We have received a number of questions from readers about our response to the French imperialist invasion of Mali and in particular its statement that we “stand in defense of all those under attack.”
Some have been shocked by the suggestion that we would defend the ultra-reactionary Islamists who ruled so cruelly when they seized power in northern Mali.
Others have expressed concern that we do not necessarily stand in defense of those Islamist groups which are currently the focus of the imperialists’ attacks.
So let us be perfectly clear: when we said that we stand in defense of all those facing imperialist attack, we meant it. Yes, since we stand against the French invasion of Mali, identify the imperialists and their allies as the main enemy and call for their defeat, of course we stand in defense of even the most reactionary Islamist groups being attacked in Mali such as Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
As our statement noted, we take this stand with full knowledge of the crimes these groups perpetrated against the people of Mali’s North during their time in power.
Just how terrible was the rule of Islamist groups in the North?
So bad that apparently even Al-Qaeda criticized their version of “Sharia” for being too extreme!
On February 14 the Associated Press reported the discovery in Timbuktu of documents authored by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leader Abu Musab Abdul Wadud (a.k.a. Abdelmalek Droukdel) that were left behind when the Islamist forces abandoned the city. Those documents criticized local Islamist forces for going too far, too fast, in imposing their conception of religious rule. They reportedly singled out for criticism the stoning-to-death of adulterers and the whipping of people for other supposed crimes, attacks on Sufi Muslim sites of worship “and the fact that you prevented women from going out, and prevented children from playing, and searched the houses of the population.”
Because the terribly oppressive nature of the Islamist groups’ rule in northern Mali’s was already well known (as was the brutal role of the nationalists who at first shared power with them), our statement made clear that while we stand in defense of the Islamists against the imperialists’ attacks, we do not think that the masses should sacrifice their struggle against any of those forces that oppress them:
“At the same time, our opposition to the imperialists does not mean that we call for the oppressed to necessarily pause their struggle against local oppressors, forgo an opportunity to overthrow them or to in any way compromise their ability to defend themselves by necessarily rushing to the defense of those who were, before the imperialist attack, acting as local rulers and oppressors themselves. Indeed, despite the imperialist attack, in concrete instances armed Islamist or nationalist groups may prove a more immediate threat to the masses; under such circumstances necessity dictates that the oppressed must defend themselves against whoever is the most immediate and grave threat to them.”
As brutally oppressive as the groups that ruled northern Mali were, however, they are no match in cruelty for the imperialists, whose blood-soaked colonial history in Africa, the Middle East and the rest of the world runs all the way to the “war on terror” in today’s “post-colonial” world. France’s ruling capitalist class abandoned its former empire only after its monstrous reign of terror failed to break a wave of anti-colonial revolutions. Among French colonialism’s most brutal counterrevolutionary wars, perhaps its most infamous was that which it perpetrated in Mali’s northern neighbor, Algeria. There, more than a half million Algerians were killed before the French finally abandoned their direct colonial rule.
Now, the armed forces of French imperialism have returned to West Africa. Their immediate aims have been to save a corrupt neo-colonial military regime in Mali that was in danger of collapse – and defeat a rebellion in the north of the country that had come to be dominated by armed Islamist groups. The French invasion has nothing to do with the government’s claims to be freeing Mali’s people from Islamist tyranny; it has everything to do with keeping Mali’s people permanently enslaved to imperialist exploitation. Further, a successful intervention will bolster the imperialists’ power generally – to bomb, invade and otherwise implement “regime change” wherever it finds rulers who do not bow to their dictates.
Revolutionary socialists stood for the defeat of the colonial powers in their wars against the anti-colonial rebellions. We must stand for the defeat of the imperialists in Mali today, all the while explaining that it is only the workers, poor people and oppressed masses, in the struggle against every form of oppression and exploitation, who can truly defeat imperialism by overthrowing the imperialist capitalist system. Socialist revolution is the only alternative to imperialist barbarism.
1. Rukmini Callimachi, “In Timbuktu, al-Qaeda Left Behind a Manifesto,” February 15, 2013, world.time.com/2013/02/15/in-timbuktu-al-qaeda-left-behind-a-manifesto/.