Taking on the mantle of liberator and protector of the Malian people, Ansar al-Din told a markedly different tale in a statement distributed on jihadist forums on January 19, 2013. In their version they were forced to fight to protect Mali from French assaults in a colonial grab for more power and territory. "This was not an easy decision, for everyone knows the extent of the difficulty of waging this war, especially in such a time when the colonial powers are gathering their forces to invade us, and in light of the imbalance in number and equipment."
So strong were the Ansar al-Din warriors that the French forced “the African nations to throw in their soldiers so as to be human shields for them." Ansar al-Din’s retreat was self-characterized as a strategic choice not forced upon them. They declared that a message was sent to everyone that the people of northern Mali are prepared to sacrifice everything in order to live under Sharia-based governance and not return to the “age of enslavement.”
Whatever ‘truth’ you wish to embrace, one thing is clear: the recent, less than one-year-old, Tuareg/”al-Qaeda” rebellion against the Mali government is not over. It seems as if the historically nomadic Tuareg of the Sahara have been coopted by radical Islamic forces. The nomads were seeking a land to call their own since the colonizers didn’t bother giving them one when they chopped the continent into Euro-pieces. It does sound a bit like the plight of the Kurdish people.
Who came riding to their assistance? “Al-Qaeda” groups who first pledged to help the Tuareg. Although Ansar al-Dine denies any links with al-Qaeda, it effectively functions as a local umbrella under which members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) can operate. It is true that many members are Tuareg, but the rhetoric has changed drastically, altering the frame of the struggle a fight for liberation and homeland to a desire for an extremist Islamic Sharia-land.
Woe to those who reach out to “al-Qaeda” for help. They will get more than they bargained for.
If only Mali and its allies in the struggle against Islamist extremism had carefully listened to, intelligently thought about, and compassionately responded to the voices of the Tuareg before the nomads felt total frustration and a need for a violent solution…we would all have been on a path closer to more peaceful tomorrows.
January 24, 2013 by Bruce Wallace, 121Contact