|Mali – uncolonising our minds|
The recolonisation of Mali this January leaves France and the larger international community accountable for much. They have however escaped much of it by masterful spin doctoring, emerging as saviours rather than occupiers or looters. Public enemy, the monolithic Al Qaeda bogeyman and the threat of Islamist rule picked up much of the flack with their torching of books and destruction of shrines. Nobody likes the idea of torching books, even if they weren’t there as emerged later. This proves the research that catalysts for international outrage are psychologically micromanaged as are catalysts to make one cry in movie or turn left or right upon entering a departmental store. Yet while the French and their neocolonial allies may carry one burden of guilt, we are not guiltless as Timbuktu and much of our pride burnt.
While theories abound regarding the target of France’s military campaign from the prize being Algeria, as it provides a threat in its nationalized economy; by rejecting normalized relations with Israel; and being the largest sponsor of the AU; to the natural resources of gold and minerals Mali sits on, one thing is absolutely clear: the Islam of the ‘Islamists rebels’ (whatever that word means) are a mere pawn to blame in the poverty and despair that to date has created half a million refugees and 200 thousand migrants inside Mali.
According to reports, the conflict with the northern bedouin Taureg seeking independence was what caused Mali’s interim president to ask France to intervene. With the fall of Libya after Ghaddafi’s overthrow, Libyan weapons reportedly flowed freely to strengthen the Taureg aided by international intervention. France, the international community (esp China, US, India and Russia) and Mali’s neighbours are threatened by Mali for fear that the ‘Islamists’ – (Ansar Dine, Islamic movement for Azawad, AQIM, MUJAO, MNLA and the Signed in Blood Battalion factions) who took over northern Mali (an area the size of France) will use the country to destabilise the rest of west Africa, including neighbouring Niger which is France's main source of uranium for its nuclear industry. Mali was already thrown into civil conflict when Amadou Toumani Touré, a former army lieutenant-colonel ruling since 2002 was ousted in a coup last year by army officers angry at the military's failure to stop the Taureg and their ‘Islamist’ agenda. Nigeria, already facing a threat in Boko Haram (aiding the Taureg rebels wanting independence) Ghana, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad are assisting the French troops. If this is not the African people bowing to their former white masters again one wonders the (im)potency of the AU.
Since groundwork has already been laid by the War on Terror to demonise Islam, Muslims and the Arab world in general, aided by Orientalist agendas and Racism (the Arab Tauregs v the ‘Black’ Malian’s) it becomes easy to incite public support for the French cause. After all people would rather choose French troops over ‘Islamists’? Given the price any country pays for colonization, being Islamised would appear to be the least of their worries. We only need consider Mali’s history in this regard. There was never an “Arab conquest" of West Africa that imposed Islam on people as the colonial culture did. The Malian’s found Islam themselves.
The edited excerpt below is from Lost Islamic History: A Gold Mine in the Desert – The Story of Mali.
“From the 700’s onward goods as well as ideas, especially about Islam travelled and began to take root among the people of the West African Sahel. Islam was well established by the era of the tenth Mansa of Mali, Musa I, who ruled from 1312 to 1377. The story of his Hajj in 1324 with an entourage of 60 000 people is legendary.
On his way back to his homeland after the Hajj, Mansa Musa insisted on bringing the most talented Muslims to his kingdom. With his immense wealth he paid scholars, artists, teachers, architects, and people from all professions to come to Mali and contribute to the growth of Islam there. Great talent arrived from Egypt, Syria, Iraq, al-Andalus, and Hejaz.
The effect this had on Mali was immense. Architecturally, the buildings in Mali began to show a mix of Spanish, Arab, and Persian design. This unique blend of cultures created a distinctly west African style that is still seen in its architecture. Mansa Musa’s Hajj especially benefited Timbuktu. He paid the Andalusian architect Ibn Ishaq 200 kilograms of gold to build the Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu. The most significant impact Musa’s Hajj had on Mali was its subsequent growth as a centre of knowledge. With the best scholars from all over the Muslim world, Mali developed one of the richest educational traditions of the world at that time competing healthily with North Africa, and way ahead of Europe. Libraries were all over cities such as Gao and Timbuktu. Public and private collections had thousands of books on topics from Islamic fiqh, to astronomy, to language, to history. Great universities operating as madrassa’a attracted talented students from all over Africa to come study in this center of knowledge.
The effects of this knowledge on society was seen in Ibn Battuta’s trip to Mali in the 1350s, when he remarked that if a man wanted to have a seat in the masjid during the Friday prayer, he would have to send his son hours early to reserve a spot for him, as the masjids would be filled to the brim early in the morning.”
Unlike the love and enrichment with which Islam became ingrained in the Malian culture, the French colonials made the Malian’s pay with their blood. Not only was Christianity forced upon them and their resources looted, but tens of thousands of Malians were conscripted into the French army and died fighting for France in Europe during the first and second world wars. French secularist advisors to the sultans advocated a complete reform of the educational system to remove religion from the curriculum and only teach secular sciences. Bear in mind when West African’s were captured and taken to the America’s as slaves they played a significant role in the revolts against slavery. Their homegrown (Islamic) education was holistic. Suppression of those with this type of education would never succeed. French colonials knew that.
Word must however be offered about the imposition of ‘shariah’ by the ‘salafist’ rebels. Anybody with half a mind would realize their (reported) extremism as war tactic to gain independence. If reports are true about the violent imposition of hijab, stoning or beheading of people randomly, they serve as visible monuments of power to escalate attention, incite fear and boost their own morale rather than engage principals of a functioning Islamic Shariah system. It befits to mention that the Shariah, if applied fully, has a bottom-up approach beginning with unrelenting education and encouragement toward the wisdom of following Islamic principals rather than what is reported in the media as a top-down massacre. We ponder whether the purported bloodlust proffered by these rebels feed the very agenda to recolonise our minds.
The questions we’re left with regarding Mali are perturbing - beginning with our ignorance of Islamic history; our lack of empathy and engagement with our African heritage; and our growing disdain toward the madrassa system. If European colonialists removed the madrassa system and imposed a secular one as a suppression tactic how unwittingly colonized have our minds become if we cannot find a middle ground. Secondly, how much have we done to commit ourselves to the country we call home to promote an African renaissance? As we cling insecurely to the dregs of an outdated Indian culture instead of our Muslim one, the needs of the time dictates that we do more to draw southern Africa toward what their north and west African brethren once owned: independence, self- autonomy and an Ieman that enriches instead of lobotomising. Thirdly, the Hajj has ceased being what it once stood for, as demonstrated by Mansa Musa of Mali: a time to engage and highlight differing philosophies, exchange ideas and take home a thought box in religion, science, warfare, astronomy, architecture, medicine, political ideologies as well as the spiritual dimension. As Hajj becomes more and more of a financial burden than a spiritual one, one wonders if the element of meeting and engaging of delegations has been obliterated all together, and if as African’s we are committed to change that to resuscitate a Muslim identity rather than our nationalised ones. Lastly, why are we largely apathetic to national debate and political posturing when the indebted and fragmented Eurozone unite in the war against terror using our ‘Shariah’ as a scapegoat?
~ Umm Abdilla, Radio Islam Programming ~
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