Ebrahim Moosa – Cii News | 17 May 2013
Hugging the Israeli coast to the north of Tel Aviv, lies a city which is home to one of Israel’s most affluent districts and a haven for ambassadors, foreign diplomats and businessmen.
Herzliya, named after the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, is a city of some 87,000 residents whose claims to fame include boasting among the highest qualities of life in Israel, and huge expenditures in education.
To the outside world, though, it is most famed for its Annual Herzliya Conference Series which has become an yearly summit of the most influential Israeli and international leaders. The Herzliya Conference exclusively draws together international and Israeli participants from the highest levels of government, business and academia to address the most pressing national, regional and global issues of the day.
Convened by the IDC Herzliya’s Institute for Policy and Strategy, the Conference proceedings, reports and recommendations are claimed to provide leaders with real, timely and authoritative assessments and policy recommendations needed to guide their organizations through challenging geopolitical, economic and social developments. As strategic and political processes and events emanating from an ever-turbulent Middle East increasingly impact the global arena, the deliberations at Herzliya cover a broad span of issues, ranging from terrorism, nuclear proliferation and the Middle East peace process to world finance, energy security and global warming.
A related undertaking of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya is its International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), dubbed as ‘the leading academic institute for counter-terrorism in the world, facilitating international cooperation in the global struggle against terrorism’. A number of international seminars, workshops and conferences are organized by ICT monthly to discuss and educate on global and regional issues of security, defense, and public policy making in order to better facilitate the exchange of perspectives, information and proposals for policy action.
Participants at previous sessions of the convention have included well known ‘terrorism experts’, Islamophobes and right wingers such as Steve Emerson (producer of “Jihad in America”) and Daniel Pipes. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and former heads of Israeli intelligence agencies have also been summoned to provide expert input in the past.
It hence came as a surprise to many in 2007 when an obscure South African researcher managed to secure a coveted spot among the bevy of experts at that years event. Professor Hussein Solomon, at that stage the director of the University of Pretoria Centre for International Political Studies, catapulted to the limelight after he cautioned participants that radical Islam was becoming more and more mainstream within South Africa.
Speaking at the 7th Annual Conference of the Institute, Solomon claimed that Muslim high schools were being used for military training and madressas were a breeding ground for terrorism.
“More and more Moslems in South Africa travel for education and indoctrination to Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and return to important positions in their communities,” he alleged.
Solomon further suggested that groups with ‘Islamist socialist orientations’ were penetrating gang structures and drug networks.
The allegations, which sparked an outcry in the local Muslim community and gave rise to calls for legal action, quickly formed the genesis to what one advocacy body calls a personal and professional mission to sustain the misconception that Islam and Muslims are a threat to domestic and world peace.
“In the last four years, especially, Solomon has intensified his attack on local Muslims, labelling them ‘radical’, ‘racist’, and ‘militant’ both in the mainstream media and the Zionist press,” said Pretoria based think tank, the Media Review Network(MRN) in an email communique last year.
“Solomon’s speech focused specifically on Islamic institutions which are at the heart of Muslim life: the masjid, madressah, schools, and media – reflects his deep-seated Islamophobia. If left unchallenged, Solomon’s reckless statements will contribute to the unfair profiling and increased scrutiny of Islamic schools, charities and religious organizations in South Africa. This will help create a climate where all Muslims are feared and despised.”
Solomon’s handiwork made a comeback again prior to the 2010 Soccer World Cup, when it was claimed that Muslim terror cells were planning to disrupt the showpiece event and hostile military training camps had been established in neighboring states. Those allegations were again rebuffed by the local Muslim community who received reaffirmation on the absence of a threat from South African intelligence and security officials as well.
As news broke this week of allegations of terrorism made by journalist De Wet Potgieter in his controversial Daily Maverick piece, ‘Al-Qaeda: Alive and well in South Africa‘, few were surprised to discover that Solomon was again the ‘Prophet of Doom’ driving the scare.
“His latest allegations are not surprising. However, what is surprising is that mainstream media would give him such credibility, when he has been discredited,” the MRN’s Iqbal Jassat told Cii Radio.
Jassat then went on to draw a curious connection between the controversial academic and a newly established Israeli think tank, Research on Islam and Muslims in Africa(RIMA), that lists as its vision a desire to develop a worldwide understanding of the African continent, its peoples, society, culture, economy, politics, environment, and more issues through the prism of Islam and Muslims in Africa and the Diaspora.
According to a report on the University of the Free State website, where Solomon is Professor of Political Studies and Governance, Solomon was appointed in February as a “Senior Research Associate” of the Israeli think tank in question, Research on Islam and Muslims in Africa (RIMA)”.
“Professor Solomon will give an expert voice on the topic of Islam in Africa, participating with other researchers in the network on political Islam and terrorism on the African continent. The centre is the only one in the world which solely deals with Islam and Muslims in Africa,” the report read.
