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The Telegraph: Sharia marriage in the UK is not toxic – polygamous men are

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In 2012, I was working on a documentary for the BBC on polygamy in Britain. Researching such a sensitive topic was no easy task. Contrary to the hype, polygamy is not socially acceptable in Muslim communities. It is often frowned upon and many polygamous families tend to keep quiet about their set up. Nonetheless, we managed to find a discreet polygamous Muslim marriage event, where – an overwhelmingly male turnout – had come to find a potential second, or in some cases third wife. Some had even come as a couple, with one woman explaining that she had grown up in a polygamous household in her ancestral country and liked the “sisterhood” she saw among co-wives.

Sisterhood is all well and fine, but as Aina Khan, a leading Islamic family lawyer, pointed out in the latest reports about the rise of Sharia marriage in the UK, polygamy is often far from rosy for the women involved. “Although many people will be cohabiting or having mistresses, Muslims can’t do that. Polygamy leaves women vulnerable. If you’re cohabiting and you don’t know you’re rights, it is the same position whether you’re Muslim or not, because there are no cohabitee rights (..) because women have an Islamic marriage certificate, they feel protected, but it is a false sense of security – they think they can’t be made homeless overnight, but they can. This is a major issue.”
Women in polygamous “marriages” are not recognised as wives under British law and if and when the relationship sours – which is common – the woman is left with no legal claim to her investment in the household. Although historically, Islam emerged in a polygamous society, it sought to dramatically restrict the practise and the Quran describes the Islamic ideal as a couple. Unsurprisingly, some ahistorical readings render the exceptional permission a blanket encouragement to fulfil a wandering eye. And as is so often the case, it is women – and children – who pay the heaviest price.

Talking me today, Khan expressed her concern over the press coverage of her comments, some of which appear to stigmatise Sharia law and link Muslim ‘nikah’ (Islamic) marriages to Isil-style extremism. “I see no link to Isil” she tells me bluntly. “I see no problem with Sharia, I am a lawyer and for me, it is a legal issue – it is wrong to see that English law doesn’t apply to all faiths equally, that is where the injustice is. The marriage act needs to be reformed to apply to all faiths.”

You see Khan has been campaigning for a reform of the marriage act and her ‘Register Our Marriage’ campaign aims to emphasise the importance of registering religious marriages conducted in the UK, where according to her firm’s estimate, up to 80 per cent of young British Muslims are in unregistered unions. Her campaign has widespread support from leading Muslim organisations as well as women’s groups, who view the issue as an equal rights matter, and recognise the danger of potential human rights abuses.

The lack of recognition of Sharia law marriage – or nikah– the standard Muslim religious marriage ceremony – in British law is part of the reason so many Muslim marriages are going unregistered. While Christian couples who marry in a church, or Jewish couples who marry in a synagogue find their marriages automatically recognised under UK law, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and other religious groups are not afforded the same recognition, requiring them to undertake a separate, civil ceremony. In France, imams refuse to undertake the nikah unless the registry marriage has been completed previously, ensuring that in the vast majority of cases, the nikah and registry marriages are conceived of as the two parts of the marriage ceremony. And in most Muslim majority countries Khan points out, registering nikahs is a legal requirement.

However, in the UK the Government’s reticence to extend the same rights to Muslims – and other religious groups – has contributed to the normalisation of a parallel system, where couples undertake the nikah ceremony but don’t bother with the legal registry marriage. Khan’s clients are not only Muslim, but Sikhs and Hindus too she points out.

There are other reasons also. Nikah marriages in their current UK format are easily dissolved and can be kept discreet – in other words, young Muslim couples may prefer to undertake a nikah marriage – ironically perceived as less binding than British legal mariages – to facilitate a physical relationship prior to committing in the eyes of their family and community. This is less “creeping Sharia” and more, how can we be boyfriend-girlfriend like everyone else, without ‘compromising’ our beliefs.

