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France's record in the Middle East rules out any constructive role in Mali

Western military interventions in the Muslim world are at best muddled and at worst fraudulent. In 2003, the US led an invasion of Iraq for reasons that changed like the weather. When it was not "to prevent human rights abuses", it was "to destroy weapons of mass destruction" and regime change; it is now said to have been to promote democracy. In this latest Western venture, French objectives in Mali also mutate according to the audience and time. They include protecting the capital, Bamako, stopping the spread of Islamist extremism and securing Mali's territorial integrity.

In reality, whatever France's proclaimed goals, they all remain suspect because of its dismal historic record in the region. The lack of consistency and impartiality calls the current operation into question.

 


Any assertion that France has a '"paternal" duty to protect its former colony is unpersuasive. If that is the case, why has it remained an idle spectator as the Assad regime slaughters more than 60,000 people – and rising – in Syria, a former French mandatory territory (1920-43)? Since the bloodletting began two years ago, more than four million Syrians have been displaced internally or turned into refugees in neighbouring countries.

 

French references to Mali's territorial integrity are equally suspect. Since 1967 Israel has occupied the Syrian Golan Heights in defiance of the international community. No French government, past or present, has ever contemplated the use of force to end this illegal occupation.

Indeed, there are more questions for French President Francois Hollande as far as occupation is concerned. What about Israel's relentless military occupation and expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories, which France recognised as a non-member state at the UN? The contradiction and double standards being applied are all too obvious.

Admittedly, there is an element of self-destruction in Mali's case. By their wilful destruction of historic tombs in Timbuktu the salafists have played into the hands of their foreign detractors and provoked the anger of many people across Africa. There are between 200,000 and 300,000 ancient manuscripts in 24 private libraries in the city of Timbuktu and its environs. Many date back to the 13th century. They debunk the myth that Africa is merely a "continent of song and dance, where knowledge is only transmitted orally", as the British-born historian John Hunwick claimed.

Today, the International Union of Muslim Scholars is appealing to all sides in Mali to end hostilities and return to negotiations. In the same way that France insists on negotiations as the only means to resolve the conflict in Palestine it must, likewise, allow the government of Mali, the neighbouring states and the Islamic groups in the north to complete their difficult negotiations and reach a political settlement. Failure to do so will lead inevitably to the destruction of Mali and its priceless heritage.

Furthermore, to the same degree that they feel obliged to protect the historic sites in Mali the French must also act to protect those that are decimated and threatened with destruction in Palestine. In 2005, the Israeli academic Meron Benvenisti wrote that 100 of the 140 mosques left by villagers after the creation of the state of Israel and the Palestinian Nakba – Catastrophe – were destroyed. Palestinian sources put the figure at 550. Some of those destroyed were more than 1,000 years old, including the historic mosques of Asqalan, Yabna, Ashdod and Sarafand.

There are other parallels between Mali and occupied Palestine. As the salafists destroy tombs in Timbuktu, the Israeli occupation destroys cemeteries; the most notorious example is the Maman Allah cemetery in Jerusalem, upon which Israel is constructing a "Museum of Tolerance".

The catalogue of failures and contradictions would be incomplete without mention of the Christian churches and monasteries that are violated regularly by Jewish settlers with racist and anti-Christian obscenities throughout the occupied Palestinian territories. Where's the righteous indignation in Paris or any other western capital?

Ironically, it was France which empowered Israel with the nuclear capability to threaten its neighbours and defy international law. Now armed with hundreds of nuclear warheads, Israel refuses to sign the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty or open its facilities for inspection.

Amid the fog of contradictions and inconsistency perhaps the only credible explanation for France's hasty intervention in Mali is the lure of Africa's abundant natural resources. Chinese companies exploring in the area confirm the presence of significant quantities of oil, natural gas, uranium and gold. Western media outlets, commentators and politicians are, for their own nefarious reasons, silent on this. With their economies in decline thanks to the military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Western countries now face a formidable challenge from the economic rise of China.

Clearly, France has hastened to use military force on the grounds that it is the surest means to remain competitive. Moreover, it has created a huge refugee crisis for Mali's neighbours. Monsieur Hollande should now tell African leaders how many of these 200,000 refugees France is prepared to accept as part of its 21st century "civilising mission". We know that the answer will be "none". France's self-proclaimed duty to "protect" Mali carries with it no degree of responsibility towards the people affected by the West's latest misadventure in the Muslim world. In that sense alone, France is being entirely consistent.

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Commentary & AnalysisEurope & RussiaFranceMiddle East
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