Comment: French intervention in Mali is not colonialism. The Islamists really are our enemies

The French liberation of Mali from islamists should be welcomed by the left.

Two political factions have a palpable sense of sour grapes right now. If your entire raison d’etre is opposition to war, or if you regard every act of solidarity with the oppressed as a waste of taxpayers’ money, what do you say when confronted with footage of jubilant crowds singing the praises of Western military intervention in Mali?

You pretend they don’t exist, of course.

Last week French forces drove Islamist rebels out of the north of Mali, where fanatics had established an African base for Al Qaeda and imposed sharia law and everything that goes with it, including amputations, the banning of music and the reduction of women to the status of chattel.

In driving out the Islamists, a French socialist politician has provided Malians with sanctuary from the fanatical whims of the Islamists; hence the celebrations. Most Malians want their lives dictated by the totalitarian edicts of religious fanatics about as much as they want lectures from Western cultural relativists about the “legitimate grievances” of those who would chop off their hands for stealing a loaf of bread.

As would you. Why suppose Africans feel differently?

France will likely begin the gradual withdrawal of its troops from Mali in the next few weeks, handing over responsibility for security to an African force.

For those at a safe distance from the reach of the jihadists, one can welcome the liberation of the Malian people from this stark nightmare or shrug one’s shoulders and mutter about colonialism or the expense to European taxpayers.

While it would be unsurprising to hear little Englanders denounce the involvement of British forces in Mali using the same rational they use to denounce all aid to Africa – i.e. they don’t care – the sheer number of self-appointed humanitarians willing to watch the enslavement of Malian society with equanimity is shameful.

No it is worse than that; it is utterly repulsive.

According to the Stop the War Coalition, France’s intervention in Mali is part of a “growing scramble for Africa”.

“Stop the War condemns the intervention in Mali, and calls on the government to withdraw all support immediately,” a statement reads.

Anyone who wishes to understand the conflict in Mali must recognise that this is not a resource grab by the French. It isn’t anything of the sort. France and Mali already have an excellent (and consensual) trading relationship, with French direct investment in the Malian economy increasing from $210 million US dollars in 2001 to $1,093 million by the end of 2008; in 2010 Mali hosted nearly 50 subsidiaries and companies with French capital. The idea that socialist President Francois Hollande, a man who was welcomed into office eight months ago promising a 75 per cent tax for France’s rich, is embarked on a final push into West Africa on behalf of French corporations is bonkers to put it mildly.

Rather than enrich French corporations, what the intervention did do, however, was drive out of Mali some of the most unpleasant people on earth. Jihadists. People who murder women for looking at the wrong man; men who hang gay people for their sexuality; bigots who execute Jews for being Jews.

The reaction of the Malian people to the French military victory should tell you all you need to know. As Lindsey Hilsum put it in one of her excellent dispatches for Channel 4 news: “The scenes of joy and excitement as the French and Malians drove into town showed the majority of people in Gao utterly rejected jihadi rule”.

As a person of the left, I find I have absolutely no problem with that.

If you remain unconvinced, I have a quick thought experiment. Suppose for a moment that those who believe Western intervention can never be a force for good in the world were held to account for the human cost of inaction? It is deeply fashionable these days to denounce Tony Blair as a war criminal; yet what about slaughters such as that carried out by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, where over 60,000 people and counting have lost their lives at least in part because the West has decided not to intervene militarily?

Do those people not count? Or can inaction at times be as bad as intervention on the side of the aggressor and against the victim?

It is always possible of course to seek comfort in conspiracy theories whenever the West intervenes militarily, muttering under one’s breath about “blowback”, “resource grab” or “colonialism”. What one cannot do is simultaneously maintain a pretence of humanitarianism.

Sometimes intervention is wrong, and sometimes it isn’t.

In the case of Mali, Vive la France is more appropriate than all the predictable cries of “troops out”.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

4 Responses to “Comment: French intervention in Mali is not colonialism. The Islamists really are our enemies”

  1. David Mullen

    You are completely wrong about Syria. The so called rebels are US supported Al Qaeda members. Ths blog is fast becoming a cheereleader for Western imperaialism.

  2. Philip Conway

    You had me until the implicit defence of Blair. His war crimes — that is what they are, acolytes — are a large part of the reason why military intervention has such a bad name and people are so suspicious, and quite rightly so, of Western governments’ motives. It’s not just “fashionable” to denounce that nasty little man. Or, if it’s a ‘fashion’ then it seems to be a rather enduring one.

  3. Gareth Millward

    The penultimate sentence/paragraph is the nub of the argument, but don’t kid yourself that the imposition of western military power — whether for “good” reasons or not — is not colonialism.

    Perhaps the uncomfortable truth is that some colonialism is OK. That, however, would force the left to rethink some of its central beliefs and supposedly-non-negotiable statements. Actually, Western intervention to impose our version of “democracy” and “freedom” might be the best thing to do in certain situations. But in order to do so, we have to accept some of the more dirty sides of western colonialism. It’s a very difficult tightrope to walk, but a proper debate should be had rather than the two sides sniping at each other from the sidelines.

    Whenever we back one side or the other with military force for our own benefit — security, financial benefit, diplomatic relations, access to resources — it’s colonialism. The fact that this happens to be a good thing for thousands of Malians AS WELL means that it is supportable. But it’s still colonialism. We have to think much harder, therefore, about whether that’s always the “bad” thing that we suppose it to be — or whether it’s possible to choose an option that “less bad” than the alternatives.

  4. Conrad

    I think your confusing a few things here, firstly, if France has a lot of investment in Mali, then it is fair to assume they are protecting their interests as i suspect Jihadist’s wouldn’t exactly just leave the Secular French businesses alone if they managed to take power, so this is a cold, calculated, defense of French assets, not to mention the need to secure oil resources in the region.

    Secondly, if your already claiming victory a few weeks after this operation because some people are cheering French troops then you haven’t learned anything from the last decade, these things are not called victories based on the first few days, it takes years to see if it has worked, as far as i can tell the Jihadists still have numbers and firepower, they will either come back hard at a later date when we are gone, or move to another region and use the firepower to start a war there, also in the conflict ancient wonders of Mali, testaments of the Old Kingdom that was a great power of its Medieval hayday have been lost because we threw such force into the conflict, and made these people desperate.

    But even this is me simplifying it, NONE of these conflict can be reduced to a simple Starving Baby and their Mother vs The Bad Guys With Their Guns. Africa is an area that has many ethnic and Religious rivalries and a lot of power inequalities, If a powerful Jihadi group came to prominence in these areas there will be more of a reason than its the Wests fault or evil Islam and it seems that we are making the same mistakes in Africa as we did in South America IE Call all popular struggles against the extremely repressive power structures communist and that they are allied with Russia (Which was BS Russia had barely any influence in the region, it didn’t really care)

    Finally, we bare no responsibility to the world beyond our borders and what we agree too at international treaties. In fact by intervening in these countries we impinge on their autonomy and create unforeseen consequences, all countries need to find their own path to prosperity, if the West feels bad for these people then maybe we should give fairer trade deals so they can develop their own countries.

    As for Syria, you should do some history research, the tampering of that state at the hands of the West practically pushed the Assad family into its position of power, we are the last people that should be doing anything in their, it just adds one more power faction to the scrum.

    Maybe i am wrong and intervention is justifiable, but the problem is that you cannot from behind the veil of ignorance know what you will cause, you should never do anything so stupid as take lives from a position of ignorance, even if you suspect you could save more by acting. No, i think the only time you can act is if a great natural tragedy has befallen a country, they cannot do much to prepare for this, and it does not require violence on our part.

Leave a Reply