Lessons from Mali: Who benefits from baseless resistance?

The events in Mali have revealed a new case of resistance for Africa. It is a dynamism brought about by a Salafi-based understanding of Islam. However, when the history of colonialism in Africa is considered, this is not the first instance of rebellion against foreigners. In European readings of history, which commence the history of Africa with colonialism, the remembered indigenous cultures and especially Islam serve as the simultaneous sources of local resistance. Although African identity by itself may not be deemed as sufficiently explanatory, the common ground in the relationship with the West flattens the diversity and local richness of the continent.

The introduction of Islam in Africa prior to colonialism facilitated the Islamic civilization there to develop its own unique characteristics. Between the Mediterranean and the equator, the economic and political union developed by the Muslim groups fostered by Islam cannot be placed at the periphery of world history as the golden path between medieval Morocco and Mali played a central role in the global economy. The Muslim empires established in western Africa maintained the African richness of Islamic civilization until the arrival of the colonizers.

Among the most visible characteristics of Islam in Africa is the prominence of Sufi tradition. This characteristic has yielded great dynamism in both the spread of Islam and resistance against the colonizers. The effectiveness of the Sufis in the struggle against colonialism enabled the adoption of the resistance by large masses. From Sudan to the Sokoto caliphate, from Osman and the Fodyo movement to Emir Abdulkadir Osman and Omar Muhtar, the leaders of religious orders and the resistance movements associated with religious orders served leadership roles in the anti-imperialist resistance.

In the post-colonial period, the newly independent nation-states disheveled the local sociology of the region, as well as its cultural codes. Like the political establishment which represented the interests of whites on behalf of whites, the colonial intellectuals ensured the continuance of the West’s relationships of interest. During this process, it was not possible for the corruption-ridden unjust dictatorial governments to maintain their power without the support of the white masters. As all the traditional institutions were incapacitated through repression, they tried to raise a new generation which scorned customs and cultures.

While the underground and terrestrial resources of the countries were being traded for a song to western companies, the lucky ones among the human resources were utilized as cheap labor in the United Kingdom and France. Meanwhile the remaining millions were condemned to their fate amidst the poverty and unequal income distribution.

There are signs that during the new process, we are on the eve of the reshaping of the post-colonial structure. As in the case of Mali, the legacy of colonialism becomes visible through the remobilization of ethnic groups such as the Tuaregs on one hand, and the exaggeration through which a new current with Salafi origins, extremely foreign to African tradition, is placed on the agenda in the name of resistance against colonialism.

What happened that suddenly a Salafi current has, or was made to, become the symbol of resistance? For an Africa deprived of its historical and cultural tradition, the reasons—aside from the external sources supplying it— behind this newly emergent current leading a political resistance, and the bringing into prominence, and even exaggeration, of this current in the name of Islamism and Islamic resistance bring the function of colonialism’s newly discovered propaganda wing to the agenda.

Do we see what kind of state this Puritanical understanding of religion, which would demolish the civilizational accumulation of Islam, which is more reactionary destruction than a constructive thesis, and which is modern precisely in this aspect, would build in the name of Islam? It is a crude formalism which, after destroying the accumulation of history in the name of waging war against that which is bid’ah, unquestioningly idolizes modernism, and is devoid of any sense of delicacy and beauty…

It is still unknown whether the organized ideological representatives of this current, which has—and has been made to— become prominent in the name of Islamic resistance since September 11, actually exist or not. However, it is not surprising that the West, as it endeavors to redesign global colonialism, has assigned a Puritanical movement which lacks both a societal base and legitimacy as the representative of the Muslim world in the name of Islamism against the West. As it becomes better understood that France has been sweeping Mali with thousands of soldiers and that this serves as the reconnaissance patrol function of colonialism, the operation in Mali should be read from this angle.

On the other hand, it is also very significant that due to the vacancy in the opposition stance rendered by the traditional structures being associated with the institutions corrupted in the shadow of the colonialists, the load has been placed on a movement without a base which provides legitimacy to the new occupations of the old colonialist carriers of civilization.

lgili YazlarDünya, English

Editr emreakif on January 30, 2013

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