Polygamy: the Passions of Pan-African Jihad

Paul Malong is South Sudan’s former army chief of staff with over 100 wives.  One recently ran off in hiding after remarrying a teacher.  Jane Austen’s admonition that we’re all fools in love never mentioned how to manage a cuckold warlord in a dangerous neighborhood. By any measure, the allure of conspicuous wealth throughout the trans-Sahel offers insight into the propaganda of jihadi’s as they openly seek new recruits.

It isn’t just Nigeria that has skyrocketing demography, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen and dozens of other Sunni dominated cultures are immune from the wiles of any secular vision of autonomy; for the larger one’s family, the more respect you command.

This isn’t confined to agriculturally based political economies, but those who trade on the littoral, even islands throughout the Philippines and Indonesia demonstrate the appeal of polygamy, especially as a recruiting tool for jihadi’s.

What Africom combatant commanders are learning is that weak governing institutions cannot explain the rise of jihadism in Africa.  African Islam is only recently associated with violence, (Algeria aside), having traditionally been associated with the east African Swahili or west African nation states nominally allied to the French enlightenment.  The new nation state of South Sudan has been rent by decades of civil war, tribalism, weak governing institutions and oil; not to mention Iran’s opening of Khartoum.  The de-stabalization of Sudanese matrimonial customs embodies greater upheaval throughout Islamic pan-Africa.

The top 20 most chaotic states in the Fragile States Index all possess the feature of polygamy. Nigeria and most of west Africa have long pre-colonial histories of women being married to more than one man, and even though plural marriages are plentiful throughout the Arab world, the custom of polygyny is ingrained throughout Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and Indonesia.  Two traits sustain an ecumenical pan-islamic view of custody of wives:  the nation states mentioned are all patrilineal, identity flows from the father. They’re also patrilocal, the new wife leaves her family to join her husband’s polymerous bonds.

Perhaps the strangest custom Africom combatant commanders face when discerning key social features of jihadi societies is the overwhelming price for brides.  It remains a critical factor predisposing young men to devote themselves to jihadi violence.  Muhammed Kasab was a Pakistani terrorist who joined Lashkar-e-Taiba and participated in the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008.  When asked about the origins of he predisposition toward jihadi violence, he said:  “LT promised to pay for his siblings marriage.”  Throughout Egypt and Nigeria, Boko Haram arranges marriages for its recruits and $1,500 towards a starter home with a free honeymoon in Raqqa.

The west cannot compete with this and by consequence cannot build functioning governments to address what is essentially a moral problem bordering on the nature of polity itself.

A reformation of Islam is a prerequisite to addressing the consequences of failed states throughout pan-African Islamic societies.  This can only happen within functioning Islamic societies in alliance with the west.  It should begin in Riyadh, Amman, Alexandria, London and D.C.  It should not ignore the role of sound money in a new Bretton Woods agreement, nor should the west ignore the appeal the west has among women throughout Islamic polities.

The west has wiles to apply in its political war with Islamism.  Ground zero in this engagement is rediscovering and tying East African Islamic polities to its Mughal past throughout the Indian Ocean.

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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