Nigeria’s Disaster Porn

There’s no doubt you’ve heard about the shocking kidnap of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls by the moronic rebel group Boko Haram. This is one of those rare catastrophes that captures Western public attention. In part, this illustrates a positive trend: a mere generation ago, few people cared what happened in far away lands. But nothing is far away any more. Everything is within the reach of live satellite broadcast and the Internet reaches ever further. The empathy we once reserved for our close neighbours is now extended globally. Humans are becoming more caring.

But this doesn’t explain the focus on this particular incident. The kidnap and enslavement of the girls is doubtless horrific. The likelihood that they are being sexually and physically abused makes the episode even more sickening. But kidnaps in Nigeria are daily events: over 25,000 have been recorded in the past couple of decades.

My own Facebook news-feed has been filled with outrage of various kinds. Friends of mine who never normally protest have gathered in solidarity at the Nigerian embassy. Moronic rumours have been spread. From some black friends, the insinuation that the world isn’t paying enough attention because the girls are black. I’ve even seen the suggestion that Boko Haram are part of a CIA plot – thus neatly reviving the afrocentric meme that everything bad that takes place in Africa is somehow the fault of foreigners. Meanwhile, at least three of my white friends have taken to spreading far-right anti-Muslim propaganda, focusing on the fact that Boko Haram is an extremist Islamic group (but not the fact that most northern Nigerians, and many of the kidnapped girls, are Muslim, or that such episodes frequently happen in Christian regions too).

Of course, to Western eyes, this incident is a big deal. But everything is relative, and by the standards of much of what takes place in Africa, this is a minor thing. For years, the Democratic Republic of Congo has experienced warfare and terror. Six million people are said to have died there, and mass kidnaps and rapes are commonplace. Not so long ago, 48 women per hour were estimated to have been raped (and many men also have been raped). Yet this failed to catch public attention. Of my own Facebook friends, only one regularly posted about this, and she is of Congolese background.

Genocide has been raging across Sudan for years, and since the country split into two, South Sudan is now undergoing a new wave of genocide. Women and girls are kidnapped, raped and murdered in far greater numbers than in Nigeria. Yet this has failed to capture public interest.

It’s not just Africa: Sri Lanka just five years ago, an estimated 40,000 civilians were slaughtered, and hundreds of thousands rounded up into camps, where many still remain. Rape and summary execution has been recorded on a huge scale.

But not, apparently, on a big enough scale to warrant a hashtag.

So why is this event different from the others? In the case of my own Facebook feed, there are a couple of obvious reasons. I have a number of British-Nigerian friends, and it seems obvious that they will be interested in this. Also, given the dominance of Nigerians in today’s black British culture, many of my other black friends also feel close to the issue. Meanwhile, Sudanese people play little, if any, part in black British culture, so few people here are aware or interested in the South Sudan events.

But the fascination with this kidnap is global. Michelle Obama has expressed her outrage (though cynics have been quick to point out that her own husband’s foreign policy has slaughtered far more children than Boko Haram ever could). The British and Israeli governments have offered military support. And of course, both Britain and Israel have long records of providing international humanitarian support without asking for anything in return*.

The politically-correct and the far-right are united in presenting this as an unusual situation; the former are terrified to generalise about African human rights abuses; the latter are determined to blame this on Islamism, and add to the growing demonisation of Muslims around the world.

But the plain fact is that this is one of a long string of similar incidents in Africa, both in Muslim and Christian regions. African conflicts from Biafra to Congo to Sierra Leone to Sudan to Uganda are routinely characterised by mass abductions, child soldiers, industrial-scale rape and slavery.

Given the incompetence and corruption of Nigeria’s military and government, there is a strong argument for Western intervention to help find and free the girls, but we should not try to pretend that such interventions are primarily motivated by the fate of a couple of hundred girls. So why this place and this time?

To say “oil” would miss the point. Nigerian oil is already flowing freely to the West, and many billions of dollars of revenue are flowing into Nigeria… much of which then finds its way into Swiss bank accounts (this fact alone provides a far better explanation for Nigerian instability than the “Islamism did it” theory). The true explanation for the West’s sudden interest in African human rights is even simpler.

