In Timbuktu, I Laid On The Floor Like A Lizard For Two Weeks. Malian Radicalism

“I laid on my belly on the floor of my room for almost two weeks with nothing to eat, only water. I was sprawled on the floor like a lizard. Just when you thought it might be safe to get up, you would hear the pow, pow, pow (AK47) again.” Daouda

Those were the words I heard from a young Nigerian who eventually evacuated from Timbuktu, to Sikasso. He just so happened to be a christian worker of some kind, working with the churches in Timbuktu and supported by some Swiss gentleman.

Once the initial crisis was over and Timbuktu was officially occupied by a blend of Al-Qaeda, Ansar Dine, and MNLA groups involved, people were permitted to circulate. However they were confiscating motorcycles and 4*4 vehicles. Daouda was stopped at a road block and told he needed to leave his motorcycle.  Asking why, the soldier shot off rounds in the air and barked, “That’s why!” This prompted Daouda to gladly relinquish the moto and walk away, quickly.

Daouda eventually left the famous Malian City. It was a difficult time for the whole population there. The minority Christians fled, but also some of the Muslim population,  as they were forced to live under Sharia Law or the fundamentalist whims and principles of these soldiers.

“Whatever happens, we’ll always manage to sort it out under the palaver tree or in the hallway.” (Old mans Words in Timbuktu Mali)

But this was not to be the case with fundamentalists, with guns on the loose. Is there any reasoning, especially compromise with such a lot?

Yes, millions of peaceful Muslims suffered at the hands of five or six thousand Radicals with guns, many from outside of Mali, imposing Sharia Law, stoning a few people, beating people (especially women), forced marriage of young girls to serve and service fundamentalist men,  cutting off some hands too. All the while, telling the population they were bringing “True Islam” to the them.

“How can these people tell us they are bringing us Islam? When we have been muslim for centuries.”

(To many people to cite)

The arrogance was sickening to the Malian population.

In a BBC interview a  man from Timbuktu said this;

“I would have left with the others if I’d had the means. We have no dignity. Our dignity was sold off. Because when they beat your wife in front of you, beat your sister in front of you, and you can’t say anything. They beat your very own mother in front of you, and you…you can’t say a word. You have absolutely no dignity left.  What are you going to do here except leave if you can.” (Seydou Baba Kounta of Timbuktu. Speaking of the horrors of Islamic radicals occupation of the city over the last year.)

Northerners lived the brutality, and experienced the  truth of a very graceless Sharia Law, and now most want nothing to do with it.

The conversation in Mali has changed.

Malians are still avidly Muslim, but they are taking a stand against this intruding, ruthless form of political Islam penetrating their region. One that does not have the ethos or heart of the Malian people encased in it.

As I have my motorcycle washed on a busy street in Sikasso, just around the corner from my place , I sit and often  chat with a half dozen commerçants from Gao, one being an “Arabic Teacher” also (means Koranic teacher I assume?).
I told them about the repeated warnings to leave Mali. One of them said, “Don’t go, stay! Tell your patents we will look after you.”

Jumping ahead to year later, same men. These men from Gao are now chatting with me about how difficult it is for their families up north, also commenting on the fact that children are not in school.

“How can our children or country progress when our children are not even in school?”, one asks, expecting no real relpy.

I am far from northern of Mali so I can only share second hand stories from the south. I am incredibly far from any expert on anything here.

However, I’m waiting for someone to write the stories of the thousands of men, women, and youth who stood up, in large or small ways, against fundamentalists and for freedom, harmony, and unity, in their own communities, and for all of Mali.

They are there. Thousands, of them.  Some, already dead early on, I suppose.

“Could I defend my father from the Armed Islamic Group with a paring knife? This was the question I pondered on Tuesday June 29, 1993. That day I woke up early in Dad’s apartment, on the outskirts of Algiers, Algeria, to an unrelenting pounding on the front door. It had been exactly two weeks since the murder of Dr. Mahfoud Boucebsi, the country’s leading psychiatrist, and one week since the assassination of Mohamed Boukhobza, a sociologist and former colleague of my father’s at the University of Algiers. As a local newspaper described the season, “at the time, every Tuesday a scholar fell to the bullets of . . . fundamentalist assassins.” 1 Boucebsi and Boukhobza, and others, had been killed that year by the Muslim fundamentalist armed groups that plagued Algeria’s predominantly Muslim population.

My father’s teaching of Darwin had already provoked a classroom visit from the head of the Islamic Salvation Front, who denounced him as an advocate of “biologism” before Dad ejected the man. Now, whoever was pounding on the door would neither identify himself nor go away. We tried to ascertain who might be outside with him. Inside the apartment, my father was not frightened for himself, but visibly worried for me, then a law student visiting for the summer break. He tried repeatedly to phone the police. Perhaps terrified themselves by the rising tide of armed extremism that had already claimed the lives of many Algerian officers, the local police station did not even answer. We were alone to face whoever was on the other side of the door. That was when I went to the kitchen, found a paring knife, and took up a position inside the entryway. What happened to Dr. Boukhobza was not going to happen again here, I told myself. I don’t know what I was thinking: I am not exactly the combatant type. My father looked at me and rolled his eyes. But I could not come up with anything else to do. So there I stood….
Fortunately, on June 29, 1993, the unwanted and unidentified visitors eventually departed. We never knew why, or exactly who they were…..

Subsequently, Algerian fundamentalists would add Mahfoud Bennoune’s name to “kill lists” posted in extremist-controlled mosques in Algiers, along with the names of so many others— journalists, intellectuals, trade unionists, women’s rights activists. They would murder more of my father’s colleagues, his friends and relatives, and as many as two hundred thousand Algerians during what came to be known as “the dark decade.” No matter how awful things became, the international community largely ignored these events. Like the local police who would not even answer our urgent calls in June 1993, the world would leave all those victims to fend for themselves.”
(Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories From The Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism.  Karima Bennoune)

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