"When it was my turn, they took me blindfolded,” the thief said. “Suddenly I felt a pain in my right hand that was out of this world. My hand had just been chopped off.”
This is Gao, once the seat of an empire, and then a glorified village, and now a city the size of Scranton under the boot of its Islamist conquerors. Gao has become a place where thieves have their hands cut off, where women are forced to wear the stifling Hijab in 113 degree heat or be lashed and where unmarried couples are stoned to death.
Borders are an illusion in Africa. No more than paper mirages that cannot be seen from the air or the roads where a thousand ethnic groups with dreams of glory move back and forth, striving and feuding, until the blood begins to flow.
The Tuaregs were one of them. Like so many others they wanted their own country. Like so many others they were a minority that felt aggrieved and persecuted by the majority. Like so many others they found neighborhood patrons willing to give them money and a sanctuary in exchange for more fighting. After their uprising failed, the Tuaregs set up shop in Libya under Gaddafi who was always looking for a few more African mercenaries to remake the continent into his hashish-fueled visions. And when Gaddafi fell, the Tuareg separatist militias still dreaming of glory, took his weapons and went west to carve out a state in Mali.
For the last hundred years there have been two kinds of movements in the Muslim world. Nationalist and Islamist. Some Tuareg dreamed of a nation. But others dreamed of merging into a Caliphate that would impose Islamic law on thieves and little girls, on Gao and Timbuktu and then on the whole world. Both sets of Tuaregs had stockpiles of Libyan weapons. But the Islamists had a lot more money and support from the dark heart of the Middle East where the oil wells pump and the preachers scream the call to prayer. And the Nationalists didn’t have a prayer.
Al Qaeda now has its own Alqaedastan in Northern Mali, a territory the size of Texas. Al Qaeda began its true war against the West in Africa. The continent which wavers between a Christian and Muslim majority is to Islamic Colonialism in the 21st Century what it was to European Colonialism in the 19th Century. But the Muslim colonizers were here first, ferrying cargos of slaves into caves and then selling them in the slave markets of Gao.
The Tuaregs are among the few in Northern Mali to still keep slaves, but now that the Islamists have taken Mali, it is uncertain who the masters and the slaves are. Many of the Islamist fighters wandering around Gao are foreigners, from North Africa and beyond, dedicated Salafis and mercenaries drawn by Gulf oil money, aspiring drug dealers looking to protect smuggling routes and rapists and thieves plying their trade with the authority of the Koran.
Around the core of Koranic students who memorize verses and preach death, is a larger outer ring that consists of sociopaths, stray killers, hustlers, junkies and young men looking for adventure and a group that is organized enough to feed them and provide them with a spot on the ground floor of a shiny new Emirate where women have no rights and their weapons are the only law that counts. That is what Al Qaeda really looks like: a ball of dung gathering speed and growing in size as it rolls downhill. A gang of sadists building their own forts in the cliffs and fighting to hang on to the new kingdom that opened up for them when Libya fell.
Nations are oases of order in the desert. As cruel and ugly as they might be, they provide some structure to the eternal feuds and grudges that are only ever truly settled with slavery or death.
Obama toppled Gaddafi without considering or caring for the consequences. An Alqaedastan in Mali is one of those consequences. Weapons from Libya have gone west and east carried by old militias looking for a new fight. Gaddafi’s weapons stockpiles are in Gaza and Aleppo now, they will soon find their way to Afghanistan, if they haven’t already, and tens of thousands more will die.
Mali remains under an arms embargo, but the embargo is no handicap for Al Qaeda, glutted with weapons liberated from Obama’s overthrow of Gaddafi.
George W. Bush stepped in when Al Qaeda tried to seize Somalia but Obama has been out to lunch when it comes to Mali. The African Union is struggling to assemble a fighting force to take back the land, but they are getting little to no help from the United States. Unlike Europe, Obama has refused to send trainers to help the Mali government rebuild its military. And the word out of the State Department is the familiar one that the Taliban have grown used to. Appeasement.
“Negotiations need to go on before, during and after,” Time quotes an American diplomat as saying. As in Afghanistan and Egypt, Barack Hussein Obama is still seeking his moderate Islamists. The negotiations with the Taliban have gone nowhere, but Obama will be happy to spend years negotiating with Ansar Al-Dine in Mali while little girls grow up in prisons of cloth under the rule of a new African Taliban.
The women of Northern Mali want help. Obama wants new elections first. Mali is full of Al Qaeda leaders with cell phones, but not a single drone can be found to take them out. The same man who eagerly rushed into Libya, unleashing the chaos and bloodshed that splattered the walls of the US mission in Benghazi and the public square in Gao, plays the delaying game when it comes to stopping Islamists in their tracks.
"I've told my friends that we must have the courage to march with our heads uncovered to protest all this. But we are afraid," a woman in Northern Mali tells a reporter. Obama has even less courage. While child soldiers are trained, fortresses are built and girls are turned into slaves, the man responsible for all this smiles and practices his swing for the camera.
While an Alqaedastan grows in Africa, Obama vacations in Hawaii.
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