It’s The Economy Stupid

Last month, Nigeria’s GDP suddenly grew by 89%, catapulting the country ahead of South Africa to become the continent’s wealthiest, as the result of a long-overdue recalculation. Nigeria’s economy is now more than a fifth the size of the UK’s and is growing much faster. The West, long used to dismissing Africa as an economic irrelevance, and captivated by Asian and Brazilian growth, has only just woken up to a key fact: Africa is finally joining the big boys. By mid-century, Nigeria’s population will be bigger than America’s and (all being well) its economy will outstrip many Western ones.

Investors around the world want a piece of the action; but the instability of the country, and its neighbours, adds serious risk to any investment. If Nigeria wants to secure its place at the table of leading nations, it will need to play by global rules. It will need to ensure that taxes are collected, and that they’re spent on public services and infrastructure. It will need to accept that global economies don’t have most of their citizens living on less than $2 per day, and start distributing the nation’s wealth more fairly. It will need to adopt global human rights standards. Western liberals will need to swallow their dislike of “cultural imperialism”, if it means an end to child soldiers and slavery.

The kidnap of the schoolgirls is nothing new, but it might be the last straw. To focus on this one incident alone might be hypocritical, but if it is the catalyst that brings about African progress, it’s worth it.

*Sarcasm alert

Syria: We’re Not the good Guys

It’s too easy to be cynical about politics and politicians, and so when something out of the ordinary happens, we often dismiss it. This week’s British parliamentary vote against joining an American attack on Syria was historic, and to be celebrated. It established both that Britain can be independent of the US, and that we can step back from a war that seemed inevitable.

Until the vote, the whole situation stank of the 2002-2003 period during which Bush and Blair concocted their illegal attack on Iraq. Back then, we could see that the war was unnecessary. We could see the lies being created before our very eyes (Brits at least – Americans took several more years to realise they had been scammed). We knew, at least six months before the war that the decision had already been made. We marched in record numbers, but it was futile: Blair dragged us into the war against our will. He destroyed his political career as a result, but earned himself millions in “consultancy” fees from those who had benefited from the war.

Now, for the moment, our democracy has proven it can stand up against war-greedy corporations, the demands of the US Empire, and the need for military and intelligence “communities” to justify their own dubious and expensive existences. However cynical we may be about our democratic representatives, we should applaud and support them at this moment. The vote against war was a brave moment for Parliament.

“But”, comes the response, “what about the people of Syria”? It’s an important question, and a hard one to answer, but while considering the answer, we should remind ourselves of some important facts.

1. We’re Not The Good Guys

This is hard for Europeans to recognise, and even harder for Americans, who live in a propaganda bubble that North Korea would be proud of. It’s a mantra we need to remember. We (the West) are the bad guys. In the past few centuries, we have committed crimes and atrocities beyond count.

The three biggest warmongers today – UK, France, USA – are the worst of the worst, and have been for decades (in America’s case) or centuries (in the case of Britain and France). At the very least, tens of millions of people have been slaughtered by these three nations in their self-serving grabs for power and resources. We shouldn’t be distracted by the fact that the centre of Western power has moved from Paris and London to Washington. It’s the same imperialistic drive, the same European tribal instincts and allegiances at work.

These three powers between them have chewed up the rest of the planet. From India to Algeria, Colombia to Lebanon, Vietnam to Indonesia, Guatemala to Iraq, we have directly or indirectly caused misery on a global scale. There is only one significant moment in modern history where we have been on the right side: World War II. That was the exception, not the rule – and even then, we were hardly squeaky-clean. WWII set the stage for American imperialism. Better perhaps than German imperialism, but not to its millions of victims.

One more time: we’re not the good guys. Whoever should be leading an intervention to help the Syrian people, it should not be us. Sending Britain, France and America into Syria is like sending child rapists to run a nursery.

2. We Don’t Do Humanitarian Intervention

A brief look at modern history will kill the idea that we are prepared to spend billions of dollars in warfare for the good of foreign civilian populations. There are minor exceptions: interventions in African conflicts are cheap in dollars and lives, and these are easy to win because any opposition will be poorly trained and armed. The UK’s intervention in Sierra Leone was against a few thousand hungry gangsters holed up outside Freetown. France’s interventions in Ivory Coast and Mali were quick and easy. All three of these interventions were designed to support existing leaders against rebels, not to change regimes; and they were self-serving too, preserving old colonial ties.

