South African Muslims must assist in the fight against global terror

An edited version of Police Minister FIKILE MBALULA’s speech to the International Peace University of South Africa symposium on Isis in South Africa; delivered on May 20 in Cape Town. 

The narrative that has assumed prominence in South African society, of a failed government, a dysfunctional society, a compromised legal system, and the list is endless; likewise, needs to be examined by serious thinkers. We need to make sense of what is at play and who is to benefit in the roll back of our democracy and in the rollback of intercultural and inter-religious harmony. It is no secret that terror alerts regarding South Africa always appear when the country seems to stabilise, or when there is a need to bolster a perceived or engineered crisis in the country.

The topic of this Symposium is “ISIS in South Africa”. It is about a retrogressive force. Unlike
Al-Qaeda who had no real political programme of establishing a territorial political state, ISIS has not only established a political state – the Caliphate – it has called on Muslims to immigrate to this land to defend it and assist in its expansion.

It is an imperialist force that goes against the word and spirit of our national and constitutional ambitions of freedom, justice and equality for all, nevermind the extreme barbarity it has taken pride in. It is a force far away from us in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, with enclaves in Nigeria, Libya and Somalia, forces there who have pledged allegiance to ISIS.

ISIS is by no stretch of the imagination the only imperialistic force in this world. It may also have traditions going against the word and spirit of our lofty South African Constitution, but it is the one doing it in the name of Islam, and could, therefore, entrap you as Muslims either as unwilling associates, secret admirers, loyal supporters or shameless bystanders.

By being active critics or opponents, the Muslim community will ensure that they are not entrapped.

ISIS is also the imperialist force that has challenged – in no uncertain terms – the most powerful group of imperialist forces this earth has ever known: the Euro-American axis plus Russia, and there myriad of proxy states around the world, particularly in the Middle East.

Here is where I come in.

I stand here as the Minister of Police. ISIS, and by virtue of a hyper-alert and fear against Jihadist terrorist attacks in Europe and America; some Muslim communities in general, have been cast as a priority security threat in the West. If not, as they might say in the movies, “Enemy Number One”.  This is by no means the case for this country or my Ministry: that ISIS is a security priority, or that a specific Muslim community is a security threat.  It doesn’t mean there are no security concerns AT ALL.

Here is why I’m here. Let us not beat around the bush. And once again, the invitation to address this symposium is greatly appreciated.

Whether I like it or not, the government security cluster is at the forefront of the pressures by very powerful governments-in-the-world, around a threat to them. The so-called  “War on Terror’, is an old term now that was adopted formerly by US President George Bush; and I need not elaborate on what it means, only to say that it is now the way of the West. And the pressures we feel as a country, not just my Ministry, as well as all other developing countries who are not classed among those countries of the West:

  • Comes through diplomatically, at embassy level
  • Multi-laterally; we are a UN member state, and must respond accordingly to the treaties we are bound by;
  • Politically, there are certainly political parties in South Africa (our last ballot had 29 parties) who have adopted not only the war-on-terror ethos; but also the paranoia of an Islamist threat and amplifying Euro-American politics here at home. And they are free to do it.
  • Socially. The same can also be said about media, who adopt and simply repeat western media tropes and import the moral panics of America and Europe. Our government gets pressured by some commentators or certain civil organisations to do something about the Islamist threat.
  • And then also by intrigue. Our country engages in intelligence. Domestic intelligence and foreign intelligence. All countries do this. If our country didn’t do this, then our government would be doing a disservice to the people of South Africa. And much of the work around intelligence, the world over, happens in private. It must be so, else it won’t really be intelligence / or intelligent. And here is where the Ministry of State Security or the State Security Agency, must engage with and co-operate – or not – with other security agencies from any one of those Western countries embroiled in their “War on Terror”. 

The pressures at diplomatic level can come through any one of our Ministers when they engage with foreign partners, and not least of all our President in his interaction with foreign counterparts. And it comes to Ministries like mine. When our President meets with anyone of the heads of state of America, Britain, France or Germany and they ask him what’s South Africa doing about the “War on Terror”, he must be briefed by the security cluster. You will agree too, that given this country’s geopolitical status, as one outside the G-8, our President’s response cannot be, “We will cooperate with anything you propose we do to enlist in the War on Terror.”

At multilateral level, the pressure can come thick and fast.

Over the past ten years, South Africa has had to pass or amend a series of legislation to fight global terror, by virtue of the fact that we are a UN member nation. Legislation around financial information, cellphone registration, aviation laws, the Internet, and of course most notably, The Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Act. It is only with respect to laws around information and intelligence, ironically, that our government remains vulnerable. But that vulnerability is convenient for the powerful forces whose information and intelligence we are not privy to.

