-Bissau

With special thanks to our co-author and expert contributor Mr. Albert Diatta, Owner of Albert Protection. 

Albert Protection is based in Dakar, Sénégal providing privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) in the West African region. 

See the Albert Protection Facebook Page for additional details, testimonials and contact information.

All materials copyright © TMG Corporate Services & Albert Protection. All rights reserved. Unauthorized publication, dissemination or re-printing is strictly prohibited without express prior permission from the copyright holder. All queries to pcasp@tmgcorporateservices.com

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Sénégal – “Pays de la Teranga”

Sénégal is in sub-Saharan Africa. The Atlantic Ocean is to the West, Mali to the East, Mauritania to the North and Guinea and Guinea-Bissau to the South where The Gambia also shares 300 kilometres of borders with Sénégal. The Cap Verde islands are 550 kilometres off the coast. 


Politically, the country is one of the most democratic and stable on the continent and the “Senegalese Model” is often quoted as an example for other African nations who have struggled less successfully with the transition from colonialism and the integration of often diverse ethnic groups into a cohesive nation. 

Sénégal is known as “Pays de la Teranga” – meaning the country of hospitality. It is possible to walk the city streets without fear and there are few “no go” areas in the country. 

The people are friendly and hospitable and welcome foreign visitors with few exceptions. 


However, there are regions where caution is advised such as Casamance. This area has been affected by the activities of an armed separatist movement, the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC). 

Casamance is the area of Sénégal south of the Gambia and bordering neighbouring Guinea-Bissau to the south. The area includes the Casamance River. 

The region is made up of Basse Casamance and Haute Casamance with the largest city being Ziguinchor. The economy relies largely on rice production and tourism. There are beautiful beaches all along the coastline with Cap Skirring of particular note.

The “Confréries”

Sénégal has a population of fourteen million of which the vast majority (90%+) are Muslims adhering mainly to the Sufi school of thought. Sénégal is however not an Islamic State – it is a democratic republic. Muslim adherents are structured in various brotherhoods (not to be confused with “Muslim Brotherhood (MB)” the movement).

These orders trace their origins variously and include the Xaadir founded in Baghdad during the early middle ages; the Tijaniyyah founded in Fez, Morocco; the Mouride, the richest and most active; and the Layene based at Yoff which is north of Dakar. 

These groups are officially recognized by the state. Elements within a number of these groups oppose state authority and state structures. 

These “elements” are typically led by a Marabout or Muslim religious leader. These groups have formed militias in various parts of Sénégal and exert significant influence on regional politics. One of the leading figures in the militia chain of command is supposedly Sheikh Ahmadou Kara Mbacké.

The Brotherhoods – Geographically 

Broadly speaking the brotherhoods are based regionally as follows:  

  • The Tidjanes base is Tivaouane, a city located in the Thiès Region of Sénégal; 
  • The Mouride are based in Central Sénégal at Touba the holy city of Mouridism and the burial place of its founder, Shaikh Aamadu Bàmba Mbàkke. Next to his tomb lies a large mosque, completed in 1963; 
  • The Niasseyes identify with Kaolack, a town of 172,305 people on the north bank of the Saloum River and the N1 road in Senegal. It is the capital of the Kaolack Region, which borders The Gambia to the south; 
  • The Layene Brotherhood founded by Seydina Limamou Laye are concentrated around the capital, Dakar;
The other brotherhoods similarly have geographically specific power bases. 

Demonstrating the power of the Marabouts & the Brotherhoods in Senegal
(based on the experiences of Glenn Ojeda, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs)

In November 2012 a branch of the Mouride brotherhood known as the Thiantacoun held protests in Dakar demanding the release of their marabout Sheikh Bethio Thioune who had been arrested on suspicion of complicity in the murder of two people in the Thiès region of Western Sénégal

Bus services in the city were cancelled for thirty-six hours, cars were burned, barricades built and security forces were deployed to counter the threat. 

The protests resulted in a cabinet reshuffle and a military officer was appointed as Minister of the Interior. 

Thioune even in his role as a relatively minor figure in the Mouride brotherhood was capable of garnering the type of support amongst his followers that ultimately resulted in the abandonment of his trial and his release to travel to Europe ostensibly to receive medical treatment. 

In another example of the “state within a state” anomaly that the brotherhoods represent – former President Abdoulaye Wade the first Mouride President of Sénégal – was elected in 2000 with the public endorsement of the militant Mouride confréries leadership. Upon his inauguration Wade travelled to Touba – the holy city of Mouridism and the seat of its caliph. 

On arrival Wade and his entourage including the entire cabinet sat on the floor in front of the caliph’s seat and presented themselves as humble disciples. This gesture led to headlines at the time declaring that the “Republic kneels in front of the Mouride caliph.”

The Marabout enjoy Historical Precedence

During the colonial era the French were forced to use the marabout as intermediaries with the populace and it was via these structures that parallel and often usurp the central authority of the state that the fight for independence was organised. The endorsement of religious leaders is a must for individuals who seek positions of power and influence within Senegalese society and is a mandatory checkbox for those seeking advancement in the political hierarchy.

