Belmont Club

The Central African Republic

The press reports that thousands of Muslims are fleeing killings in Central African Republic, hunted by Christians.

Thousands of threatened Muslims have fled the capital of civil-war ravaged Central African Republic among “jeering crowds,” according to Al Jazeera. More than 2,000 peacekeepers from Europe and Africa proved powerless to prevent the sectarian flight from the city of Bangui—and so has the international community at large.

“We had no possibility to stay on because we had no protection,” one refugee is quoted as saying…

Almost a million people have fled their homes in Central African Republic. That’s 20 percent of the population, making the crisis in CAR comparable to the civil war in Syria.

With more and more mass graves being uncovered, the International Criminal Court in The Hague has opened preliminary investigations into atrocities that have taken place since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2013.


The Guardian reports how one convoy of refugees failed to make it out of the capital, Bangui. They were turned back by menacing crowds.

Thousands of Muslims tried to flee the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR) on Friday, only for their mass convoy of cars and trucks to be turned back as crowds of angry Christians taunted: “We’re going to kill you all.”

The drama unfolded as Amnesty International said it had uncovered evidence of a fresh massacre in a village where the sole surviving Muslim was an orphaned girl aged about 11, and France said it would send an extra 400 peacekeeping troops.

The background to this behavior is not conveniently stated. But William Saletan provides us with a lesson: “how do you end up slaughtering Muslims? By blaming Muslims for Religious Violence”.  But it’s easy to see that “blaming Muslims” — as if people in CAR watched Fox News or listened to Rush Limbaugh — could not have played much of a role. The dirt-poor people in CAR have never heard of them.

Saletan himself quotes Amnesty International to explain how things got started.  It began when the something called the Seleka coalition declared tried to take over a population five and half times to nine times larger than their own.

Since the mostly Muslim Seleka coalition seized power in March 2013, the country has been shattered by violence, much of it against members of the Christian community. The Seleka, which left power in mid-January 2014, killed thousands of Christian civilians, and looted and burned thousands of Christian homes. The lawless and abusive nature of their rule gave rise to unprecedented sectarian violence and hatred, with many Christians attributing responsibility for the Seleka’s abuses to the country’s Muslim minority as a whole. Their fear, anger, and desire for revenge spurred the development of the predominantly Christian anti-balaka. … In town after town, as soon as the Seleka left, the anti-balaka moved in and launched violent attacks on the Muslim minority.


The Atlantic recounts essentially the same narrative.

One year ago, an alliance of Muslim rebel groups within Central African Republic (CAR), calling itself Seleka, launched an effort to overthrow the government. The majority of the country’s population is Christian, with only 10 to 15 percent identifying as Muslim, but Seleka’s campaign was successful. The rebels began by capturing small towns, and by March, they had seized the capital, Bangui. Throughout 2013, members of the Muslim Seleka groups reportedly launched waves of attacks on civilians in Christian areas, looting, raping, and and killing at will. In the past few months, Christian militias have emerged, calling themselves “anti-balaka,” or anti-machete. Their actions have gone beyond self-defense, spilling into vicious reprisals against Muslim neighbors and others they view as complicit. More than a thousand people in CAR have been killed in the past month alone. Foreign soldiers form the African Union and France have quickly built up a presence, hoping to fend off a feared genocide.

The obvious question to ask is why Seleka should try and take over a country that may be up to 90% Christian.  Did they watch a video? Did they take a walk one night and decide to kill some Christians? The answer of course comes from previous events: the Central African Republic conflict is an invasion superimposed on a previous unrest. The formula is an old one: take one dictator, François Bozizé, add a rebel minister educated in the Soviet Union, Michel Djotodia, add rebels left over from previous conflict, add Islamism and voila! — Seleka.

Did I say Islamism? Actually that idea comes from the UN. “According to a senior U.N. official, the militant Islamist group Boko Haram — which has instigated much of the anti-Christian violence in Nigeria — already has a presence in the Central African Republic, where the lack of government authority, porous borders and a ready supply of weapons provide the perfect incubator for such groups.”


Complicating the picture, many of the Seleka are from outside the Central African Republic — from neighboring Chad and Sudan. Some of the Sudanese were allegedly members of the militant Muslim Janjaweed militia, which killed thousands during the conflict in Darfur in western Sudan. Victims of Seleka attacks told Human Rights Watch that their assailants often spoke Arabic. Others in the Seleka had no ideology or political agenda: They just wanted power and wealth. The Central African Republic’s northeast is rich in diamonds. …

Militant Islamist groups do have a growing presence elsewhere in West Africa, from Mauritania in the north to Cameroon in the south. Moderate Muslim leaders in Cameroon allege that Boko Haram has begun recruiting there. According to a U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, Cameroon President Paul Biya told the U.S. ambassador in 2010 that he “was concerned about the threat of Islamic extremism (and) beginning to worry about Islamic extremists infiltrating Cameroon from Nigeria and making inroads through Cameroonian mosques.”