Besides these, our behaviour speaks for itself. The biggest war since WWII has been in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and we have left the UN to deal with that, despite slaughters and reports of 50 rapes per hour taking place at times. Ditto in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands were killed. Our “allies” in Sri Lanka are reported to have slaughtered 40,000 Tamils in 2009, and herded hundreds of thousands more into camps. Mass rape is reported. We tut-tut and keep trading with them. Our new friends in Burma are averting their gaze while nationalists slaughter and rape members of the Rohingya Muslim minority. And we line up to sign oil deals there.

While we invaded Iraq to “deal with the evil dictator Saddam”, we continued to partner with leaders who were as bad, or even worse. While Saddam was torturing and killing his own people, the British ambassador Craig Murray was warning that in Uzbekistan, the leader Islam Karimov was boiling dissidents to death. Murray was fired for criticising a friend of the war on terror.

3. Syria Is Next To Iran and Israel

Amidst all the Syria noise, you might have forgotten that for the past decade or so, Iran has been “months away from developing a nuclear weapon”. The war party has been trying to justify an attack on Iran (one of the world’s biggest oil producers) for many years. Even world-class neo-con liars have found it hard to persuade anybody that a war on Iran might be necessary. In 2008, as he was leaving office, Bush was still trying to persuade the public that Iran was a threat. An attack on Syria would at the very least destabilise Iran, which is already suffering from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on its doorstep. A friendly regime in Syria would provide another good launch point for a future attack on Iran.

Meanwhile, Israel would love to see its Middle Eastern enemies weakened and broken. Israel is still occupying the Golan Heights, Syrian land that was taken and occupied during the 1967 war. Israel appears to have no intention of letting the land return to Syria, and a weakened Syria would allow Israel to finalise its land grab. In reality, this is already happening: in February this year, Israel granted an oil-drilling license in the Golan Heights to a US company with links to Dick Cheney, one of the chief gangsters involved in the Iraq war. This is an illegal move: international law does not recognise the land, or the oil, as belonging to Israel.

4. What’s The Big Deal With Chemical Weapons Anyway?

Obama’s stipulation that use of chemical weapons in Syria would be the last straw is weird and arbitrary, and reminds me of nothing more than Bill Hicks’ “pick up the gun” sketch. The line appears to have been drawn solely for the purpose of claiming it had been crossed. I don’t know whether Assad has used chemical weapons or not: the man seems perfectly capable of doing so. But likewise, the US is perfectly capable of telling massive lies in order to justify new wars, as demonstrated in both Vietnam and Iraq.

To use chemical weapons would be horrendous, but far less so than many acts of the US, British and French empires. Assad would also have to excel in evil to beat the murderous behaviour of the US in Iraq and so many other places. America is now known to have supported Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against Iran, and used vast amounts of depleted uranium (and perhaps other substances) which have led to many birth defects in Iraq. In other words: even if Assad is a murderous bastard, several recent US presidents have been far worse. Whatever Assad has done, to allow a US attack could only make things worse at every level.

So What Now?

The Syrian civil war is a reality. Mankind only has one tool to deal with such situations: the United Nations. It may not be perfect, but we have nothing else. The UN must be empowered and trusted to do whatever it can to help refugees, protect civilians and try to end the conflict. The American, British and French should stay as far away as possible – except, possibly, to supply resources to a UN peacekeeping operation. There is no quick and easy answer to Syria, and a US attack is not even an answer at all – it would be fuel added to the fire. Bullying the UN Security Council into backing yet another US war is not the same as allowing the UN to deal with the situation.

And if the West truly has billions of dollars to burn, peace can be bought far more cheaply than a war which can only increase instability in the Middle East, and lead to more terrorist attacks both there and here.

The US is trying to broaden and continue its endless, pointless war on terror. We can be proud that the British Parliament has just made that task a little more difficult. Obama wars are no better than Bush, Reagan or Nixon wars. At least if America goes to war against Syria, this time we can try to ensure they go alone, and are exposed as the gangsters they are, and have been since the 1950s.

It’s Official! Obama’s Endless War

Amidst the various sporadic outbreaks of moronitude, people could be forgiven for missing this week’s top story. The Obama administration casually admitted that the US has been running a global, open-ended war since the 9/11 attacks, and it has no intention of stopping any time soon.