Shia Islam in Sénégal

Sénégal is a majority Sunni Muslim country where the Shia adherents (Shi’ites) are considered to be the most radical Islamists in the country. 

The Shi’ite presence grew in the late 1970’s after the Shah was overthrown in Iran. There are several thousand radical Islamists in Senegal distributed mostly in the southeast of the country in Tambacounda, the Kolda region mainly in the Vélingara Department and centred around a mosque in Dakar. 

The Shi’ites are closely allied with the Lebanese-Syrian Shi’ite community living in Senegal. Their religious leader is CHÉRIF Mohamed ALY AÏDARA. 

The Shi’ite community have close links with Iran who have declared that they will be hostile to any country that assists Saudi Arabia with the conflict in Yemen. This statement has a bearing on the conflicting loyalties of Sénégal‘s Shia and Sunni communities and presents a challenge for the country now that the two main players Iran and Saudi are in open conflict in the proxy war in Yemen. 

Relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran & The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 
(Excerpts from BBC.COM)

During the Wade presidency Iran withdrew its ambassador over an incident involving arms shipments to The Gambia. Relations were normalised recently. 

In May 2015 Sénégal announced that it was sending 2,100 troops to Saudi Arabia to assist as part of the Yemeni military campaign. Sénégal, a majority Sunni Muslim country, is the only non-Arabic country to join the Saudi-led coalition. This though is not the first time that the “jambars” will set foot in the kingdom. 

A much smaller contingent was sent to help “protect the holy sites” of Mecca and to honour “the historic ties between the two countries” 24 years ago. That operation ended tragically with a plane crash that killed 92 Senegalese soldiers.

Senegalese leader Macky Sall is using more or less the same reasons for taking troops to Saudi Arabia used then by former President Abdou Diouf all those years ago. Except that this time, the rejection is much wider.

Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in the government development programme known as Programme Senegal Emergent 2035 (PSE), and the decision to send troops to the kingdom is perceived by many Senegalese as using the blood of the jambars to fund the PSE. 

Senegal has long been a master at maintaining good relations with a variety of different powers. Saudi influence has increased in recent years, as seen in the number of mosques being built. But Senegal also enjoys good relations with Shia Iran, accused of backing the Houthis in Yemen, against the Saudi-led coalition. 

Both the US and former colonial power France also see Sénégal as a close ally against Islamist militant groups in West Africa. Senegal armed forces have a reputation of being among the best trained in Africa. 

Senegalese soldiers are currently deployed in four peacekeeping operations in the continent. In the past, they have been deployed in Haiti and Lebanon. But Yemen is a bloody battlefield, not a peacekeeping operation. And it is not clear whether the Senegalese public is ready to accept heavy casualties in a country as far away as Yemen.

Organized Crime 

Sophisticated organized crime is on the rise in Sénégal but there exists already a long history of drug trafficking, counterfeiting currency, weapons trafficking and gold smuggling. 

The state authorities and many of the Marabout disagree on the extent of organized criminality in the country. But some of the Marabout downplay the problem because of self interest. Recently eight diplomatic passports were granted to the son of a religious leader – a curious grant considering the son’s non involvement with any department of government or any foreign business interests. 

The Situation on Sénégal‘s Borders

Border security in the South is poor in many regions. In 2010, Nigeria intercepted a cargo ship from Iran ostensibly transporting construction materials but the cargo was in fact weapons destined for The Gambia. The worry in Sénégal was that these weapons were to be sold in the bush for purchase by the MFDC rebels. 

The bush makes it difficult to secure the borders between The Gambia, Sénégal and Guinea-Bissau. By contrast in the north of the country borders between the Sénégal and Mali are closely monitored since the death of Abou Zaid the Tuareg rebel leader killed in Mali during Operation Serval. 

There is widespread border banditry in the gold zones particularly Sabodala. Sénégal has supported Military Zone No. 4 with hardware and troops and two companies of 120 men conduct patrols in the ​​Kedougou and Bakel areas. From Bakel it is possible to cross into Mauritania via canoe. 

Photo: Barriers on the roads approaching the border with Guinea. 

Photo: Approaching the checkpoint at Niassa

Photo: Checkpoints on the roads in Oussouye Department, one of the departments located in the Ziguinchor Region. The military conduct ID verification as they hold an extensive database on members of the MFDC. 

Photo: Checkpoint on Bignona Road.  
Photo: Farafény checkpoint in Gambian territory guarded by the police, paratroopers and several members of the Gambian secret service.  
Photo: This is the military camp at Diaroumé in Kolda close to Sédhiou. This area has seen several attacks in the past as it is close to The Gambia. 

Photo: Senegalese army conducting mopping up operations on the Bignona Road. 
Photo: This photo shows a village on the Bignona Road which is almost empty as the people who refused to cooperate with or contribute to the rebels have fled.