The Conflict in Mali Has Nothing to Do With Fighting Terrorists

Another Western nation and former colonial power, has engaged in yet another conflict with an African country, bombing from the air and attacking from the ground. We are told that France is fighting in Mali to push back ‘Islamist’ rebels (not too comfortable with the word ‘Islamist’, I’ve never heard of a Christianist) who are extremists, terrorists and fanatics – take your pick of which label you wish to adopt for the current enemies of the West.

Again, as in Afghanistan, we are being told that this battle is being fought for ideological reasons. The rebels are extremists, they have destroyed ancient heritage and amputated limbs according to their literalist religious interpretations. However the idea that France has gone into Mali to fight against extremists is a myth that I wish to dispel.

The West has no moral high ground; a short reading of their colonial past can easily show us that – France’s colonial legacy in North Africa reads like a state terrorism handbook. If the West was really concerned about the destruction of ancient historical heritage, limb amputations and executions then there is a state that dwarfs anything that the Malian rebels have partaken in, that state is Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, the ideology and literalist approach of the Malian rebels has its foundations in and is propagated via the Saudi state and the Wahabi/Salafi movement. The West enjoys a very good relationship with Saudi Arabia. Western leaders can often be seen hugging and kissing Saudi leaders, and enjoying the hospitality of the Saudi state, never mentioning the destruction of heritage, the treatment of foreign workers, the executions, the amputations and not to forget, the favourite subject of the West when they wish to engage in wars – the treatment of women. Our leaders are too busy flogging weapons to Saudi Arabia rather than moralising with them.

If this battle is not for ideological reasons then what is it for? The answer, however cynical, is simple. Resources. Mali is rich in resources, from uranium to gold. It is an African kingdom that has historically been known for its mass of gold reserves and more recently the possibility of further oil and uranium exploration. Had the rebels expressed their love of the West and outlined their intentions to open up Mali’s market to foreign companies (allowing the leaching of resources), we would not have heard a word of objection from France, the United Kingdom or any other power. Instead, we are greeted with the scramble to take a big slice out of this African cake. Everyone is rushing to fight ‘terrorists’ in Mali. France is ensuring energy security. There should be no disruption in the flow of uranium through France’s nuclear reactors. The so-called rebels are bad for business.

America had no problem flying over members of the Taliban to the United Sates when they thought they could win them over with gas pipeline deals. Their ideology was not a problem back then, it only becomes a problem if someone challenges or stands up to Western hegemony.

The arrogance and ignorance that the people of the world are confronted with is astounding. Had these Malian rebels found themselves in Syria or Libya (at the time of Gaddafi) they would have been called revolutionaries, received funding, training and been armed by the West. These rebels however, are fighting a regime that is a friend of the West and not an enemy, and these rebels just happen to be in the wrong country. Maybe they should request to be taken to Syria?

As with all foreign intervention there is always blowback and destabilisation of neighbouring countries. Afghanistan and the troubles in Pakistan are a prime example. The attack on a gas plant in Algeria was seemingly as a direct consequence of the Western intervention in Mali.

Had the West not attacked Mali, there would likely have been no hostage situation in Algeria and most of all, no deaths. Reports emerging tell us that the rebels in Algeria were only looking for Westerners. The foreign secretary denied that Algeria had anything to do with the intervention in neighbouring Mali. The public are not so easily fooled this time, especially in the aftermath of Afghanistan and Iraq. We are reminded that the West is engaged in Mali to fight these ‘terrorists’, but the West has been happy to support groups and leaders whose human rights records have been far from exemplary. From General Suharto of Indonesia to the Afghan resistance during the Soviet occupation, the West has no moral high ground when it comes to human rights.

The situation in Mali would not have occurred if the Tuareg were not pushed out from Libya to return to their region, armed and trained, looking for their rights and recognition as a people. Something the colonial carving up of Africa and the drawing up of artificial borders denied the Tuareg people. There has been an alliance of different groups in Mali all with different interests, but their enemy is the same – the Western sympathising regime in Bamako.