During a Senate hearing, Pentagon officials said that the “war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates” could last another 20 years; and claimed that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that was passed in order to allow the 2001 attack on Afghanistan was an open-ended authorisation to deploy violence anywhere on the planet. When an Independent Senator pointed out that the Pentagon has “…essentially rewritten the Constitution…”, this was met with a shrug, and “…I’m not a constitutional lawyer or a lawyer of any kind…” from one of the Pentagon officials. Now, I’m not a lawyer either, but I’m aware that “ignorance is no defence” when it comes to lawbreaking.

The Pentagon is apparently aware that it is breaking US law (not to mention international law), and seems to be 100% comfortable with that fact. US democracy is revealed to be a sham when most Democrats loyally line up behind the Obama administration; meanwhile, Republicans, rather than oppose Obama’s shredding of the constitution, would rather pursue three completely fabricated attacks on Obama instead. As we already know, the Republicans are even more enthusiastic about pursuing illegal wars than the Democrats.

The current phase in the “war on terror” involves firing missiles at various targets in Pakistan and Yemen, and in the process killing far more civilians than fighters. Pakistan has just achieved the first moderately democratic transfer of power in its history; the US, in pursuing an illegal war against Pakistani individuals, against the wishes of the Pakistani parliament, can fairly be described as a terrorist entity. Under international law, Pakistan is within its rights to retaliate – though it lacks the power to do so, and any retaliation would only strengthen the case for continued terrorism by the Americans.

Yemen is a very poor country which is experiencing a severe water crisis. For a fraction of what the US spends on bombing the place, work could begin on securing water supplies and addressing poverty. But helping fix Yemen’s problems wouldn’t serve the Pentagon’s interests: in order to pursue endless war, it requires a frightened American population; and that needs an enemy. If American morons were to discover that the “terrorist threat” consists of small, scattered groups of idiots driven by poverty more than anything else, support for the Pentagon’s terrorist campaign would weaken.

Those people who were paying attention at the beginning of the “war on terror” (in which the neo-cons blamed Afghanistan for the actions of a small group of Saudi dissidents), will remember predictions that the war may last a decade; now it’s clear that the strategy is to keep kicking the can down the road. 20 years is a meaningless number. The “enemy” barely exists, yet so long as people believe it does, the war will continue, and create the illusion of an enemy as it does so.

The fact that the entire “global terrorist threat” against America has managed to produce 19 men armed with knives, and two men armed with pressure cookers, over a period of twelve years, would make intelligent people stop and think; luckily for the war machine, there appears to be a great shortage of intelligent Americans (or alternatively the corporate-run media ensures they rarely get heard).

Since the Republicans are doing their best to cover up for Obama’s attacks on the constitution, it’s up to liberals to break ranks. Sure, it was good to have a Democratic president, and even better to have a black one, but any dreams that Obama was any kind of liberal must surely have been shattered by now.

Americans, you are bringing death and destruction to places most of you can’t find on a map, just as you did during the “Cold War”. Billionaire interests are leading your country to destruction, and like sheep, you blindly follow. The more foreign civilians you kill, the more likely that some person, sickened by the death and destruction in their own country, will try to take revenge on you. And it seems equally inevitable that you will crap your pants and allow unelected interests to take even more of your liberty in response.

As one of your great men, Benjamin Franklin, said:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Free Shaker Aamer

Eleven years ago, a British resident, Shaker Aamer, was working in a school in Afghanistan when he was kidnapped. Since then, he has been illegally imprisoned and repeatedly tortured at the illegal US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. The British government has requested his return, and he has been cleared for release – but is still there. He is reported to be one of the majority of Guantanamo detainees who are on hunger strike, and are being illegally and painfully force-fed.

Anyone who wonders why innocent people are being held and tortured by the US has not been paying attention for the past decade. Neo-cons wanted endless war, and in the absence of a real enemy, they had to create one: “Terrorism”. When they invaded Afghanistan in 2001, they offered generous bounties for “terrorists”, with the inevitable result that gangs of thugs kidnapped and sold people, at random, to US forces.

