Thinking Mali

By Johan Galtung

The first prognosis for the French invasion was a quick victory given their superior weaponry; and then the real war starts: guerilla. France is up against two very strong forces, Tuareg nationalism and Muslim islamism; cooperating and in conflict. They both easily mingle with others – they are parts of them – to better target the French.

No Western country likes coffins coming home; train and equip locals to do the job, deal with semi-legitimate regimes, stretch UN resolutions: AfPak, Libya. US AFRICOM wants 4000 soldiers deployed in 35 African countries this year for anti-terror training. Some pass on weapons, some shoot in the air, some fight, deepening fault-lines like race–once slavers-slaves!–in Mali. The West gets desperate; the patience at home is limited. Time has come for state terrorism from the air, killing “strongholds”; maybe predator drones from Djibouti?

Next in line: terrorism by both, hostages, “Special Operation Commands”, extrajudicial executions. Long-lasting; AfPak, Libya.

War–>guerilla–>state terrorism–>terrorism. Both in uniforms; one, not the other, neither one nor the other. We have been through this many times, with some variations. But Western learning capacity seems limited. France is now a couple of generations away from Dien Bien Phu, May 7 1954 (USA followed up in 1961, and down in 1975).

What will come first: the 60th anniversary or French withdrawal from Mali? 1.2 million Tuaregs, camel nomads, spread over a couple of million km2 in Central Sahara – mainly Niger and Mali, some in Burkina Faso, Algeria and Libya – united by Queen Tin Hinan in the 4th or 5th century long before there was any France; with a blossoming culture. The French conquered, massacred, dismantled their confederations, and forced them to submit.

There is some talk about Tuareg autonomy. However, why not a Tuareg state, their Azawad, carved out of those six+ Western constructs, based on the seven Tuareg confederations, if they so want?

How about the islamists? Tuaregs, like Taliban in Afghanistan and Fata’h in Palestine are mainly Muslims, but have a limited, nationalist agenda; unlike the Al Qa’ida and Hamas islamists demanding respect for Islam. Same in the West: states and nations, and a West writ large wanting to run the world in the name of democracy and the war on terror.

For instance through the Economic Community of West African States – ECOWAS, a Western construct from 1975 with 15 member countries including Mali and Niger, complete with a Nigerian Miss ECOWAS as Peace Ambassador. The map shows states, but not the Christian-secular coastal belt with capitals, the Western bridgeheads, and the Muslim inland belt through the states from West to East. Huge unsustainable inequalities.

And, Christianity and Islam seem to be counter-cyclical: one goes up when the other goes down. Christianity came to an end as a global force in the West with the divide and fall of the Roman empire; Islam came into being in 622 and expanded explosively spending its energy; Christianity exploded from Spain spreading to the Christian West in general forcing most of the world to submit; and it has now spent its energy except for the only thing left, some atomic weapons; panicking lest Islam should get more.

Christianity is weakened by its irrelevance to our world today, beyond both Augustine’s sin and redemption through cross, faith and Church, and Origen’s long term optimism for Orthodox Christianity. Secularism is weakened by the flagrant contradiction between rule of law, human rights and democracy, and an inability to practice all of that across borders.

Better sit down and say, ‘we are out, Islam is in’, and try to convert (also happening in France) – the conclusion drawn by minds incapable of going beyond “them vs us”. There is also dialogue. And there is mutual learning. Tuaregs and Muslims have picked up a lot from the West these last hundred years; how about the West trying to learn something from them? Is it obvious that the modern, automated, industrial, financial-speculation state is better than confederate camel nomadism?

Could there be a second prognosis, more felicitous? Yes, of course!

With massive public conferences in France, England (sending troops “sneak missions”?) and in the US – even in Norway where 51% favor a Norwegian military contribution, only 33% against – with all parties involved to help articulate and solve some issues. Words, not bullets.

If the West in general, and France in particular, give up the idea of democracy in “unitary states” that in fact are deeply divided by race, language, religion, history, geographical attachment. A federation with high autonomy and democracy in each part makes sense. Mali is 90% Muslim, that points to Turkey-Indonesia, not to France.

Add two chamber parliaments, one chamber territorial, one national with veto power for nations if their identities are trampled upon.

And then, one approach to the Tuareg Azawad could be as the sum of adjoining autonomies. A substantial part is in Algeria, which has often tried to mediate, but been rebuffed by Paris. Gaddafi’s Libya could have played a positive role in this regard as he was supportive of the Tuaregs and predicted chaos in the region should he fall. Maybe he knew something about Tuaregs and islamists?

Timbuktu as cultural memorial, part of the human heritage, needs protection. Why not airlift troops with a UN mandate to do exactly that, being target-specific, not regime-busting or regime-protective according to the old colonial Western agenda, a scramble for Africa.

The West uses islamism, Al Qa’ida and salafism as allies in Syria and Libya, and as enemies in Mali. This smacks of opportunism, economically and otherwise motivated. However, it could also be a basis for complex negotiations in favor of peaceful approaches.

Enters a disagreeable fact of history: The longer the West waits and the more it kills, the harder the fronts get. Muslims become islamists as evangelicals turn to drones and killing squads.

The prospects are dim as Western civilization in Africa seems based on might, not right.

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