Socially, we certainly take note and have to evaluate calls coming out in the public space that we are not doing enough, however alarmist it may be. And we no doubt have to keep our eyes and ears open out in the public space. And I will come to that shortly, because that, esteemed participants of this symposium, is where you at – out in the public.

At a level of intrigue, the pressures on us to deal with so-called “Islamist threats” can come through official or unofficial channels. Intelligence can be shared with us; it could be leaked to us; and sometimes too, an agency can plant intelligence in our public space. We need to evaluate what is real and what is false; what must we act upon and what is simply a bogey. We are now quite dramatically in the era of alternative truths; or fake news and we cannot allow ourselves to be tripped up by hear-says meant to fuel an alarmist agenda.

The symposium is also billed as Wasatiyyah. As defined as the middle, the centre, the “middle way”, or justly balanced. I would argue that essentially the government practice is of Wasatiyyah, neither accepting one or the other extreme. Rather government pursued and continue to pursue and chart the middle road.

Terrorism committed or inspired by Jihadist agendas – ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda – is a global enterprise.

That South Africa is unaffected by this; that South Africans at some point have not been implicated in financial links with any of these organisations; that South Africans have not left this country to go and fight on behalf of any of these organisations; that South Africans have not shown some domestic support for these organisations; that South Africa has not been used as a transit country for individual terrorists; that attempts have not been made to harm Western targets in South Africa, and that attempts have not been made to use South Africa as a refuge for fugitive terrorists, are all false.

All of this has already happened.

And here once again, I express my appreciation for the invitation to address this symposium.

All that South Africa has been spared so far, has been an order to extradite an alleged terrorist for detention or prosecution in a Western country or the drone bombing of alleged terror infrastructure.

Our country has certainly been affected not only by the West’s “War-on-Terror”, but also by the manifestation of global Jihadist movements, their agendas, their recruitment, and their strategic operations. This is not alarmist or a conspiracy theory. It is true.

And while my Ministry is at the forefront of rolling out the security response to this, as well as navigating the enormous pressures from powerful states to hop to their diktats around combating terrorism, you here, esteemed participants of this Symposium, are at the forefront of the very root manifestation of Jihadist shenanigans in this country.

You are part of the South African Muslim public. Whether you are actual influencers, is for you to determine. The global Jihadist terror enterprise is driven by ideology and doctrine cloaked in the theology of Islam.

You are the ones at the forefront of exposing this deviant ideology and tripping up this global enterprise.

The West’s rabid policy over the past decade to bomb countries; to kill prominent leaders; to abduct suspects for prolonged detention; or engage in secret surveillance of mosques and imams – are strategies I’m not prepared here to evaluate or judge, except to confirm that it is far from my Ministry’s thinking of how to combat Jihadist terrorism (meaning networks of support and cover) in South Africa. And as I’ve pointed out above, we HAVE to think of this.

And my call to you here today is that you too HAVE to think of this. I need you…members of the Muslim public, South African Muslim leaders, Muslim scholars, preachers and thinkers in this country, to apply your minds as to how we can not only respond to manifestations of Jihadist terrorism in this country but also how to nip it in the bud. I need you to apply your minds to work out how you can advance Muslim traditions in this country that are not destructive, prejudicial, harmful and counter to the well-being of your fellow compatriots, Muslim and non-Muslim, and the lofty principles of our Constitution. I need you to apply your minds on how to counter the theology of ISIS and to keep abreast of who and where this toxic ideology is finding a home and loyal support.

In conclusion, no apologies to you, but certainly apologies to some very powerful states: ISIS and the Muslim community are no enemy number one for the security apparatus of this country.

We do have major security priorities we have to tackle: the gang wars in the Western Cape have seen a dangerous upsurge in recent months; syndicate crime remains a scourge in our country; cross-border crime is ever-prevalent; foreign criminal activity has seen foreign criminal gangs setting up shop in this country; the international drug trade has found an important pipeline through South Africa; this country still suffers from illegal trade in arms; our rich and unique animal and plant kingdoms has opened us up to vicious cross-border poaching operations which we need to smash; and not least of all, the security concern that any security apparatus of any country would have to devote time to the regime changers and insurrectionists. In this country, it can be on the left or right of the political spectrum. Their activities can flare up unannounced and we certainly cannot be caught napping if the integrity of this country is threatened.

I commend you on the organisation of this Symposium. I wish you all the best in your deliberations and your research going forward. I see this no doubt as being of great assistance to you in shaking off the entrapment ISIS and halting its spread amongst the South African Muslim community. Once again, I thank you gratefully for extending this invitation to address this gathering.

Thank you, and Assalamu `Alyakum – Peace be with you

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