The motives are not just diamonds, but possibly oil. Global Voices, which is far from right-wing, noted that Chinese and South African oil exploration was under way in the area. With such riches at stake and so little governance in the area, the CAR was ripe for a takeover. Common sense suggests that Seleka wouldn’t try to conquer a country with a hostile population 5 to 10 times greater than itself without foreign support.

And indeed it does have foreign links. Politics Web described who’s involved:

The alliance started with about 5,000 members, but quickly grew to about 25,000, swollen with an influx of rebel fighters from Chad and Sudan. …

Despite Mr Djotodia’s denials, extensive proof exists that a large percentage of Seleka membership is not from the CAR. Arabic is the lingua franca of Seleka, a language spoken only by a small minority in the north-east. Linguistic differences contribute to the perception that Seleka is a foreign invading force.

Most Central Africans believe Seleka and its violent chaos serve the interests of Chadian president Idriss Déby. Although he of-ficially denies supporting the rebels, Mr Déby has always played a prominent role in the politics of his southern neighbour. Ten years ago he helped Mr Bozizé topple Mr Patassé and then propped him up with soldiers for his presidential guard.


Saletan’s conclusion looks more and more irrelevant. He says that “the lesson here isn’t that all Muslims are innocent, or that Christians and Buddhists are dangerous, or that one religion is worse than another. The lesson is that the more you fixate on blaming one religion, the more you sink into the cycle of sectarian hatred. And when restraint and self-restraint give way, you end up with sectarian violence.”  It’s utterly beside the point, but you can see how he got there.

That’s the same line that Joanne Mariner of Amnesty International, writing in the Huffington Post takes. “One of the most depressing aspects of the ongoing violence in the Central African Republic is its symmetry. Christian and Muslim militia alike are carrying out equally vicious attacks. And members of both communities, while denouncing each other’s crimes, will tell you that their own people are acting in self defense. With each new outrage, the pattern of tit-for-tat atrocities becomes harder to break.”

And not surprisingly the theme of ‘people who have not learned to live together’ is the one Barack Obama has chosen to advance.

President Barack Obama took the time while traveling to Nelson Mandela’s funeral on Monday to record a message to the people of the Central African Republic, calling for calm even as French and African soldiers struggle to restore peace to the chaotic country.

In the months since the government fell to an alliance of rebel factions, the Central African Republic has been wracked with violence that has wavered between indiscriminate looting and pillaging and targeted sectarian violence between Muslim and Christian armed groups. “I know that in your lives you have faced great hardship,” Obama said in the message, recorded in Senegal. “But I also know that you’ve lived together in peace — as diverse and vibrant communities, Christian and Muslim.”

Listing off some of the atrocities that have taken place at the hands of both the Seleka alliance of former rebels — who include many Muslims within their ranks — and the Christian militia known as the anti-balaka, the president urged his listeners to show restraint. “Today, my message to you is simple: it doesn’t have to be this way,” Obama said. “You — the proud citizens of the Central African Republic — have the power to choose a different path.”

Obama insisted that “every citizen of the Central African Republic can show the courage that’s needed right now,” calling on Central Africans to “show your love for your country by rejecting the violence that would tear it apart.”


It’s nonsense. The whole conflict in CAR is being explained away as if the participants were merely Americans with depleted EBT cards and exotic names; domestic political stereotypes instead of Africans with a distinct history and deeply held beliefs. Their differences are explained away in terms straight out of Oprah: ‘religious bigotry’, ‘lack of understanding’, insufficient ‘love for your country’ etc, instead of what they really are: the vicissitudes of conquest, the maintenance of identity, the lure of greed and the imperatives of survival.

This fairytale stuff is peddled because nobody wants to open the real can of worms:  regional rivalries, the spread of al-Qaeda in Africa, the collapse of African states or the sordid competition by great powers for diamonds, money and oil. The international community’s suggested actions: truces and ceasefires and UN Peacekeeping forces, may not only work to the advantage of the invaders, but what is worse leave the victims without justice and thereby increase the pressure of hatred. The sheer backlog of unserved justice will inevitably be directed against the innocent Muslims who had nothing to do with Seleka, yet who have the misfortune of being within easy machete reach of Seleka’s disconsolate victims.

Saletan’s got it backwards. It isn’t religious intolerance that breeds injustice. It’s injustice which breeds religious intolerance.

If the past is any guide, no cures will be applied.  The UN is designed to do precisely nothing. Only band-aids of the most insulting kind will be applied. Only the drab recitation of politically correct formulas will be offered up: a desecration of the graves of the past dead and an epitaph of the dead to come.

The innocent Muslim refugees, as the Christian victims before them, will join the long list of the collaterally damaged.  They will be a price paid to the noble cause of ignoring radical Islamism because it is too hard to solve.  For at all costs the story must be maintained that all is well. But all is not well, for when the King’s justice fails, private justice — sometimes known as revenge — returns. As WH Auden observed:


I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return

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