The lack of official recognition of Sharia ceremonies also leads to issues when relationships break down. As I reported in a piece for the Telegraph and Channel 4 last year, Sharia councils, although not legally binding in their judgements, often provide women with deeply worrying advice as concerns their relationships, and in some cases advising a return to abusive partners. The lack of regulation of these councils – which many women turn to because of their own religious agency and desire to operate within their ethical guidelines – means rogue councils can cement misogynistic practises in the shadows, rather than providing a safe and open environment where religious women can find religiously compatible advice as concerns their marital woes. If the Government is serious about addressing these rogue councils, the solution will not be banning them – a measure which will drive them underground (where they will continue to operate with even less oversight) – but rather to streamline their services. This move would ensure such councils must register, operate within existing legislation and ensure anyone advising couples is adequately trained not simply theologically, but also in matters pertaining to domestic abuse.

Polygamy and unregistered marriages are a serious concern. But stigmatising the religious law of any community and linking religious rituals to extremism does little but contribute to a toxic atmosphere in which all aspects of Muslim life are depicted as a problem in the UK. In reality, it is those like Aina Khan, working to create symbiosis between British and religious laws – including Sharia law – who are doing the most to assist those vulnerable women and children affected by this legal loophole. But as is so often the case with Muslim stories, why let the facts get in the way of a good story, eh?

You can read the piece here

Written by Myriam Francois

July 7, 2015 at 10:19

BBC Radio 4 Analysis: Conservative Muslims, Liberal Britain

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You can listen to my contribution to this discussion here (link expires after 7 days)

Below is the show description, though I should add that I disagree with the premise that Muslims somehow wish to “live separately” from mainstream society and moreover that polling evidence suggests Muslims strongly identify with British values  (whatever they are!).

The recent so called Trojan Horse dispute in some Birmingham schools shone a light on how separately from the liberal British mainstream a significant conservative bloc of British Muslims wants to live. Although some Muslim parents objected, most seemed happy to go along with rigorous gender segregation, the rejection of sex education and ban on music and arts lessons.
Why is it that so many British Muslims – especially from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds – seem to be converging much more slowly, if at all, on liberal British norms? Is this a problem in a liberal society and what are the future trends likely to be?
David Goodhart, of the think tank Demos, visits Leicester in search of some answers. He listens to many different Muslim voices from a mufti who advises Muslims on how to navigate everyday life in a non-Muslim society to a liberal reformer who is dismayed at seeing more women wearing the niqab.

Contributors:

Mustafa Malik, Director of the Pakistan Youth and Community Centre, Leicester
Saj Khan, Leicestershire businessman
Mufti Muhammed Ibn Adam, Islamic scholar, Leicester
Riaz Ravat, Deputy Director, St Philip’s Centre, Leicester
Dilwar and Rabiha Hussain, New Horizons organisation, Leicester
Gina Khan, human rights campaigner
Myriam Francois-Cerrah, journalist and PhD researcher
Jytte Klausen, affiliate professor at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University
Producer Katy Hickman.

Written by Myriam Francois

November 11, 2014 at 22:57

MEE: “The riddle of the UK’s young jihadis”

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You can read the piece on the Middle East Eye website, here

Of the many questions raised by the young British Muslims joining Islamic State, one has been why “middle-class” Britons would leave the trappings of their comfortable life for near-certain death in a foreign conflict.

According to intelligence sources, most British jihadists are in their 20s, are university-educated and are Muslims of British Pakistani origin. Much has been made in the media about university offers, comfortable homes, and in the case of Aqsa Mahmood the fact she “listened to Coldplay and read Harry Potter”.

But why does their so-called “middle class” status seemingly render their choices any more incomprehensible than, say, if they were working class? Is it to do with the underlying suspicion of the working classes and their always latent potential for revolt? We don’t expect middle-class kids to turn bad because we expect “middle class” to mean accession to all that society has to offer and well –  what more could anyone want?

Well for a start, it is not entirely clear that many of the fighters are indeed middle class by any measure of the term. As Shiraz Maher, a Senior Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King’s College London, points out: “British jihadis may be much better off than Muslims from the continent, but they’re not ‘middle class’ by UK standards.”

