Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mali-- Is France Freeing The Slaves? I Don't Think So


This month, the army of the quasi-legitimate Malian government-- with the help of French fighters and cheers from a few African neighbors-- turned back the Islamists' drive on Mopti (the landlocked country's biggest river port, Mali's Chicago) and Bamako (the capital) and then retook the only two big towns that had been in rebel hands, the legendary Sahara trading cities of Gao and Timbuktu. I tried explaining the significance of this to a friend yesterday and he thought I was telling him about a version of speed-cum-ecstasy that club goers are using these days and asked me if I knew the difference between Blue Mollies and Black Mollies. I don't.

But I do know the difference between the Tuaregs, who started the trouble in Mali this go-round and the Islamists (some of whom are Tuaregs as well) who decided to take advantage of it to push their own, very separate agenda. The Tuareg agenda is an independent state that takes in the vast wastelands of the Sahara, centering on northern Mali but including large swathes of-- at least-- Mauritania and Niger. They call it Azawad and declared it an independent state in April after they captured Timbuktu and Gao from Mali's U.S.-trained army. The unique lifestyle they seek to preserve includes their right to hold the darker-skinned Malians in slavery. There are hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in Mali, Niger and Mauritania who are Tuareg slaves. One would think that would be a big story in the coverage of a country few Americans had even heard of before this year, right?

But the West has had a reason for playing down the slavery aspect of the Mali civil war. From the very beginning they hoped to exploit the tensions between the Tuaregs and the Islamists and their two divergent agendas. So, no one wanted to play up painting the Tuaregs as slave-holding villains. The media is too stupid and lazy to report anything much more than what they're spoon-fed, especially from such a remote and physically inhospitable location as northern Mali. So, basically, there has been no coverage of slavery even from the most well-meaning news sources.

Tuesday, I noticed AP trumpeting how the Tuaregs had "liberated" Kidal, the third biggest town in northern Mali, from the Islamists. When the Tuaregs first captured Kidal it was, basically, reigniting a decades on-and-off again civil war. This time the Tuaregs are the "liberators."
As French and Malian soldiers held control of the fabled desert city of Timbuktu following the retreat of Islamist extremists, Tuareg fighters claimed Tuesday that they seized the strategic city of Kidal and other northern towns.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad-- the Tuareg group's name for northern Mali-- appears to have taken advantage of a French-led bombing and ground campaign to dislodge al-Qaida-linked Islamist fighters from the towns in northern Mali. Phone lines were down in Kidal, making it difficult to independently confirm the group's claim.

The Tuareg movement said on its website that it was ready to work with French troops and fight terror organizations.

However, it said it would refuse to allow Malian soldiers in Kidal, and the other towns under its control in northeastern Mali, following allegations that the troops killed civilians suspected of having links to the Islamists.

It said it "decided to retake these localities with all urgency to assure the security of the belongings, and more particularly of people, because of the grave danger their lives faced with the return of the Malian army, marching in the footsteps of the French army."

While the group known as NMLA was an important player in the early days of the Malian conflict last April, it had been ousted from power in northern Mali by the al-Qaida-linked extremists known as Ansar Dine.
The media coverage I've seen lately has tended to paint the Tuaregs as the poor, helpless victims of the brutal Malian army. I'm not condoning killing ethnic groups for any reason... but it's not inconsequential to remember that the Tuareg lifestyle is barbaric beyond anything I've ever experienced anywhere in the world and that barbarism includes holding Malians in the most brutal slavery you can possibly imagine. Now that Britain has sent troops to Mali they, along with France, have a moral responsibility for ending the Tuareg "right" to hold the Bella people in slave bondage for real and forever.

This typical media report (below) pretty much gets everything wrong, starting with the map, which mislocates Konna, Algeria and Mauritania for starters. The clueless Al Jazeera host, who may think "this all seems to be going a little bit too easy at the moment," is just pathetic and certainly Al Jazeera has no interest in talking about the Tuaregs' penchant for slavery.

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