Algeria, Mali and Manifest Destiny: Reminders of Anachronism in Political History

By Joe White

Recently, an off-shoot of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the Masked Brigade sent a commando group, “Those Who Signed In Blood,” to kidnap foreigners working at the remote Algerian Ain Amenas natural gas production facility. “Those Who Signed In Blood” were also to destroy the large, desert production facility, which employs hundreds of Algerians and foreigners. As of this writing approximately 68 people have died including a reported 25 bodies disfigured and burned. More people are still missing. According to al-Qaida operative Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a.k.a. the Uncatchable, “We in al-Qaida announce this blessed operation.” Assuming Mr. Belmokhtar can actually take responsibility, is associated with al-Qaida, why was this a “blessed operation?”

Again, according to Mr. Belmokhtar, this operation was carried out in response to the fighting in neighboring Mali. To quote Mr. Belmokhtar, “We are ready to negotiate with the West and the Algerian government provided they stop their bombing of Mali’s Muslims.” So, why does the West or Algeria have any interest in bombing Moslems in Mali? Note, however, the bombing is apparently focused upon a specific violent, fundamentalist Moslem group from the north and does not involve all Moslems in Mali. This seems yet another case of those nasty, internecine conflicts/wars which plague our 21st century global community.

According to Associated Press journalist Krista Larson, “The Islam followed by Malians for centuries is a moderate form, though extremists began implementing a strict form of Islamic law known as Shariah last year across the north when they took over the cities of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. These Islamists have provoked international outcry by razing historic tombs and attacking the gate of a 600-year-old mosque in Timbuktu. They also have carried out public executions and amputations, as well as whippings for infractions ranging from possessing cigarettes to women going out without headscarves.” So, it is a variety of Islamic fundamentalism, which appears to be spreading to southern Mali, where, at this time at least, such fundamentalist Shariah is not embraced.

So, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb’s off-shoot, the Masked Brigade and their commando group, “Those Who Signed In Blood,” are not simply Moslems but a particular variety of Islamic fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism is not specific to some religious or secular ideology. Rather it is an attitude arising within religious or secular ideologies. Fundamentalists are orthodox in the traditional sense of possessing “ true belief.” Orthodox fundamentalists are deeply committed to the truth, typically an unshakable certainty, of their fundamental, ideological principles. A commitment come what may. However, being orthodox is not the primary political problem with fundamentalism presently. Rather the problem is a coercive, often violent expansionism. There appears to be a need on the part of such fundamentalists to convert or eliminate non-believers using a variety of methods including coercion, force and violence, if necessary. For such fundamentalists, the end justifies seemingly any means.

While al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb’s Masked Brigade’s commando group, “Those Who Signed In Blood,” appear to be a clear example of forceful, violent, expansionistic fundamentalism in the guise of Islam; we, in Europe and the United States, do not have far to look to find comparable non-Islamic violent, expansionistic fundamentalism in our societies. From Norway’s Anders Behring Breivik who killed 77 people, mostly children of parents who are members of a political party apparently tolerant of minorities in Norway, to Wade Michael Page who recently killed six Sikhs in Madison, Wisconsin. Page was but one of the many active white supremacist in the U.S. The present abortion debate in the U.S. is tainted by the expansionistic, orthodox beliefs of some fundamentalist Christian denominations. The ideologies in the case of abortion have proven violent given the ambush killing of doctors as well as clinics being bombed. We could continue with regard to gay rights or simply recall the European settlement of the western hemisphere or our 19th century Manifest Destiny.

So, what does such fundamentalism, whatever its ideological context, remind us of politically regarding our present historical moment? We, the human family, no longer live in an historical era where such expansionistic fundamentalism reasonably exists. In an important sense, we now know too much about the limited power of reasoning within such ideologies. We now understand that intelligent, well-informed, reasonable people do disagree over deeply held “orthodox” ideologies. Such disagreement amongst reasonable people is simply a brutish fact of our historical moment as a complex, dynamic, global community. Also, a matter of historical fact, we can expect that ideological diversity will expand and become more apparent as globalization continues to expand. As I write, the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, especially the Salafis, are entangled in this exact historical quagmire. They simply need to temper their expansionism while remaining orthodox.

Hence, any expansion by fundamentalists should no longer exceed the bounds of discourse. All such fundamentalism should now reconsider its views in relation to means/ends strategizing. As history whispers, not only does social stability no longer require pervasive social conformity to some single, orthodox ideology, creating a type of social mono-culture, but social thriving will now be enhanced in a social poly-culture or social pluralism. Might there be a lesson here from modern agricultural practices, given the obvious historical downside of agricultural mono-culture versus poly-culture? However, such an analogy is a discussion for another time.

Whatever the type of fundamentalism, when it needs to expand forcefully, militarily beyond its community, violent conflict is likely. The resulting suffering, resentment, expending and loss of resources will not provide for social stability or even the well-being of the expanding fundamentalism. Rather, living in complex, dynamic societies with diverse reasonable citizens practicing incompatible, even contradictory, “orthodox” ideologies will not only be stable but will provide the strongest opportunity for thriving societies in our fast changing, complex, 21st century.

So, if Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, estimated to have the second-highest infant mortality rate along with a life expectancy of 53 years, and only 20 percent of women can read and write, what might happen if forcefully expanding fundamentalists from the north simply abandoned their sophisticated military expansionism and instead poured their resources into a Malian Peace Dividend? Without a corrupt government, the resulting peace dividend should increase spending on infrastructure for such needed services as health and education. With such a peace dividend, the Moslems of Mali and Algeria should find their lives being lived longer and safer. The simple historical lesson for humanity is that forceful, expansionistic fundamentalism is now politically anachronistic, whether Islamic, Christian, Libertarian, Secular Humanist, Salafi, Evangelical and the like. Please help create a one-year cease-fire regarding such violent ideological expansionism. We now have a collective opportunity to tip history away from war’s waste, destruction and suffering. Together we can rid ourselves of war as we have small pox.

Time to JOIN, RECRUIT, EDUCATE and CELEBRATE – 2020 A Year Without War, a global on-line community. One, simple, first step. Let’s unchoose war for one year.