Magharebia (Washington DC)

20 February 2013

Mauritania: Local Groups Condemn Extremism

Nouakchott — Human rights organisations in Mauritania are calling for citizens to defend their culture against the infiltration of salafi ideology.

Resisting a rising tide of hard-line salafi ideology in the Maghreb and West Africa, Mauritanian human rights organisations recently united to issue a statement countering the spread of extremist teachings.

The groups considered "the salafi project in sub-Saharan Africa to be hiding a rigid view of the world and Islam, a radical view that prevents differing opinions, makes life with the same mould, and kills all abilities to think and innovate", they said in their joint statement.

"In such an environment, there is no room for gender equality, art, life pleasures, or criticism," the February 8th statement went on.

The Mauritanian league of Human Rights (LMDH), SOS Slaves, IRA-Mauritania, the Association of Women Heads of Family (AFCF), Conscience and Resistance (CR), the Mauritanian Association of Human Rights (AMDH) and the National Forum of Organisations for Human Rights (FONADH), comprised the local groups behind the statement.

"The utopia preached by the fighters of salafi groups only flourishes on the ruins of local customs and cultures through intimidating people and uprooting them," they added.

"The actual consequences of the proposed metamorphosis lead to the isolation of women and their exclusion from the public sphere, and the systematic return to the application of death penalty and amputations," the groups warned.

Religious extremism also is becoming more noticeable in Mauritania, they noted.

"We are increasingly noticing the veil, a dress that was once considered a foreign intrusion. In the streets, we also see black-veiled women working in takfiri associations and isolated from men in meeting held in the daytime."

The NGOs said, "The war for the liberation of Mali is not a crusade but a war of just people against new salafi imperialism."

The organisations demanded that Mauritanians start immediately forming groups of self-defence in neighbourhoods and villages in order to repel terrorist infiltration.

They also asked Mauritanians to revert to traditional of their culture such as poetry, singing, dancing, folklore, costumes, as a cultural counterweight to the spread of extremist teachings.

"Salafism - whether Sunni Maliki or Sunni Wahhabi - seems to be the ultimate impersonation of a desire to dominate, that progresses masked under the cover of faith," the statement concluded.

The statement by the human rights organisations triggered strong reactions in the Mauritanian streets, social networking websites and even within political parties, some of which issued counter statements.

Analyst Zine El Abidine Ould Mohamed attributed these strong reactions to the fact that the organisations touched on the issue of the infiltration of takfiri movements.

"The beginning of the spread of this ideology was embodied by the appearance of black dresses for women and beards for young people flocking mosques in what they call the Islamist awakening," he said.

The appearance of such ideologies led to confrontations between former President Maaouya Ould Sid Ahmed and people espousing extremist teachings, Ould Mohamed added.

Instructor Abdul Fattah Ould Salem sided with the statement, saying "they spoke spontaneously and told the truth without fear of pressure from salafist groups".

"A lot of parties are afraid of expressing their positions on salafism and extremist ideologies. They fear for their interests and risk losing supporters," he said.

Nouakchott resident Abdul Fattah also sided with the human rights groups, saying that extremists were "banning everything".

"They are banning music and all sources of joy and happiness and controlling the mosques. They even have their own media outlets. Everyone now is afraid of criticising them and is reserved about expressing opinions about them," he told Magharebia.

"Mauritania has changed since they entered the scene. We no longer have theatre, movies, and galleries; even the spirit of reading and sports. All that is beautiful is dying," he added.

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