Ali Farka Toure – Keito
Chilling are my own words. Reading them back, the curse of hindsight. Last week I wrote in response to the attack in Paris;
‘Will the war in Mali remain ‘forgotten‘ or will this provoke renewed focus on a country that appears to be slipping back to widespread violence?’
Focus has indeed been ‘renewed’ in the worst possible way. Al-Qaeda and its affiliated patchwork of militant groups are believed to have forced its way back into the headlines off the back of ISIS crimes in Paris by attacking a hotel in Bamako, holding 140 hostage and eventually killing 22. A bloody competition between two dreadful groups of people.
Many commentators have responded to the events of the past few weeks by feeling inclined to declare that French society will survive, making one immediately wonder whether these people actually believed that there was a chance it could die out. To emphasise their point, TV personalities like John Oliver and Andrew Neil made and read out lists of “things we have been told are great about France”. John Oliver – a comedian – made his list in comical style, and by doing so he acknowledged that he was participating in shameless nationalistic rabble-rousing in a time that France and all that love her needed it. Neil, however, appeared entirely serious, using references on a cosmic, sensationalist scale, for example by painting a slap-dash picture of the world in a thousands years time. Frankie Boyle’s retort points out the ridiculousness of the style by pointing out that many of the points on Neil’s list either contradict each other or achieved greatness precisely because they refused to be sucked into the prevailing national sentiments of their time, had the courage to challenge military-autocratic France and think creatively and compassionately about the liberty of all mankind, often arguing how the state must be renewed (or demolished) for this to be fully realised. Hardly the current view of Cameron or Hollande.
This rhetoric whips up the idea that this is a clash of culture and civilisation. It is dangerous to believe that the world is organised this simply; in an world without history where the value of ideas, identities and culture are constants. This conveniently forgets (perhaps purposefully) the battles and unpopularity that many revolutionaries faced on their long walks to freedom.
Many times on the Hub we have spoken about the importance of understanding Mali’s unique tolerant and pluralistic brand of Islam. There is a battle, a real battle, to secure these teachings along with Mali’s musical and historical traditions for its future generations. But this requires a moderate, compassionate response, one which Mali and many other countries are not receiving from the outside world. Not from Western governments at least who prefer to build their alliances and ‘shake hands’ with other, more zealous, countries in the Middle-East, somewhat counter productively. At this moment I am reminded by the comments of the Prime Minister of Rwanda in 1994, days before her genocidal murder, in the film adaptation of UN Force Commander Dallaire‘s book ‘Shake Hands with the Devil‘:
Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana: “I love my country. I hope you’ll love it too.”
Romeo Dallaire: “I love its beauty.”
Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana: “Everyone loves beauty. Loving a beautiful child…That’s easy. What’s harder is to love a child that is not so beautiful.”
[YouTube link to film – you may need to put on subtitles]
The metaphor is of Rwandan society – when it turns ugly, will anyone care enough to save it? A similar, frightening parallel can be drawn between France and Mali. France, with its shining light of Paris, is beautiful. Insatiable and oozing with classic human culture. It would be uncivilised not to drop bombs in its defence. Mali, on the other hand, is poor. Its dusty and far away. It is a majority Muslim country, and the situation is far harder to unpick. Who’s side are they on, in this war between us and them? Where do you rally? Where is the unequivocal beauty?
We all know this to be Mali’s music. We should listen to Mali’s musicians – its chief ambassadors for an open and cooperative society. We should not shy away from direct action where we can take it. We are relieved to report that the Mali Development Group’s Malian partners, their staff and all our family and friends have made it out of this most recent, high-profile attack on Bamako okay. Others, as we know, did not. And there will be further attacks as there have been previously. This is not a time to withdraw. In fact its a time to engage more urgently. This is not the time as Frankie Boyle puts it to “for society to go on psychopathic autopilot”. It is neither time to makes a reassuringly long list of things you like, or have been told to like, about your own country. This is the time to take pride in the culture of others. To reach out to try and understand the beauty of things you previously have struggled to understand. That’s why this week we have Ali Farka Toure, the Malian who is single handedly responsible for there being so many people world-wide praying, wishing and working for a safer Mali, and a more beautiful world.
Ali Farka Toure – Keito
Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.
To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at email@example.com. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.
The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.