Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Mali: Stop the War Coalition Gets Things Seriously Wrong, Again.

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A serious analysis of French Intervention in Mali has to start from what’s happened and what is happening in the African nation itself.

In the latest Le Monde Diplomatique Philippe Leymarie begins,

What other country has experienced so many crises at once?” asked Cheaka Aboudou Touré, the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) representative in Mali, early in December. There’s the political crisis: all of Mali’s institutions have been vulnerable since the coup in March 2012 that overthrew President Amadou Toumani Touré (1). Then there’s the security crisis: the army is demoralised and under-equipped, and its generals have stopped wearing their uniforms. There’s also a territorial crisis: Mali is split, with the north controlled by Islamists (especially Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM), who have joined with Tuareg rebels against a background of cross-border crime. Finally, there’s a humanitarian crisis, with 800,000 refugees and displaced people. And yet, Touré concluded, Mali is still more than alive, people are resilient and the hospitals work. “All they lack is leaders who’re up to the job.”

On the le Monde Diplomatique Blog (Only in French) published on the 14th of January Leymarie applies this analysis to the present intervention. For starters, he notes, what are the aims of the war?

comme dans le cas de la Libye, en 2011, ils sont confus. On a tout entendu : assurer la sécurité des ressortissants français ; agression caractérisée ; guerre contre le terrorisme ; coup d’arrêt aux groupes armés ; empêcher la prise de Bamako etc. Si les groupes djihadistes ont bien cherché à progresser vers le Sud, il n’est pas prouvé qu’ils avaient l’intention de lancer une opération jusqu’à Bamako, la capitale (située à plus de 800 kilomètres de Konna, la localité dont ils avaient pris le contrôle la semaine dernière). Maintenant, on en est aux frappes sur les bases de repli des groupes armés. A quand le « nettoyage » de terrain ?

As in the Libyan case, in 2011, they are confused. WE’ve heard it all, the ensure the security of French residents in Mali, aggressive postures, the war against terrorism, clamping down on armed groups, stopping the fall of Bamako (the country’s main city AC), and so on. If the jihadist groups have indeed tried to reach the South, they have yet to prove their will to extend this right up to Bamako (the capital, situated more than 800 kilometres from Konna, the area which they took over last week). Now they are at the point of striking at the rear bases of the armed groups. Will reach the point where the aim is to clear them out of the whole of the country.

Before proceeding lets us remember two aspects of this conjuncture.

The first is that, as Leyamire has noted, the government of Mali, such as it is, is not a simple entity. The regime set up after the

coup in March 2012: (it is ) a triumvirate of prime minister, president and army that the French embassy described as the “least bad solution”, though the singer Salif Keita called it “a three-headed snake” (2). The three agreed neither on the return to constitutional legitimacy nor on the best response to the crisis in the north: should Mali wait for the EU and ECOWAS to help the army regenerate, or launch an immediate offensive to retake the towns that had fallen to Tuareg rebels and radical Islamists?

In this context it is worth remembering that apart from the obvious political interests of the army and politicians themselves, a substantial element of Mali political life is influenced by Islam, including a Wahabite current at odds with the dominant Marabout influenced Islam of the land.

The second is that there is substantial support for the French intervention in Mali. Only this morning on La Première, the Belgium public radio, a spokesperson for that country’s Mali community, undermined his backing for the French. Reports from many sources indicate that this is true for a very large section of the population in Mali itself. The fact that the Islamists in the North are vicious oppressors may have something to do with this.

Now lets look at how the Stop the War Coalition is reacting.

“John Rees, a national officer of Stop the War Coalition, was interviewed on RT television on 14 January 2013 about the French intervention in Mali, supported by the UK government. Here.

RT: Paris says it’s waging ‘a war against terrorism’ in Mali – So its goals seem noble at least …

John Rees: Well, we’ve heard this so many times. I’m surprised that they haven’t bored themselves by repeating this line.

We heard it over Afghanistan, we heard it over Iraq. We heard it over Libya and we should recall that more than a decade ago, at the beginning of this process, the head of the security service in Britain warned the then PM Tony Blair that the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq which spread the threat of terrorism, not reduce it.

That warning has proved sadly absolutely correct. There was no Al-Qaeda in Iraq before we invaded it- there is now. Al-Qaeda had not spread to Pakistan in the way that it has now since the invasion of Afghanistan. As we heard from your correspondent, the intervention in Libya has led directly to the spread of al- Qaeda in Mali now. We should at least have learned by now that this is not the way you reduce the threat of terrorism, this is actually the way in which you bolster it, in which you increase its attractiveness to young people in the region.

In other words Rees does not even bother to analyse Mali as a country.

It is Afghanistan all over again.

This continues,

RT: Should France just sit back and let terrorism and extremism reign over Mali where it could perhaps become a haven for extremism and terrorism and just threaten regional stability but become a base for terrorist operation worldwide…

JR: If the French want to do something about reducing the antagonism between their state and the Muslim people both in France and abroad, they should start at home. They should start withdrawing the laws which make it illegal for women to wear Islamic hair dresses in France. They should withdraw the law that now makes it illegal for Muslims to pray in the streets in France. Perhaps if they want better relations with the Muslim world, they could start by bettering the relations with the Muslim community in France itself. That would be a far more significant step forward than bombing yet another Muslim country.

