Sunday, 20 January 2013

Mali points the way

2013 has opened with a quite astonishing and heartening development. Against all the odds, and quite at variance with precedent, the civilised world has pretty well unanimously agreed to take a determined stand against one display of Islamist extremism.

Nothing in the recent past could have suggested that a European power − in this case, France − would have deployed its formidable military capability against a group of Islamist jihadists intent on seizing power in the West African republic of Mali. Nor that this action by its former colonial masters would have received the unanimous support of the government of the country, the UN Security Council and the European Union. Nor, indeed, that the British government would go so far in support of France as to put C-17 transport planes of the Royal Air Force at France’s disposal and speak of providing training and support for the Malian army.

Yes, self-interest is at stake. Last March, Tuareg tribesmen and members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb seized control of the northern part of the country. Last week they moved south, taking Konna and threatening Mopti, home to the only army garrison between them and the capital, Bamako. With a civilian administration controlled by a small, weak army, Mali must have seemed to Islamist extremists as vulnerable and ripe for a takeover. Once in their control, the country could be used as a springboard for attacks not only on other African states, especially Nigeria, but also on Europe. It is clearly a strategic priority for the civilised world that the insurgents are defeated, and that more moderate Tuareg elements regain power and resume a democratic form of government.

It has taken this particular example of Islamist ruthlessness to precipitate a decisive response. But extreme Islamism has been active for decades in its global jihad against Western values, and the West has turned a blind eye. For example no country stirred a finger when the Islamist terrorist organisation, Hamas − an offspring of Egypt’s extremist Muslim Brotherhood (MB) − seized power in 2008 in the Gaza strip, in a bloody fratricidal coup against fellow Palestinians.

The MB and its Islamist and al-Qaeda-backed adherents have flourished in the wake of the Arab Spring, and governments affected adversely by their current upsurge in confidence include Algeria of course - as the hostage bloodbath in that benighted country has just proved - but also Kuwait, Sudan, Somalia, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Jordan – to name only some. Wherever it manifests itself, the MB and its associates are dedicated to the tenets set out originally by its founder, Hassan al-Banna, in 1928. He declared, quite simply: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.”

That is the agenda of these Islamist militants. That is why this often stealthy, but steady and sure, expansion of influence and activity should concern the Western world far more than it has done up till now. For the MB not only spans the Middle East but, as political author Lorenzo Vidino has demonstrated, since the early 1960s its members and sympathisers have “moved to Europe and slowly but steadily established a wide and well-organised network of mosques, charities and Islamic organisations”. Islamism has active branches in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and a variety of other European countries. Seeking to bring about their Islamic aspirations through political means, the MB’s motto is: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. And death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our ambitions.” Its goal, stated quite openly by its leaders, is to create situations in which Sharia law can be imposed on states, with the aim eventually of uniting them and thus continuing the expansion of Islamism.

This is precisely what the insurgents in Mali − known as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA) − have done in the ministate they have established in the north of the country. An extreme form of Sharia has been imposed. Refugees in the 92,000-person camp at Mbera, Mauritania, describe the Islamists as "intent on imposing an Islam of lash and gun on Malian Muslims."

So the West has reason enough to seek to defeat this al-Qaeda–backed insurgence in Mali, and to re-establish a legitimate civil government. On this occasion France’s President François Hollande has led the way, and the rest of the civilised world has not demurred. The question is: does President Hollande’s determined action mark the beginning of a more resolute response by the West to other examples of Islamist extremism, as they manifest themselves in the Middle East and elsewhere? Will others be similarly stalwart in defence of Western values? Or is this decisive action, welcome as it is, a flash in the pan?

Time will tell.

Published in the on-line Jerusalem Post magazine, 17 January 2013:

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