The people thrown into Guantanamo Bay, and other US “dark” prisons, were described by the Bush Administration as the most dangerous people on Earth. This helped frighten ordinary Americans, as well as whip up a climate of Islamophobia. It allowed both the Bush and Obama administrations to attack civil liberties in the US, and carry out a series of illegal wars and assassinations abroad. Shaker Aamer, and thousands of people like him, had their lives destroyed as a “necessary” part of this campaign. Almost all of these “most dangerous people on Earth” have been quietly released without charge; Shaker is the last remaining British victim of Guantanamo.

You can read more about Shaker Aamer here, or watch the video from his campaign below.

Who Bombed Boston?

Something HUGE happened on Monday. A multiple bombing, resulting in fatalities and many injuries, which received saturation-level media coverage. The bombs in Nasariyah, Kirkuk and Baghdad killed at least 31 people and injured over 200.

Only joking. Monday was, of course, the date of the biggest bomb attack on US soil since 9/11. Some moron (or morons) planted home-made bombs, killing three innocent people and causing many serious injuries to others who were simply taking part in a marathon for charity. On Twitter, I was accused of a “lack of empathy” for even daring to raise deaths in Iraq or Pakistan, on the day that Americans were killed. Americans! Somebody doesn’t know the meaning of empathy, obviously.

We learned, again, that three is greater than 31. Or than 300. Or than 3000. There is huge empathy around the world for the people who were killed and injured on Monday in Boston, but also huge frustration at the total lack of empathy for the deaths occurring around the world – deaths for which Americans have blood on their hands. While Pakistanis have to suck up the fact that 50 civilians die for every “terrorist” killed in drone strikes – perhaps over 4,000 deaths so far.

Because Americans are real people, and Pakistanis… well, they’re not really, are they? Except they are. You have our empathy, America. Where is yours?

Now, of course, the predictable Muslim-baiting begins. The hate dollar is big, and Americans are the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. Hate sells in America. You may have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the last decade, but playing the victim is way more fun than feeling, somewhere deep down, a little bit guilty. The usual suspects – those people and businesses who know how to play morons for the hate dollar – are out in force; and morons are buying.

So far, Fox News guest hater Erik Rush wins the top moron award for wanting to kill all Muslims in response to Boston. Generalising hate towards a quarter of the planet’s population at least means you avoid mistakes – like bombing Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen when you are attacked by a small group of Saudi militants on 9/11.

But who bombed Boston? Fascists on both sides of the Atlantic think they know, and have wasted no time in telling us “it was Muslims”. Never mind that they have repeatedly called it wrong; they know that morons will forgive them getting it wrong repeatedly, if they only get right once. Who remembers now all the morons that blamed the Oslo bombing on Muslims? It was done, of course, by a right-wing “patriot”. Was there a witch-hunt of blond, right-wing patriots? No – acts of individuals are only blamed on groups when they’re brown-skinned.

I don’t know who bombed Boston, but I’ll stick my neck out – and unlike the fascists, I’ll use facts to make my best guess.

We know that from 1980 to 2005, 6% of terror attacks in America were carried out by Islamic extremists. We also know that extremism among far-right Christians is on the rise. The Oklahoma bombing was not a one-off: the Southern Poverty Law Center provides a long list of far-right and Christian plots that have taken place since. It’s easier to be scared of brown-skinned, Arabic- or Urdu-speaking foreigners than it is of the white “loner” who lives down the road, but statistically, the Boston bombing is far more likely to be the work of a Christian than a Muslim.

There’s a good chance that I’m wrong; there are Islamic terror groups that would no doubt like to target Americans (in fact, there are a lot more such groups than there were when the “war on terror” began in 2001). We’ll have to wait and see.

[UPDATE: as you probably noticed, the bombs were not planted by far-right Americans. I called it wrong. However, I called it less wrong than many media pundits are calling it, even now. The two Chechen murderers are variously described as anything from a "cell" to a full-blown Islamic plot to destroy humanity. The reaction has been breathtakingly moronic, even to a seasoned moron watcher. More to come shortly.]

One prediction that I’m sure of: morons always win from violence. Fear will grow; Obama will get more support for his attacks on US civil liberties; the military machine will thrive on the fear, get increased funding, and kill more brown people; the NRA will sell more guns; Glenn Beck and Pamela Geller will sell more of whatever they sell to morons. This cycle will keep on turning until Americans finally spot the pattern, and decide enough is enough. That’s all it needs.

Rand Paul: Civil Liberties Hero?

