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Mali: the wider context, the right now and the longue durée

[ By Charles Cameron — cross-tagging some useful resources from natsec bloggers with another from a bright historian friend ]
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Daveed Gartenstein-Ross‘s Globe and Mail piece The War’s in Mali, But the Danger is International from almost a week ago gave a global context to the conflict, while his more recent Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al Qaeda’s Senior Leadership on Gunpowder & Lead addresses the issue of relations between AQIM and AQ senior leadership.

Zeroing in, we have a 4-part series on the jihadist actors in Mali from Andrew Lebovich, posting on Jihadica:

  • Primer on Jihadi Players in Algeria and Mali, Pt. 1: AQIM
  • Primer on Jihadi Players in Algeria and Mali, Pt. 2: Belmokhtar & Those Who Sign with Blood
  • Primer on Jihadi Players in Algeria and Mali, Pt. 3: Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa

  • — and there’s one more in the series still to come which has now been posted:

  • Primer on Jihadi Players in Algeria and Mali, Pt. 4 (Final): Ansar al-Din

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    And by way of cross-fertilization of immediacy with history, here’s the key Mali para from The Slightly-More-Longue Duree by my friend, Swarthmore historian Tim Burke, on Easily Distracted:

    I would never for a moment want to fall back on a pure restatement of ibn Khaldun’s famous interpretation of the history of northern Africa (and the world) and say, “See, this is just pastoralist nomads versus settled agriculturalists and city-dwellers”. But there is a much more specific history that has considerable depth and antiquity to it that involves relationships between Berber-speaking Tuareg pastoralists, Fulani pastoralists, and the settled agricultural societies of the Niger River; between North African states and Sahelian states; between cities and their rural hinterlands; between Islamic cultures and non-Islamic ones. That all matters not just as contemporary sociology but as deep and structurally recurrent history, as a series of patterns and concepts that can be consciously recited by contemporary combatants but that also can be the structural priors of how they mobilize for and imagine conflicts.

    Tim’s conclusion:

    To talk about deeper histories is not to explain current conflicts as destiny, or to put aside a whole host of material, economic, geopolitical and cultural issues with much more immediate explanatory weight. But somehow I feel as if we have to give people struggling to understand what’s happening (and what to do about it) the permission to consider all of the history, as well as the guidance to help them to weigh its importance in context.

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