France in Mali

From the new January-February 2013 issue of News & Letters:

World in View

France in Mali

by Gerry Emmett

The long-simmering situation has exploded. French troops have begun attacking fundamentalist militias in northern Mali. It remains to be seen how effective French and African forces will be against the militias. Certainly many people want to be rid of the al-Qaeda-linked groups that have attacked women, destroyed historic Sufi Muslim shrines in Timbuktu, outlawed music, and inflicted cruel punishment on petty thieves. The Tuareg independence movement has been pushed aside by these larger military forces.

The inhumanity embodied by the fundamentalist “religious” ideology is expressed in their attacks on Mali’s beautiful, profound and Islamic cultural heritage. This is why there are Malians celebrating the French troops, even as many Afghan civilians celebrated the fall of the Taliban in 2002.

The seizure of neighboring Algeria’s Ain Anemas natural gas field, with many hostages taken, indicates the seriousness of the crisis. Dozens of hostages have been killed as Algerian troops stand off with fundamentalists. The seizure was allegedly in retaliation for Algeria granting France the right to use its airspace for attacks in Mali, but also points to the roots of Mali’s crisis in the Algerian civil war of the 1990s.

Between the probably temporary relief at French intervention and the anti-human threat of fundamentalism, Malian society remains unstable.

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