Delivery from President Obama!

Delivery from President Obama!

As regular readers will know, my political roots lie on the left; but I feel very little affinity with the left today, largely because it has lost touch with its tradition of support for civil liberties. The right loves to throw around the F-word (Freedom, I mean) but has never, in practise, believed in it. “Freedom” meant, under Reagan, the right to destroy democracy worldwide in the name of “fighting communism”. Today, “Freedom” means the right to destroy democracy in the name of fighting terrorism. The right in Europe and the US has always been the greatest threat to liberty; today, much of the left has decided to join it.

This means that, if you care about civil liberties, there is increasingly little to choose between Conservative/Labour, Republican/Democrat. George W Bush and the Neocons, who concocted a “global war on terror” when the “threat” comprised of perhaps a few hundred extremists at most, had a clear strategy; recreate the cold war climate of fear, and thus erode support for civil liberties. The Bush Administration carried out war crimes on a global scale and unprecedented attacks on civil liberties at home. Obama’s Hope & Change message seemed to carry a promise of a return to truly progressive values – most of all, defence of free speech – but the Obama Administration has not only preserved the core of the Bush attacks on civil liberties, but extended them (and continues to do so).

Free speech is even more under threat today than it was when Obama came to power in 2008. At this point, the partisan nature of US politics becomes tiresome. The right had, as ever, abandoned its commitment to Freedom when freedom came under sustained attack by Dubya. Now, the left largely averts its gaze when Obama does the same thing. The US mass media has utterly failed to hold Obama to account, just as it ignored the crimes of Bush. Even Fox, constantly attacking Obama for things he hasn’t done, has barely bothered to attack him for the things he has done. Fox-viewing morons want Obama impeached for a variety of bogus “crimes”, but not for the actual attacks his administration has made against the US Constitution – largely because these attacks are supported by Republicans even more than by Democrats. The US news organisation that has best held Obama to account isn’t Fox, but the progressive Democracy Now!

The political news in America has been dominated for the past couple of days by a filibuster by the right-wing Senator Rand Paul. He spoke for 13 hours in an effort to delay the appointment of John Brennan as the director of the CIA. Brennan was the major architect of the drone assassination programme, in which at least 4,700 people, many of them innocent of any crime, have been killed with no due process (click for a photo gallery of drone strike victims).

Before we brand Paul a saviour of international law, let’s note that his concern isn’t over drone strikes in general, but primarily because the Obama administration claims the right to kill US citizens (apparently the other 95% of us are fair game). And we should also note that he appears to be using this event as a publicity-generator for a possible 2016 Presidential run. Yet, as Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! has written in today’s Guardian, it is shameful that only Paul has chosen to speak out on this issue (with some backing from only a small handful of Republicans and one Democratic Senator).

They say bipartisanship is dead in Washington; but when it comes to ignoring America’s global terrorism, torture and tyranny, under Presidents from both parties, the Republicans and Democrats are remarkably united. We can expect Republicans to excuse international law-breaking; we might hope that Democrats would know better. But they don’t.

Nobody on the left has any reason to like or trust Rand Paul; yet in this case, partisanship should be put aside. At a time when almost nobody is prepared to fly the flag of liberty, anyone who does so deserves qualified support. Obama has now won his second term. A Romney win would have been disastrous, and led to even more international criminality. But Obama – we should have noticed by now – is no progressive, and is happy to advance the military-corporate attacks on democracy.

The US left needs a reality-check. When the right-wing, corporate-backed Rand Paul is saying what Democrats should be saying, he deserves at least one round of applause.

Genocide in Mali

map_of_maliAs the so-called “war on terror” grinds into its 12th year, it’s the duty of every intelligent person to occasionally take a step back and remind ourselves that the “terrorist threat” today is vastly bigger than it was on September 11 2001. The Neocon “war on terror” turned a small group of fanatics into a global threat, firstly, in the minds of a gullible public, and then (via the Iraq War, kidnap, illegal imprisonment, torture and drone strikes) in reality.

Now, we’re told (by salivating warmongers), that a “new front” has opened in the Sahara. Mali has collapsed into civil war. The average war-loving moron hasn’t heard of Mali, let alone could find it on a map; they tell us that this is about the expansion of militant Islamism. Yet, they don’t seem to understand that Mali has seen Tuareg rebellions before, in the early 90s, and in the 60s.