A brief perusal of the most high-profile cases suggests they are individuals from modest backgrounds –  a former car-park attendant, a Primark supervisor, or unemployed; many are from some of the UK’s most deprived communities and from some of our poorest cities (Cardiff, Portsmouth) and neighbourhoods.  As the rapper turned fighter L Jinny, aka Abdel-Majed Abdel-Bary, described in his music prior to joining IS, financial concerns were not entirely irrelevant to his life: “I’m trying to change my ways, but there’s blood on my hands, and I can’t change my ways until there’s funds in the bank.“

The discussion pertaining to the social class of these fighters also ignores two important considerations. Economic dislocation can also affect the middle classes, many of whom have high aspirations and find these thwarted once they enter the job market. What’s more, being middle class doesn’t mean uncritically accepting the parameters of one’s society, which might be perceived as dealing unjustly with those one identifies with the most – the poor;  immigrants; co-religionists at home or abroad.

Why do we imagine that being middle class should prevent someone from being vulnerable to an extremist ideology? If anything, history is replete with middle-class, university-educated social misfits who put their skills to the service of renegade groups.

Rather, what shocks our sensibilities is the question of how someone goes from “Nandos [restaurants] and PS4s [PlayStations]”, as one jihadi described life in the UK, to explosives and makeshift camps? If consumerism is the ideology that speaketh not its name, then how could these “middle-class” kids have slipped through the net and been open to an entirely other, oppositional ideology?

That those who are deemed to have reached the ranks of material success could turn their backs on it is utterly unintelligible because material success is the pinnacle of achievement in “free”, capitalist societies. Here, the term “middle class” serves as a shorthand for a sense of “Western freedom”, in which individual freedom is confused with and used interchangeably with consumer choice. The ability to consume should be setting us free –  why would anyone reject freedom?

Implicit within this discourse is that those who seemingly do not find their “peace” in the capitalist conception of freedom and happiness must somehow be resistant to our “ideals”. The renegade middle-classers then take on the role of a fifth column in our midst, those intractables who had it all could be turned; those trendy, party-going Muslims among you – even they represent a latent threat, a ticking time bomb of simmering anger that even shopping couldn’t cure.

These kids are our kids; they are products of Western culture, and we owe it to ourselves to ask what it is about our current culture that makes the appeal of joining a nihilistic anti-Western guerrilla group a more attractive prospect than remaining in the UK.

How are democracy, freedom and human rights being rejected in favour of an austere and violent understanding of Sharia law? The tendency is to locate the root of the problem elsewhere – within Islam, the fault of the misnomer which is religion, the last vestige of resistance to full integration within the capitalist dream of fashion consumption and reality TV dreams.

But even liberal democracies’ greatest advocates have argued that the 21st century has been a “rotten one for the Western model”. What if the values we claim to hold so dear have begun to ring hollow for many young people and more so even, for the young people targeted by Islamic State propaganda?

We can’t ignore the prevalence of recent “converts” (in the broad sense) among the fighters, young people with little knowledge of a faith they are then depicted as fighting in the name of. These individuals fit the profile not so much of spiritual devotees than that of young people attracted to an oppositional ideology, angry misfits emboldened by a pseudo-cosmic narrative.

It’s a virtual truism today to point out that young people are disillusioned with politics and wary of politicians. In the 2010 general election in the UK, only 44% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted, the lowest turnout of all age groups and the apathetic subset from whence our young jihadis are drawn.

The same young people who have heard charades of democracy bandied about to justify Western interventionism, who have grown up experiencing the impact of the war on terror, and whose identity as Muslims has seen them labelled suspect citizens have little faith in the system.

The fact the actor turned social activist Russell Brand has created his own movement for “Revolution”, with alternative news (the Trews, with viewing figures to rival some mainstream news channels!), points to this broader state of malaise. Brand’s appeal is rooted in this wider cynicism with the vacuousness of the fame/money charade, which his personal narrative of megastar turning his back (!) on fame and fortune to focus on yoga and justice – embodies.

Brand offers young people a vindication of an alternative value system. His voice a vent for a smouldering resentment of the political class. But for those disproportionately represented in the overlapping circles of alienation – poverty, racism, politico-media witch hunts – is it any surprise this translates as a call for a more radical, violent revolution to create the “just” state.

