January 2013, Week 3


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Wed, 16 Jan 2013 11:52:24 -0500
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War in Libya Was Called "Success," But Now Here We Are Engaging with the Blowback in Mali

By Owen Jones
The Independent (UK)
January 15, 2013 


No scrutiny, no build-up, no parliamentary vote, not
even a softening-up exercise. Britain is now
involved in yet another military conflict in a Muslim
land, or so we have been informed. British aircraft
are flying to Mali while France bombs the country,
arguing that Islamist militia must be driven back to
save Europe from the creation of a "terrorist state".
Amnesty International and West Africa experts
warned of the potential disaster of foreign military
intervention; the bombs raining on the Malian
towns of Konna, Léré and Douentza suggest they
have been definitively ignored.

Mali's current agony has only just emerged in our
headlines, but the roots go back generations. Like
the other Western colonial powers that invaded and
conquered Africa from the 19th century onwards,
France used tactics of divide-and-rule in Mali,
leading to entrenched bitterness between the
nomadic Tuareg people - the base of the current
revolt - and other communities in Mali. To some
Westerners, this is a distant past to be ignored,
moved on from, and certainly not used to preclude
noble interventions; but the consequences are still
being felt on a daily basis. Initially, the French
Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, suggested its
colonial legacy ruled out a France-led intervention;
its sudden involvement is far more rapid than

But this intervention is itself the consequence of
another. The Libyan war is frequently touted as a
success story for liberal interventionism. Yet the
toppling of Muammar Gaddafi's dictatorship had
consequences that Western intelligence services
probably never even bothered to imagine. Tuaregs -
who traditionally hailed from northern Mali - made
up a large portion of his army. When Gaddafi was
ejected from power, they returned to their homeland:
sometimes forcibly so as black Africans came under
attack in post-Gaddafi Libya, an uncomfortable fact
largely ignored by the Western media.

Awash with weapons from Libya's own turmoil,
armed Tuaregs saw an opening for their long-
standing dream for national self-determination. As
the rebellion spread, the democratically elected
President Amadou Toumani Touré was deposed in a
military coup and - despite allowing a transitional
civilian-led government to take power - the army
retains its dominance.

There can certainly be no sympathy for the militia
now fighting the Malian  government. Originally, it
was the secular  nationalists of the National
Movement for the Liberation of Azawad who led the
uprising; they have now been pushed aside by
Islamist jihadists with a speed that has shocked
foreign analysts. Rather than achieving an
independent Tuareg state, they have far more
sweeping ambitions, linking up with similar groups
based in northern Nigeria. Amnesty International
reports horrendous atrocities: amputations, sexual
violence, the use of child soldiers, and rampant
extra-judicial executions.

But don't fall for a narrative so often pushed by the
Western media: a perverse oversimplification of good
fighting evil, just as we have seen imposed on
Syria's brutal civil war. Amnesty reports brutality on
the part of Malian government forces, too. When the
conflict originally exploded, Tuaregs were arrested,
tortured, bombed and killed by the security forces, -
apparently only on ethnic grounds, Amnesty says.
Last July, 80 inmates arrested by the army were
stripped to their underwear, jammed into a 5sqm
cell; cigarettes were burnt into their bodies; and they
were forced to sodomise each other. Back in
September 2012, 16 Muslim preachers belonging to
the Dawa group were rounded up at a checkpoint
and summarily executed by the army. These are acts
committed by those who are now our allies.

When the UN Security Council unanimously paved
the way for military force to be used at some point
last month, experts made clear warnings that must
still be listened to. The International Crisis Group
urged a focus on a diplomatic solution to restore
stability, arguing that intervention could exacerbate
a growing inter-ethnic conflict. Amnesty warned that
'an international armed intervention is likely to
increase the scale of human-rights violations we are
already seeing in this conflict '. Paul Rogers,
professor of peace studies at Bradford University,
has argued that past wars show that  'once started,
they can take alarming directions, have very
destructive results, and often enhance the very
movements they are designed to counter '.

It is conceivable that this intervention could - for a
time - achieve its goals of pushing back the Islamist
militias, and shore up Mali's government. But the
Libyan war was seen as a success, too; and here we
are now engaging with its catastrophic blowback. In
Afghanistan, Western forces remain engaged in a
never-ending war which has already helped
destabilised Pakistan, leading to drone attacks that
have killed hundreds of civilians and unleashed
further chaos. The price of Western interventions
may often be ignored by our media, but it is still
paid nonetheless.

Western intervention led by France, supported by
Britain and with possible US drone attacks on the
way will undoubtedly fuel the narrative of radical
Islamist groups. As Professor Rogers puts it to me, it
will be portrayed as "one more example of an assault
on Islam". With the speed and reach of modern
forms of communication, radical groups in Western
Africa and beyond will use this escalating war as
evidence of another front opened against Muslims.

It is disturbing - to say the least - how Cameron has
led Britain into Mali's conflict without even a
pretence at consultation. Troops will not be sent, we
are told; but the term "mission creep" exists for a
reason, and an escalation could surely trigger
deeper British involvement. The West has a terrible
record of aligning itself with the most dubious of
allies: the side we have picked are far from human-
rights- loving democrats.

c 2012 The Independent Owen Jones is a columnist
for The Independent. Follow him:


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