I visited Mali four years ago, to attend a music festival, and see/photograph some of the country. It is perhaps the most dreamily beautiful place I’ve visited, and I’ve wanted to go back ever since. The map is key to understanding what is happening there. Like most African countries, its borders are a colonial creation. Most of the population is black, and lives in the bottom-left part of the map. The largest part of the country, in the top-right, is in the Sahara desert. The Sahara is sparsely populated by nomads from the Tuareg and others tribes. Most desert-dwellers are of “white” North African origin.

When the European powers carved Africa into nations, they ensured that in states like Mali, the Tuaregs would become a small racial minority, governed by very different people and cultures located hundreds of kilometers away. To the Malian government in the South-West, the Sahara is only of interest for its mineral wealth. To the Malian Tuaregs, they are people of the Sahara, with kin spread across Mauritania, Algeria and Niger. The outcome is obvious: who can be surprised that the Tuaregs, seeing little in common with Mali, have repeatedly tried to gain independence?

When I was in the country, it was largely peaceful, although tourists had occasionally been kidnapped, usually for financial gain. In the unofficial Tuareg capital, Timbuktu, I visited a peace monument made of destroyed guns from the 90s uprising, set into concrete. It was clear to me, even as an outsider, that Tuaregs and other Malians weren’t always on the best of terms – centuries of history between the groups, including slave-taking, have left them still uneasy with each other. Yet these problems are in the distant past – Tuaregs have become increasingly assimilated into urban Malian society. But as we know by looking at other societies with old racial divides (USA, anyone?) a calm surface can hide division and bitterness.

During my trip, I made friends with a Tuareg man, who I’ll call M, a middle-class university graduate. We kept in touch since then, mostly exchanging small-talk about London, Bamako and Timbuktu. Then early last year, Mali’s peace collapsed. A coup in Bamako, the capital, triggered the current problems, and as had happened before, some Tuaregs used the chaos to restart their war of independence. The Malian nationalists united with Islamists. The response was vicious – Tuaregs were attacked from the air. From the very start of the current problems, the Malian army made little distinction between any Tuareg, whether civilian, nationalist rebel or Islamist. Murder and rape of Tuaregs became widespread, and my friend M fled into a neighbouring country, where he slept rough and looked for work, then eventually managed to reach Europe – where he now faces a new set of challenges, new forms of racism.

The rebels quickly stalled Mali’s army. Islamists seized control of the North and East; tragically, in Timbuktu, once a Western outpost of the Arabic Empire, many ancient treasures were damaged or destroyed by Islamist hard-liners (West Africa’s version of Islam differs from the Arab version, and fundamentalists reject the African modifications).

Mali’s troubles give weight to “war on terror” propagandists who claim Islamism is a global “threat” to the West – without pointing out that the rise in hardline Islamist groups such as those fighting in Mali can be linked to the “war on terror” itself; their roots are in the US war in Afghanistan/Pakistan in the 80s, in the Iraq War, in missile strikes on Yemen and Somalia, in the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya.

I didn’t support the attacks on the oil states Libya or Iraq – these were both functioning, if repressive, states. Mali is a different issue – the state was weak, even in peacetime. The case for intervention is stronger – to restore rule to Bamako and to free northern and eastern Malian towns from the control of Islamist hardliners.

The Malian army, too weak to react, had been stalled, but with French support in recent weeks, has quickly regained the initiative. However, sections of the Malian army have used their new advantage to declare war on the Tuareg civilian population – the French and their European/American supporters appear to be turning a blind eye. Under the mythical “war on terror” banner, an apparent genocide is being perpetrated. Unless the French now use their presence to prevent it, the support for extreme Islamist groups, far from shrinking back, can only grow. Very few modern military interventions achieve their objective – let’s hope this French action doesn’t end up the way of Iraq or Libya.

The following is a brief Facebook conversation I had with M yesterday

M: In Mali very bad

MW: Do you think the French army will help?
Will the French make it better or worse?

M: So many touareg has been killed by malian army in the last days
Now France are making tuareg situation worse
Now malian army are just killing tuareg people
so many
We don’t understand why france don’t say for malian army to stop killing civilans

MW: Do you have contact with people in Mali?

M: Yes in Timbuktu erea
my small brother