Solomon said his designation would shed further light on ‘militant’ movements in Africa and how they function. “If you want to save lives, then you need to understand how such movements originated and how they operate,” he said.
The researcher said through RIMA and its global network, he would work with other researchers and engage in collaborative research projects on the same issues, allowing for the rapid cross-pollination of ideas.
Central to the activities of RIMA is Moshe Terdiman, a Middle Eastern studies scholar based in Israel who set up the institute to “supply decision makers and whoever else dealing with Africa in Israel and abroad with research and consultancy services, including research papers (and) policy”.
Terdiman is the former director of the Islam in Africa Project within PRISM(The Project for the Research of Islamist Movements) which was established in 2002 with a stated aim to “combine academic and field research of new developments of radical Islam and Islamist movements”. The project is part of the GLORIA Center again based at the aforementioned Interdisciplinary Center(IDC) Herzliya.
With Terdiman as its head, PRISM had as its central focus researching “developments of radical Islamic and Islamist movements in the social, cultural, ideological, and political fields; finance of radical Islamist groups; sponsoring of Islamic states to Islamist radicalism and terrorism; Islamic communities in the West; the “Culture of Global Jihad” and its attitude toward the Western civilization, Israel, and the Jews; Islamist networks; and support for radical Islam through the virtual global Jihad in the Internet”. The thrust of its research was through primary sources in Arabic, and the project sought to fill “some vacuum in the use of Arabic sources for the Islamist phenomenon”.
Since his appointment as associate to Terdiman in February, Solomon has blogged regularly at RIMA on the subject of ‘Radical Islamism’ in Africa. Just days before Potgieter reported the findings of his “year long investigation” in the Daily Maverick, Solomon wrote that the regional dimensions of ‘radical Islamism’ were growing at an “incredible pace as interconnections between a variety of Islamists in different southern African countries take place.” In May 2010, he offered, “reports surfaced that militants from Pakistan and Somalia were running jihadi camps in northern Mozambique and that trainees who “graduated” from these were being infiltrated into South Africa. Similarly, connections between militants in Botswana and South Africa using the cover of used car dealerships were channeling funds to the operational cells”.
Like Potgieter in his piece, Solomon is also highly critical of the South African government. Chiding it for a lack of ‘political will’, Solomon said the attitude of the South African government was the key stumbling block in stemming the tide of ‘radical Islamism’ in the country. “The government, despite the 1990s urban terror campaign in Cape Town and various attempts to target the country since then believe that they are immune from terrorism on account of their opposing the US intervention in Iraq or their support for the Palestinian cause. Such thinking is rather naive in the extreme,” he argued.
Solomon further advocated the placement of long-term intelligence assets in key (Muslim) organizations to ensure that terrorists were pre-empted.
The similar line of reasoning used by both Solomon and Potgieter in their research have led some to allege that Potgieter relied overwhelmingly on Solomon for his information.
“Professor Hussein Solomon is the master architect behind the Daily Maverick’s expose on alleged ‘Al Qaeda’ activities in South Africa,” journalist Zahid Asmal told Cii Radio.
Potgieter denies the claims, suggesting more incriminating evidence of Al Qaeda activity in South Africa is to follow.
Solomon, however, in a manner typical of the revolving door relationship between so-called terrorism experts, has embraced Potgieter’s piece and used it to buttress his arguments.
“This has not been a good week for the South African intelligence community. Two back to back media reports raise more questions regarding the capacity of South Africa’s intelligence community and the will of their political mandarins to robustly respond to the scourge of international terrorism”, he wrote for RIMA.
“These twin issues of a dearth of political will and incapacity will need to be fixed as a matter of urgency if we are to ensure the security of all South African citizens and for South Africa to play its part in eradicating the scourge of international terrorism”.
Solomon’s questionable scholarship coupled with his unequivocal links with establishment research entities in Israel, a state notorious for its own human rights violations and state terrorism, have led many to question the motivations behind his leaks to the media, and to highlight the beneficiaries of such scaremongering.
“What is of most concern is that there seems to be a distinct attempt to play government against the Muslim community of South Africa,” says Asmal.
“This is the start of the pressure on the South African government..Because of the support of the Muslim community for various causes of justice around the world, (it is believed) this community must be targeted, and targeted quickly.”
Responding to Potgieter’s allegations against his family this week, Farhad Ahmed Dockrat labelled the report as a “self evidently mischievous” piece aimed at pressurizing the South African government.
“It is aimed at neutralising the South African government from taking steps in preventing racial segregation in this country. It is aimed at unjustifiably embarrassing the South African government as being an incompetent state. It is aimed at garnering US support to further a racist objective. It is truly a masterpiece in deception”.