The intervention in Mali is the result of France’s attitude to Muslims . They are all bound up with the same French republican secularism, or ‘Islamophobia’.

Rees manages even to mix up (no doubt intentionally)  the ban on ostentatious religious symbols in schools, which implies stopping female pupils  wearing Islamic headresses (‘le voile’)  with the (formal, not systematically enforced) prohibition of wearing the full-body Burkha in public.

RT: When will African nations be left to solve their internal problems by themselves – without foreign interference?

JR: I think when they stand up to the imperial powers. I think it is a mistake on the part of the Mali government, no matter what its difficulties to call for help from the very who are people responsible since colonial times for so much of a disaster in that part of the world. Only a small look North and East would tell you that in the Middle East constant attention of the imperial powers have generation after generation worsened the problem not made it better.”

There’s a bit more on the StWC’s site but that’s about it.

So Mali’s multiple crises, which are looked at here (above) are of no real account. 

One could extend them, to include the way Al-Qaida au Maghreb islamique has developed, its alliance with the other Islamists in Mali, the conflicts between the Jihadists and the Tuaregs (the latter rebelling for national rights, the former to establish the Reign of god on Earth), not to mention the ‘banditry’ in the desert regions affected, and so the many various economic and social difficulties of the land and its brave people. Not to mention the other regional influences at play, from Algeria onwards.

Looking at these would be, for anybody seriously interested in Mali, would be the real meat of any discussion of the issue of French Intervention.

We could then and only then  try to explain exactly what it is that France is intervening in, and why its action is not beneficial.

But, no Rees knows better, a lot better.

All the country needs is to take a stiff measure of self-assertion, say no to the Frenchies, and be free to sort itself out – no doubt after a good talking to from Rees.

Get rid of the French imperialists  and all will be fine.

Oh and by the way don’t forget to deal with those secularists in France itself as well.

That would mean France getting on better with ‘the Muslim world’, a vast planet which perhaps includes (Rees does not exclude at any rate)  Al-Qaeda au Maghreb?

And they wonder why the Stop the War Coalition has no political credibility whatsoever.


Written by Andrew Coates

January 16, 2013 at 12:44 pm

7 Responses

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  1. Rees’ statement seems to be just an inversion of the official ‘anti-terror’ line. How would Rees manage to explain the big powers’ seeming lack of concern about the presence of jihadists in Libya within the opposition to Gaddafi? How would he explain the use of jihadists by Britain against Gadaffi prior to his becoming inducted into the ‘international community’? Mark Curtis’ book on Britain and radical Islam points to the many occasions when this country has forged links with the very same sort of people whom the French are attacking in Mali. Western policies are based upon much broader factors than bashing Muslims; if, that is, one can say that bashing Muslims was ever a Western policy.

    Dr Paul

    January 16, 2013 at 1:46 pm

  2. It struck me that Rees’s brain had hardly rippled when he came out with this tonne of platitudes.

    It is surely the responsbility of anybody commenting on this, which some of us have followed (there have been posts here on the destruction of shrines), to think hard about it.

    As you say Paul the premis that ‘the’ West is anti-Islam is pretty threadbare.

    I can only recommend reading le Monde Diplomatique in depth, every month (the French edition is much much larger than the English one).

    On Simon’s point about Mélenchon on the last post, I agree, it does seem excessively based on the ‘national interest’ school.

    Andrew Coates

    January 16, 2013 at 2:01 pm

  3. Just another case of white anti-imperialists’ burden, the logical result of playing the “opposite day” game with imperialist governments on foreign policy.

    People in Mali should listen to Rees because he has a lot of street cred, seeing that Counterfire has been so successful in stopping austerity in Britain.


    January 16, 2013 at 7:02 pm

  4. Paul Rogers of Bradford University Peace Studies Department has a piece here that looks at the possible ramifications of this campaign. He feels that although military action against the Islamist forces could well be effective, the longer-term political consequences almost certainly would work to the advantage of the Islamists.

    Dr Paul

    January 16, 2013 at 11:59 pm

  5. Binh I wrote this in Chartist Magazine at the time of the Libyan intervention: http://www.chartist.org.uk/articles/intpol/nov11coates.htm

    Andrew Coates

    January 17, 2013 at 12:13 pm

  6. I happened to be watching sky news this morning when they interviewed a Muslim writer (female) about Mali. What made me laugh was how she kept intoning, ‘this is part of the War on Terror’. I just thought ‘duckspeak’. I don’t support imperialist intervention, it won’t solve the problem, but you can’t just label it ‘anti-Islamophobia’ or whatever. Tell it like it is, analyse the reasons.

    I was interested to read on the BBC website today that one Malian said that now they were free to smoke again. Let’s publicise that, ‘Under Islam, no music, no smoking, no women wandering in the shops’, that will damage their cause far more than any other thing!

    Sue R

    January 17, 2013 at 7:51 pm

  7. What I mean is, I was waiting to hear this venerable expert say, ‘The Blackhand Gang (or whatever they are called) is trying to destable Algeria as a way of seizing power.’. No, not a dicky. Everything is blamed on ‘us’, like Islamists can only react and are incapable of forming their own agenda and purpose.

    Sue R

    January 17, 2013 at 9:38 pm

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