Beware Islamic imperialism in Mali

This article originally appeared in the Commentator, January 24 2013. An amended version also appeared in the Bristol Epigram, February 4 2013.

It should by now be clear that we are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations—the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both.

Bernard Lewis: ‘The Roots of Muslim Rage’ (1990).

Whenever there are sectarian problems in Africa, the Middle East or Europe, Islamism is more often than not the root cause. The recent insurgency in Mali is simply the latest episode, and as Islamist rage spreads across regional fault lines in Africa and the Middle East, the battle between the West and Islamism is clearly intensifying.

In 2010, this conflict was described by the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as an ideological war against the cultural and religious equivalent of revolutionary communism. He believed this conflict would play out as a ‘generational-long struggle’, a view recently echoed by the current British Prime Minister, David Cameron.

It has long been assumed if the Israel-Palestine conflict was resolved, political Islam across the globe would quieten down, and we would co-exist peacefully. I have even recently heard this same spiel from the mouth of a senior British UN Representative.

This notion – that creating a Palestinian utopia would quell the rage boiling beneath the surface of so many Islamic communities worldwide – is idle, ignorant and absurd.

Various events in recent years should have put an end to this outdated idea. If not the violence against Christians in Nigeria from Boko Haram, then surely this summer’s protests supposedly over the film Innocence of Muslims or even the Dutch cartoon episode in 2006.

What we are witnessing in Mali has nothing to do with Palestine. It has nothing to do with the supposed oppression of Muslims globally, and nothing to do with Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, or any recent Western ‘imperialism’.

Yet, while many in the liberal establishment cower from saying so, it has everything to do with politicised Islam and its desire for imperialism, or rather the recreation of the lost caliphate. Why else would Islamists be actively working to enforce their religion, power and rule over the people of Africa, thus condemning them to beggary and serfdom?

This desire for Islamic imperialism stems from the historic failings of a tribal religion that has been forced to watch its own relative decline during the last 300 years. While Western civilisation has grown from strength to strength, the Islamic world has idly stood by, seething with envy.

The result is an unproductive and uninspiring civilisation, incapable of contributing to progression, modernisation, and the advancement of humankind. Indeed, what was the last great export from an Islamic country that did not involve oil, poverty or terrorism?

Today, this anger is boiling over, spilling into the regional borders of countries in the Middle East and Africa, and removing what remains left of an existing order. The individuals trapped under tyrannical rule won’t suffer alone; this development will have far-reaching consequences for the West.

In the Middle East, the regional borders are exploding across two major fault lines – ethnic and religious. Ethnically, it is played out between the Sunni and Shia Muslims, while religiously between Wahhabi and Salafist movements.  These may be ideological divisions, but they are also existential.

A former senior editor of the Jerusalem Post, Douglas Davis, has argued these conflicts will most likely involve the major regional powers: Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey (Sunni); Iran, and Pro-Salafi Qatar (Shia). The latter have already hosted the 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, arm and fund Hamas, and are reportedly currently arming al-Qaeda in Syria.

Since 1945, wars between states have sharply declined. Most conflict now takes place in the form of insurgencies which can devastate societies, as seen in a variety of countries with sizeable Islamic factions (Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Algeria, and the former Sudan).

In the case of Mali, the recent insurgency is of grave concern because it is a large country, nearly double the size of France. It has seven neighbours, whose large and weakly governed borders provide Islamic militants with easy supply and escape routes. The Islamic off-shoots of al-Qaeda acting in the region include groups such as: Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Jihad and Unity in West Africa (MUJAO), Ansar Dine and Boko Haram. Should Mali fall in to the hands of violent Islamists, a domino effect in the region is highly probable.

Neighbouring states Algeria (in the north) and Ivory Coast (south) have both witnessed violence, extremism, and experienced instability from Islamism. Both countries are ill-equipped to cope if Mali implodes.

Algeria certainly does not wish to experience a repeat of its last insurgency, which claimed approximately 100,000 lives. Despite this huge loss of life, reports show militant Islamic cells continue to run in the eastern mountains of Algeria, and in the desert next door to Mali. On the Western border, Mauritania has also struggled with Islamic militants who are associated with al-Qaeda.

If the prospect of a vast Islamic bloc in Africa is not frightening enough, it is quite likely the conflict may spill over into Islamic states in Asia, such as Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Of even more concern, however, is the position of France, and by extension the rest of the European community. France may come to suffer heavily from its intervention to save the Malian people. With over five million Muslims in France, mainly of North and West African origin, it is possible that some will seek revenge for the French intervention.

Concerned by this prospect, French President Francois Hollande has ordered greater public protection by security forces, while the Interior Minister claimed they will be “watching individuals who want to go to Afghanistan, Syria and the Sahel”. There are clear worries people will return to French shores having been radicalised abroad, as was the case with the Toulouse killer, Mohamed Merah.

European countries with sizeable Muslim populations would do well to be cautious in the face of an Islamist backlash. Given recent history, it is apparent Europe is not safe from retaliation whenever Muslim sensitivities are offended.

And think: perhaps the next time an insurgency from Muslim rage occurs – such thugs may well be supported by a nuclear Iran.

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