Not for a second am I defending the Salafi/Wahabi rebels or their literalist and brutal approach. I am simply pointing out the blatant contradictions of the Western powers. France and the West, in my opinion, are much more brutal than any rebel group. Dropping bombs on villages and murdering children is not something that should be applauded, but the government spin-doctors are always at hand to make us hate the people that should have our sympathy and love those that should have our indignation.

One day people will look back at these so-called wars of liberation and see them for what they are – politicians putting business interests before the lives of people and painting a veneer of moral superiority when there is none.

During Times of Austerity Art is Just Middle-Class Decadence

A row has been ensuing since October after the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, announced that the Council would sell a Henry Moore sculpture, the Draped Seated Woman also known as Old Flo. The proposed sale of the sculpture is due to massive government cuts to the council’s budget.

The sculpture has not been in Tower Hamlets for 15 years. It was loaned to Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 1999. The Borough has massive inequality and a dire housing situation – as I have discovered whilst researching for my next documentary.

The Mayor’s office says that the money raised from selling ‘Old Flo’, somewhere in the region of £20 million (the last Henry Moore piece sold for £17 million), would go towards affordable housing, education and preserving local heritage sites.

Art in times like this is a middle-class decadence that the residents of Tower Hamlets can ill afford. There are families living in cramped conditions. Six members in a one bedroom flat, families that have water leaking through their roofs and fungi growing inside due to damp conditions, are just some of the problems people face. The last thing these residents need is for a sculpture that has not been in the Borough to be planted back on their doorstep to remind them of the expensive fetishes of the middle-classes.

Yet, art can lift spirits I am told, try explaining that to the 4,000 families facing the reality of having to move out of the Borough thanks to the government’s benefits cap. That’s children having to change schools, added costs to travel, communities being destroyed, and a massive demographic change that will further reinforce the inequality between rich and poor in society. I am not oblivious of the benefits of the arts; I am only talking about the harsh choices that Councils must make. I would rather the Council sold art to create housing, jobs and fund education (Tower Hamlets is the only place in the country to reintroduce the Education Maintenance Allowance for college students).

Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said that Councils should sell their assets to plug the financial gap. It is convenient for some to talk about artwork, culture and history when they themselves do not have to face the grim reality of cramped housing and struggling to provide for a family.

Old Flo is being used as a political football; those that talk about art at a time of austerity are the ones that do not have issues with finances. For many in Tower Hamlets life has been getting tougher, when the credit crunch hit, some of them had no credit to crunch, whilst the lovey-dovey, pretentious wine sipping art lovers enjoyed well paid jobs, beautiful houses and time to spare to admire Henry Moore artwork.

Bromley council, a Tory led Council, has never challenged the ownership of the statue for 27 years. Now they claim that the statue belongs to them – convenient political opportunism.

London County Council bought the sculpture for Stifford for the sum of £7,400 in 1962. That amount of money could have bought you three houses at the time. In 1965 the London County Council was abolished and all land and assets were transferred to the General London Council (GLC). After the GLC was abolished everything was legally transferred to Tower Hamlets.

Regardless of who owns the statue, surely it is the arrogance of the rich to plant a statue worth millions on the doorstep of those who have so little. Tower Hamlets, according to the recently set-up Fairness Commission has 48.6% of children living in poverty, that’s 27,915 children. A fifth of households in Tower Hamlets have an annual income of less than £15,000 whilst the average house price is £384,820. It is no wonder then that 23,000 households are registered on the social housing waiting list.

The figures are clear. You can see the poverty, inequality and the struggle for yourself, all you have to do is take a walk around, talk to people and engage, but I guess some people are too busy discussing the intricacies of over priced artwork with their rich friends to notice the desperation that many families face.

