In some aspects of life, Mali seems almost normal. There is few things in the South that suggest that only a few months ago, a coup happened that changed the lives of Malians in this generation and for generations to come. The prices of food remain elevated and the increased presence of security are few of the signs that indicate the unrest of 4 months ago.
The story in the North seems to be a different story altogether. With two different operating standards and governments, Mali has indeed been divided. Till last week, Mali’s North was governed heavily by the Tuareg rebels. For centuries this nomadic group has waged its war for independence. It success in Mali came at a weak moment for the Malian government, but it came none the less. With no recognized security in Northern Mali and a weak Malian army, no ground has been made in regaining the North. Last week, Ansar Dine, overtook the region and became the major players. At least with the two sharing power, it seemed that the Tuaregs in Tombouctou would still get their hope to lead themselves. However that was not to be. Last week, the Tuaregs were ousted by Ansar Dine or the “Protectors of the Faith”.
So how dangerous is Ansar Dine? With Ansar Dine being corrupted with elements of AQIM and Boko Haram, Ansar Dine is indeed a tremendous danger to returning stability to the region. The main aim of Ansar Dine is to make North Mali another depot for extremist Islam. And so far they are having much success. Areas, especially Tombouctou, are teeming with Islamic extremists. While Islam was the practiced religion of the region, it was practiced with moderateness. In fact Tombouctou was known for its age-old monuments that depicted broad-minded Islamic teaching. With Shariah in place now, Islam has become the imprisonment for the people of North Mali. Religious freedoms are no longer allowed, alcohol banned, women made to clothe themselves from head to toe despite the summer heat of 130F and men and women not allowed to mix. Almost reminds you of prison, doesn’t it? Many of these individuals have grown up free to practice Islam and their way of life. They have been part of something bigger when they were part of Mali. Now they are dispensable pawns in an extremist Islamic agenda. You know how they say; the grass is always greener on the other side. Sometimes when you get to the other side, you realize the sun must have been playing tricks on your eyes. Now, don’t get me wrong. I would be the first to advocate independence for a group that believes their rights have been infringed on. However, I also believe in happiness of the majority. The Tuaregs are a minority (6%) compared with other ethnicities that call Mali home. By giving the Tuaregs a separate land, the Mali government would be condemning another ethnic group. If the Tuaregs had stood with the Malian army and defeated the Islamic rebels, then the North would probably not be in this state. Yes, the initial failure was the coup, but the domino effect could have been halted by the Tuaregs. Instead, in a moment of personal gratification, we now have a fallen state that has been impossible to regain because of the buildup of rebel groups, each group crazier than the one before it. Mali’s failure has come from groups that believe in their personal agenda, first the politicians of old, then the junta and now the Tuaregs. The Tuaregs have long distrusted the Malian government believing that they have been marginalized. Other groups in Mali like the Bambara on the other hand believe that the Tuaregs are given special preference over other ethnic groups that Mali has a higher majority of like the Songhai and Peul and believe this is unfair. This was the perfect storm that could have gone either way. Standing with the Mali army would have strengthened the trust relationship. Standing against them was opening the door to a stronger group taking over.
That is exactly what has happened with Ansar Dine. Now, in addition to the increased humanitarian crisis afflicting the Northern regions of Mali, there has been an attack on century old history. Part of Islamic extremism preaches that people should be focused on Allah (God) alone. Nothing should take his place and there shouldn’t be a distraction of other things or places that Muslims worship. This ideology has seen Ansar Dine destroying the tombs of the Sufi saints that have been there for centuries and setting fire to the contents inside the tomb. They have also broken the gate of a famous 15th-century Sidi Yahya mosque. The door is considered sacred and was to remain closed until the end of the world. In their minds, Ansar Dine is removing the symbols that will distract Muslims in the North from Allah. The destruction has brought about worldwide and UN condemnation, for these places fall under the UN World Heritage sites. Malians, North and South, too are united in their anger by this destruction. It is angering and dreadful that history has been destroyed and by continuing to destroy these sites, our future generations are being deprived of the things that symbolize culture and tradition. Imagine if the Statue of Liberty or the Washington Monument was attacked and destroyed. When the twin towers fell, the sadness was unspeakable. The loss of life unbearable. The same is happening on a smaller scale in Mali and it is only a matter of time before it worsens.
This has gone on too long. Time is the one thing Malians do not have. We do not have the time to let Ansar Dine get comfortable. To do so would spell doom for Mali’s Northern territory and people. To not do anything would allow terrorism to flourish. This is a war, not just Mali but the world cannot afford to lose.