I confess: I had no idea where Mali is. I had to look it up when I read about the latest terrorist atrocity this morning.
According to the news report, gunmen shouting Islamic slogans attacked a luxury hotel in Mali’s capital, where UN forces were holding a function. At least three people died and about 170 were taken hostage, the report said. Later reports said Mali commandos had stormed the hotel and freed the hostages.
But where on earth was Mali? And what did Mali have to do with ISIS, if anything?
I found out that Mali is a former French colony in west Africa with a population of roughly 15 million (see map). Its capital city is Bamako.
A former French colony. That tells me a lot. The abuses of colonization come to mind, for example. The exploitation of other people’s land and resources by foreigners who “own” territory simply by saying it’s theirs.
Of course that claim was backed up by troops – “boots on the ground” they might be called today. And, later, by a more sophisticated form of colonization – economic manipulation.
Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – and even into the twentieth century – western civilizations grew enormously rich by colonizing territories all over the world, shipping their resources home, processing them into marketable products and selling them back to the colonies.
As I remember it, my History teacher called such colonizers “Metropolitan States.” And he found benefits to the colonies as well as to the colonizers.
You can look at it that way, I guess. You can see it as a process of civilizing “savages,” conferring upon them the cultural and economic advantages of a developed society. And, of course, by concentrating production in the home state, economies of scale resulted, keeping the prices of the processed products down.
But I doubt that’s how the colonized people saw it. Or how they see it today, when a more subtle form of colonization persists throughout the world. The boots on the ground have, to a large extent, been replaced by a global economic system that favors the developed nations, keeping the former colonies mired in debt they cannot hope to repay.
And, in exchange for trade and development concessions, today’s colonial powers have often used their superior military might to support abusive dictators who indulge in lavish lifestyles while leaving the people they rule in abject poverty.
None of this excuses the barbaric behavior of the terrorists who massacre innocent people abroad and commit unspeakable atrocities in their own homelands. They are, without a doubt, mad dogs that must be destroyed to protect the rest of us. But I think history helps to explain the bitter hatred of western civilization that fuels evil cults like ISIS.
This is not just a blast from the past. The global economic system, supported by vast military power, still inflicts widespread injustice around the world, subjecting millions to starvation and disease – and a future devoid of hope.
Mali, for example, is described this way in a CNN-Money report:
The small land-locked country, which is roughly twice the size of Texas, is among the poorest nations in the world. The Mali population is considered very young; nearly 50% of people are under the age of 14. Life expectancy is 55 years.
As the old Jamaican proverb puts it, “Donkey say the world no level.”
And until the world’s inequity is addressed, I fear that civilization will be threatened by outbreaks of barbarism – sometimes disguised as religious fervor – .in a misdirected desire for retribution.
Photos above show the hotel that was attacked (top) and the way some people in Mali live (bottom).