Why I Choose Not To Wear a Poppy

Red poppy
It is that time of the year again when it seems like everyone is wearing a poppy; on the tube, on the bus, in the park. You cannot get away from them. Yet, like every year, I refuse to wear one. It is not because I am opposed to remembering those who died in WWI. In fact my great uncle Muhammad Shaban, of the 30th Punjabis, was killed in the First World War fighting for the British in Tanzania but I still cannot pin a poppy to my clothes.

It feels as though everyone that appears on TV has to wear a poppy. Asians, Muslims and black people wear extra big ones just to show their additional loyalty to, what has become, a nationalistic and a patriotic symbol.

Rather than wearing a poppy, if we really want to remember the dead, then why don’t we stop engaging in new wars? Why don’t we stop occupying other countries? Why don’t we stop bombing and killing children? It seems, however, the politicians are committed to repeating the mistakes of the past and sending other people’s children to fight their wars over resources, power and status.

I recently received a letter from the Royal British Legion, with images of soldiers that have suffered injuries. The images were accompanied with captions reading; “They are just boys. But they are our boys”. They are not my boys or ‘our’ boys. This may sound harsh to some, but they knew what they were signing up for, they went to fight in an occupation of a foreign land. If they get injured in the process it is the government’s responsibility to take care of them, not for them to rely on the charity of the public who are already paying for a war that has been going on longer than the second and first World Wars combined. I feel for the families who have lost their loved ones in politicians’ wars. A life is a life, British, Afghan or Iraqi; I wish our media saw it that way – but instead we get disproportionate coverage of some victims which means that we end up only caring about ‘our’ dead.

The poppy is used as a tool to promote current wars. It is not used to say ‘never again’ as it should be. Politicians use it to beat down opposition to war whilst questioning people’s loyalties and patriotism. The symbol of the poppy was never intended for peace or to stop war, it was a cry for others to take up arms and take revenge in a poem by John McCrae. The gentleman whose idea it was to start the poppy, General Earl Haig, was responsible for gross incompetence on the battlefield in which thousands perished.

Yet, we are blinded by this cry of ‘our boys’ and the fallacy that British troops are in Afghanistan defending Britain. On the back of the envelope there is a ‘send a message of support to an injured hero’ plastered next to a British flag. Hero? Really? Since when did we start calling paid soldiers, with Kevlar protection, air support, heavy machine guns, armoured vehicles and tanks heroes? In this narrative the farmer who is defending his country from the occupier is the bad guy. Who are the real heroes?

We have whole-heartedly bought into this premise that soldiers are sacred and their role should never be questioned. I for one cannot accept it and must see the world in a much wider context. Rich versus poor, ruling elites versus the proletariat, the politicians versus the people, big business versus the indigenous people, the well-armed Western soldiers versus the rag tag resistance of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Who will remember the children killed? Who will remember the victims of occupation? Who will remember the contribution of Muslim soldiers to the World Wars? Will they be remembered in the minute silences? Will their images be brandished on the news; will anyone even think of Ali Shan who fought in Burma for the British and now lives in Birmingham? Ali Shan does not wear a poppy and neither do his children or grandchildren. Then there is the case of my great uncle, who will remember him? We will, we do not need to wear a poppy to remember him.

I do not hold these opinions because I am a Muslim, although it helps. I can see the suffering of fellow Muslims at the hands of soldiers acting on orders of my government. What are my thoughts on the extreme minority of Muslims in the UK that burned poppies? They were idiots. Burning something that others hold sacred and dear is never right.

My act of not wearing a poppy when everyone else is, is in remembrance of all those men that were sent to their deaths, forced to go over the trenches to face machine guns. I remember all those that were sacrificed for the sake of power using disastrous tactics. I remember men like my great uncle, who were seen as cannon fodder because they were not white. I remember all those families that lost their loved ones and prayed for no more wars. Most of all, I don’t wear a poppy, hoping that people will move away from jingoism and realise that it is not a symbol of respect and honour for the dead, but by wearing it and accepting the current narrative, it does the opposite – it glorifies and promotes war.