Mauritania, Islamism, Jihadism, and the Internet

Magharebia published an article several days ago about Mauritanian youth and jihadist websites:

Since the As-Sahab Foundation, al-Jahafel, al-Andalus Media and other websites linked to al-Qaeda organisations are now readily accessible throughout the capital city, parents have begun monitoring their children’s activities and online friendships.

“I noticed a change in my son,” Alnina Mint Al-Nahi, tells Magharebia about 16-year-old Al-Saalek. “Especially in his daily addiction to watching religious channels, to the point of becoming furious when we wanted to watch news or entertainment programmes. He even accused us as being misguided,” the 52-year-old says.

“Facing my son’s hard-line behaviour, I decided to remove the television from the house once and for all, and that led him to replace it with an addiction to internet cafes,” she continues. “This is causing me to fear his falling into the hands of extremist groups.”

In the Arafat neighbourhood of Nouakchott, many young people endure idleness and poverty. And this makes them particularly susceptible to online recruiters.

The whole article is worth reading.

The argument that poverty leads to extremism is widely debated, but let’s leave it aside in favor of another issue: the relationship between non-violent Islamism and violent jihadism.Mauritania has both, which makes it a relevant case study.

It is interesting that the article singles out Arafat as a center for jihadist recruitment. Arafat is the neighborhood that elected Jamil Mansour as its mayor in 2001; Mansour is today Mauritania’s leading Islamist politician. Mansour and his fellow mainstream Islamist leaders denounce jihadi violence, and it is tempting to conclude that in a neighborhood where political Islam is clearly a force, Islamism is a (the most?) compelling and constructive alternative to jihadism for youth. In other words, the youth reached by Mansour’s Tewassoul party may be less likely to join jihadi movements than the politically unaffiliated.

This is speculation, and I would need data to back the theory up. But the point is that Islamism is not necessarily the first step to extremism. For many it can be a completely different path.

3 thoughts on “Mauritania, Islamism, Jihadism, and the Internet

  1. Thanks for airing this Alex. There’s rarely enough nuance in any of the mainstream media’s coverage – the idea that Islamism and jihadism might sometimes be divergent paths needs much more exposure.

  2. The major problem is neither “jihadism” nor “islamism” (but as the article alluded to) a bulging youth population and a very serious lack of job opportunities for young people.

    Tomorrow it could be either be a fundamentalist strain of Christianity or a return to long lost traditional religious practices or even Marxism.

    I think many academic researchers are focusing on the wrong set of problems. Africa suffers from two major problems – irrational national boundaries / artificial states and the challenge of creating functioning economies. There is very little scholarship along these lines, but every intelligent African understands these are where the problems lie.

    Unfortunately, the West has not / is not playing a constructive role in resolving either of these problems. Western aid ultimately does more damage to local economies (and the typical Western response to areas of interest like Northern Nigeria is to increase aid). This will not help in the long run and Chinese economic engagement shows more promise.

    It took 2.5 million dead for the West to realise that there was no future for Southern Sudanese in a United Sudan. There are several slow-burn situations like the Sudan in SS Africa and we cannot continue to pretend they don’t exist.

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