Radical Islam in Mali and Greater Africa: The Threats Facing the West Today

The terrorist attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali (a former French colony) offers another grim reminder to those in the West of the wide and lethal reach of practitioners of radical Islamic extremism, notwithstanding recent claims to the contrary of U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

It occurred a week after deadly Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris, France, which took the lives of at least 129 innocents and injured 352 others.  The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks.

The Malian local Islamic terrorist group Al Mourabitoun (The Sentinels in Arabic, with ties to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, composed mostly of Tuaregs and Arabs from the northern Mali regions, including Algerians, Tunisians, and other nationalities) reportedly claimed responsibility for the hotel attack in Bamako. The hotel is a favorite lodging place of Westerners in a city of 2 million people. The attackers reportedly took over 170 hostages, killing about two dozen innocents, before local Malian forces, with varying degrees of United States and French support, subdued them.

The penultimate issue facing Western governments like the United States, and those like Great Britain and France who once had African colonies, is how deeply they can afford to get involved in African affairs and in chasing terrorists like the group responsible for the attack in Mali.  Here are some basic facts and problems for them to consider:

First, they need to fully grasp the growing influence of Islam, which produces ISIS and al Qaeda movement operatives and sympathizers among its extreme practitioners. Muslims comprise about 42 percent of the population of Africa (464 million of 1.1 billion people). They represent a heavy presence in 38 of 54 countries (10 percent or more of the population). Moreover, 27 African nations, including Mali, are Organization of Islamic Cooperation members — a group promoting Islam, Islamic interests, and Shariah law. Mali’s 15.5 million people are 90 percent Muslim.

Second, the allies must be able to distinguish Islamists and jihadists from the overall Muslim population. An Islamist is any Muslim who wants to impose and enforce Shariah — whether by violent or nonviolent means. A jihadist is an Islamist terrorist. The Muslim Brotherhood, which gestates Islamists, uses mostly nonviolent means to create Shariah-compliant constitutions. Islamist terrorists — like al Mourabitoun and al Qaeda affiliates Ansar al Shariah (Partisans of Islamic Law), Katibat Moulathamine (The Masked Brigade) and Ansar Dine (Helpers of the Islamic Religion), which attacked the American mission in Benghazi, assaulted the Algerian gas plant and helped take over northern Mali respectively, and ISIS affiliate Boko Haram (Western education is a sin) in Nigeria which drew international outrage for kidnapping schoolgirls and is considered by the Institute for Economics and Peace (Global Terrorism Index) as the globe’s most deadly terror group, respectively — use violent means to install and enforce Shariah.

Third, the allies need to understand Shariah law. Shariah totally subordinates women and mandates many other human rights violations, such as relegating non-Muslim minorities to a much lower legal status than Muslims and dispensing cruel and unusual punishment. It also rejects freedom of speech and conscience and mandates aggressive jihad until the world is brought under Islamic hegemony.

Fourth, the allies must learn as much as possible about Mali and its civil war. The war mostly pits northern Muslim Tuareg desert nomads and stateless Ansar Dine jihadists who served as Moammar Gadhafi mercenaries in Libya against southern, poorly equipped and trained Muslim military troops from the savannah. French troops and warplanes entered the war on the side of Malian troops, who had several months earlier overthrown Mali’s duly elected government, once considered a model African democracy.  Although the French and Malian troops gained the upper hand, the Bamako terrorist attack illustrates how tenuous the situation remains.

The fifth thing for the allies to be aware of is the nation-building trap. The United Nations and other organizations will expect the allies to rebuild Mali’s political, economic, educational, and social institutions once their military mission is complete. This will be an enormous undertaking. The Malian life span averages 53 years, 69 percent of the population can’t read and write, the average annual income is $1,100, and the civil war has already displaced more than a quarter-million residents and worsened a drought-driven food shortage expected to impact 13 million people.

Sixth, the allies need to understand that many African countries are prone to civil wars, genocide, anarchy, and political upheavals. Former colonial powers entering Africa for military purposes could trigger more continental violence. Angola, Burundi, Congo, Liberia, Libya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, and Sudan exemplify the madness that has killed and displaced tens of millions in recent decades, fueled as much by racial, ethnic, or religious animosities as by ideological fervor and hatred of former colonial masters.

Seventh, since the 1950s, developed countries have poured more than $1 trillion of aid into African humanitarian projects with little success. The average African life span is 54 years, the average annual income is $2,900, and the literacy rate is 58 percent — compared with the rest of the world’s 71-year average life span, $13,763 per capita gross domestic product, and 89 percent reading and writing proficiency. Additionally, Freedom House’s 2015 annual report reveals that only 124 million of Africa’s 1.1 billion residents enjoy full freedom.

Finally, hostile African leaders, like Zimbabwe’s dictator-for-life Robert Mugabe, harbor deep resentment toward the United States and former colonial rulers. They can easily whip up African opposition against Western military interventions and antiterrorism policies.

Any Western-led military foray into Africa is fraught with danger and should be limited to humanitarian missions. The allies’ Libyan military misadventure set off a deadly chain of events, causing calamities in Libya as well as Mali and Algeria. Prime responsibility for Mali and Greater Africa peacemaking, peacekeeping, and nation-building should primarily rest with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, and the United Nations — not France, Great Britain, or the United States.

Fred Gedrich served in the U.S. departments of State and Defense, and is a foreign policy and national security analyst. He has traveled extensively in Africa.


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