By Naeem Jeena
Over the past few months there has been a concerted campaign in South Africa – which has also gained international traction – attempting to convince the South African people, South African government and international public opinion that the World Cup is under threat from “Islamic extremists”.
The campaign is being prosecuted by a small coterie of academics, journalists and lobbyists in South Africa and internationally. And when I say “small”, I mean small. They are less than half a dozen people in South Africa, but working extremely hard to scare more people into supporting their speculations.
The diatribe unleashed by the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Professor Hussein Solomon is typical of this discourse. Typically, they quote from a range of newspaper articles related to all kinds of things, and then jump to the conclusion that “Islamic extremists” are planning some terror attack on the World Cup. They feel no need to present any evidence to support their claims, nor are they able to point to any past experience in South Africa which might lead one to believe that certain acts could be repeated here. Essentially, the only “evidence” they produce is quotes from each other’s articles, resulting in a very incestuous discourse indeed. Solomon quotes neo-con Barry Rubin, who quotes Solomon, who quotes Deane-Peter Baker from the Institute for Security Studies… It’s a circular quoting of each other’s speculation that then passes off as research.
After a recent UP lecture, Solomon was asked why he did not quote any academic sources to back up his argument. He responded that he has quotes from professors Khaled Abou el-Fadl, Yusuf da Costa and Abdul Hadi Palazzi. I will ignore the Zionist Palazzi, who heads the “Islam-Israel Fellowship” and is not really an academic anyway. (He claims to have a PhD from the “Institute for Islamic Studies and Research in Naples”. A google search reveals that the only web pages that mention this institute are articles on Palazzi.) da Costa and Abou el-Fadl are quoted by Solomon, but in contexts completely irrelevant to his argument. No one who is able to read and listen can be fooled by such attempted fig leaves. Without any proper evidence for this argument, what is the reason for Solomon’s crusade on this issue? Or, as one professor at the UP lecture asked, whose interests do these arguments serve? This is really the crux of the matter. Solomon deflected the question by saying he had no business interests and stands to gain nothing (a claim that can be interrogated at another time). The fact, however, is that there are a number of players who will benefit from Solomon’s campaign. On the one hand, the extension of this argument – stated many a time by Baker – is that governments need to bolster their security arrangements with private security companies. In the case of the World Cup, the reference is not to ADT and Chubb, but to large multinational American and Israeli companies. That this conclusion is not far-fetched is evidenced by recent reports that 30 Israeli security companies (both for security personnel and security technology) have been contracted by the South African Police Services and the FIFA Local Organising Committee to provide security for the World Cup. Thus, from a business perspective, there are certainly those who will benefit from the fear-mongering of Solomon and his fellow travellers. There is also a political-diplomatic-military dimension related to this. Despite all its incorrect positions on the international front (such as its role in the World Trade Organisation, its continued support for Israel, and its co-operation with the United States on a number of issues), South Africa – or specifically, the South African government – is not particularly well-liked or trusted by the USA. There are a number of reasons for this. To mention a few: South Africa continues issuing statements critical of Israel (admittedly, this has reduced substantially since Zuma became president); South Africa opposes the role of the US Africa Command (Africom) and its intention to locate bases in Africa; South Africa refuses blindly to go along with the American “war on terror” on the African continent; despite South Africa’s involvement in at least one case of rendition, South Africa, in general, refuses to subject its territory to US demands regarding those who reside in or pass through it. Other factors include South Africa’s relationship with China (China’s relationship with resource-rich African countries is a major problem for the US and is one reason that Africom was formed); South Africa’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq; and South Africa’s efforts to get Africa to act as a bloc against the industrialised nations. (Whether that has been successful is irrelevant.) South Africa is, thus, a (small) thorn in the US’ side. Well, if the government does not go along with the American security agenda in Africa, then it needs to be pressured to do so. One way of achieving that is to create a public sense of insecurity in South Africa (beyond issues of crime) where the population constantly is in a state of fear of terrorist attacks. This will, the hope is, pressurise the government to give in to US (and Israeli) demands, open its doors (even further than they already are) to Israeli security companies, and invite the US to assist and advise on security matters. This is precisely what Solomon’s argument seeks to achieve. It becomes transparent when he paints the South African security forces (and, especially, the intelligence agencies) as bumbling, incompetent fools who have no clue about what is happening in the country (or the world) and are totally incapable of detecting, investigating or countering a terrorist threat. I think our intelligence agencies have serious problems, not least of which is the manner in which they have been used politically by factions of the ruling party. But Solomon’s descriptions seek to create a state of hysteria where South Africans feel entirely vulnerable and would be willing to give up our security (and, thus, our sovereignty, to a foreign power).
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