Mali and the Clash of Civilizations

As mentioned in the previous post, I read Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations” recently. I was going to write a post about my opinions of it after having read it. I was lazy and dragged my feet and, as usual, the news has over taken me.

Due to an overblown title, “the clash of civilizations” has become something of a meme, one that is usually deployed derisively, which I’ve seen at least twice since Friday’s attacks in Paris. However, it was written over twenty years ago and has held up fairly well. I have some quibbles with it, but he doesn’t necessarily imply that we are doomed to a World War among “civilizations,” a thing he defines in the first part of the essay and only partly coincides with the vernacular use of the term. Despite my quibbles, it must be admitted that the essay has had predictive power and his ideas should be considered even if you don’t accept his complete argument. More specifically, he predicts smaller conflicts along the “fault lines”, where one civilization abuts another, and suggest that we must be aware of these differences if we don’t want a local conflict to turn into a larger conflagration.

He also predicts that many conflicts will occur along the “Islamic Crescent,” which not only has a northern border, but also has a southern border in Africa. I’m sure we’re all aware of recent attacks in Nigeria and Kenya. Today, we have Mali.

Mali is not a small country, but it is poor and landlocked an my experience is that most people in the U.S. are only half aware of it. I probably would be totally unaware of its existence myself if I didn’t happen to have known some people from Mali when I lived in Quebec. More accurately, my ex-husband knew some people through work. He helped one woman with a linguistics project and spent some days listening to tapes of people speaking her native language. Which language it was, I no longer recall.

According to Wikipedia, Mali has 13 “national languages”, and an “official language,” French. The figures given in Wikipedia are old, but in 1986 it was estimated that only 21% of the population speaks French, a number which surprised me since all the Maliouans I’ve met personally have spoken it.

Just the other day, while looking for some information about Belgium, I came across an article about the countries most likely to break up. The top of the list? Mali.

The current borders of Mali were formed in the wake of the collapse of the French empire in Africa in 1960. Although there had been a Mali Empire from the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries, the current state of Mali does not entirely coincide with the boundaries of the old Empire and is a state of multiple ethnic groups. Other kingdoms and empires have existed within the area that is now Mali as well. For a while, the New York Times ran a series of articles under broader title, “Borderlines.” One article described the situation as it existed in April 2012. At that time, the northern portion of Mali had broken away and declared itself a separate state called Azawad.

The short-lived breakaway state was the result of a rebellion by the Tuareg, a nomadic Berber people who live in a region that crosses several borders. The state was first declared by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).

It owes its success in large part to the demise of the Qaddafi regime last summer. Libya’s previous regime had incorporated Tuareg fighters from previous rebellions into its armed forces, and when it fell, they fled back to Mali with large stockpiles of weapons.

Azawad itself faced internal divisions. Fighting alongside the Tuareg nationalists were an Islamist group, the Ansar Deen. From that same 2013 article:

“The MNLA is in charge of nothing at the moment,” one junta spokesman said. Instead, he said, the most powerful force is the Ansar Deen, an Islamist faction aligned with the terrorist organization Al Qaeda in the Maghreb.

These organizations are less interested in establishing Tuareg independence than in enforcing Shariah law, which appears to have been introduced in Timbuktu and other areas held by the rebels. The black flags of Salafism have also been spotted in other recently conquered cities in the south of Azawad.


Further down in the article, the writer notes:

A secular government, focused on Tuareg independence, is more likely to focus on the region’s long-held goal of self-governance, a la the South Sudanese. A state driven by Islamists, however, is likely to push for maximum territorial control, since expanding the range of Shariah law is a central part of their ideology.








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