Thursday 31 January 2013

Africa: we never learn

The current fighting in Mali is once again leading westerners to interpret events in simplistic terms: the global battle against Al Qaeda. But these blind and arrogant perceptions have a high cost. When on previous occasions western governments have intervened in northern Africa, their policies have proved counter-productive, fuelling a hatred and distrust of Europe and America, which in turn has massively helped the Islamist cause.

That is the analysis of TV documentary maker Adam Curtis, in this fascinating account of events over the past twenty years in Somalia and Algeria. It is a lengthy essay accompanied by clips from various TV documentaries, but repays patient study.

Curtis concludes:
...America’s intervention in Somalia had created the very thing it feared.
And the same thing is happening now all across the northern part of Africa. In Mali, in northern Nigeria with Boko Haram, and in Algeria with the remnants of the GIA. In every case what are local struggles for power are being simplified by Western politicians and commentators into part of a global battle against “Al Qaeda”.
It is true that there are extreme Islamists involved who proudly announce that they are joined together into a global movement. But the reality is that that kind of extreme Islamism has failed everywhere. Ever since Algeria in the early 1990s none of the extremist salafist-jihad groups have managed to take power and create the kind of society they yearn for. The reason for their failure is simple – the growing urban middle classes throughout the Arab world don’t want it. You only have to look at the battles now tearing Egypt apart to see that happening.
Instead our politicians and allied terror experts fall for the Islamists’ attempts to aggrandise themselves – and in the process become the Islamists’ PR agents. It means the western elites are helping to promote a failed revolutionary movement while ignoring the signs of what might be the future for Africa – the new systems of multi-party democracy being built from the grassroots in places like Somaliland. Without aid, and without the west imposing centralised forms of control.
This raises an interesting question. If our politicians, journalists, military and various think tank ‘experts’ persist in clinging to simplistic notions and repeating the same mistakes, why do we persist in taking them seriously?

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