Young people aren’t apolitical. The more mainstream appeal of movements such as Occupy and other grassroots political initiatives (Citizens UK) point to a very real interest in political matters outside of the Westminster paradigm.

But when alternative models of political expression are attempted, they are typically derided, ignored and even repressed, dismissed as the youthful folly of over-exuberant marginals, rather than recognised as the cri de coeur of a much broader segment within society which feels it doesn’t have a voice. These young fighters are merely the tip of an alienation iceberg.

For those left out of “success” as it has previously been defined, other ways of asserting one’s self worth are being sought. The “lost generation” has been blasted with fantasies of achievement and wealth but the reality is that a child from a modest background is less likely than ever to break the cycle of generational under-achievement.

As they find the traditional routes advocated to achieve that success closed to them, young people become deeply sceptical about society’s claims and more susceptible to a counter-narrative.

“The reality about the guerrilla group that arrogates the term “Islamic State” is, if you take away the word “Islamic”, what you have are young, disillusioned Europeans entranced by the concept of an idealised state, a utopia to rival the hollow claims of a system that has failed them.”

This isn’t to say Western or European cultures have nothing positive to offer. On the contrary, the fact that so many young fighters seem disillusioned with their foray into jihadism suggests they are beginning to recognise that for all the loss of democratic principles, for all the attempts to curtail civil liberties and erode basic freedoms, there is still much at good at home. But we mustn’t persist in the folly of assuming the appeal of anti-Western “jihad” has no connection to our current state of affairs.

In his book “Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism”, the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek argues that the liberal-democratic consensus of the modern age acts as a form of totalitarianism, impeding the imagination of alternative ways of being and doing.

For many young people who may have good reason to feel disillusioned with the current state of affairs, the oppressive mantra that liberal democracy somehow represents “the end of history” – something even Francis Fukuyama, author of the book of that title, has mitigated – engenders of a sense of a helplessness and apathy.

If this is as good as it gets, and we are not permitted to think beyond, then why bother? Or, as some clearly conclude, perhaps the system itself is the problem.

Written by Myriam Francois

November 5, 2014 at 10:06

Should we ban the face veil? Some of my media commentary

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BBC London 94.9 with Vanessa Feltz – 17/09/2013 – Listen here

BBC Five Live with Stephan Nolan – 15/09/2013, 11h30PM: Listen here

BBC Radio 2 – 16/09/2013, with Jeremy Vine, 12h05PM: Listen here

I also spoke to Barbara Serra at Al Jazeera at 10h30pm
MFC al jazeera

and to Dermot Murnaghan at Sky News at 10h45 AM, in discussion with Lib Dem candidate Maajid Nawaz

MFC sky veil 2

me majid sky

Written by Myriam Francois

September 16, 2013 at 13:05

BBC 5 Live: Should Britain ban the veil?

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I discuss a private member’s bill outlawing burkas, niqabs and other face coverings which is on the list of motions to be discussed in Parliament today – Should Britain ban the veil?

With Nicky Campbell, Angela Epstein, Mohamed Ansar and MP proposing the bill, Philip Hollobone.

Listen to the discussion here

Written by Myriam Francois

September 7, 2013 at 00:00

Al Jazeera English: Maternity Discrimination on the Rise as Women Pay the Price of Austerity

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My latest at Al Jazeera English, also on the Huff Post:

When Sarah approached her manager at a large media company about taking maternity ‎leave, she found herself bargaining over the duration: “I knew I wanted six ‎months to be with my son, but she immediately started talking me down, saying four months ‎was plenty. I felt pressured to agree to take less time”. When Sarah returned to work, her ‎manager informed her that she would not be entitled to “special treatment” and announced ‎she’d been posted to a new job which involved travelling every few weeks, for months at a ‎time. “I wasn’t sacked, but they made it impossible for me to stay. I’d specifically said I ‎didn’t want a post which involved too much travelling for extended periods, but when I ‎returned, that was the only job on offer to me.” ‎

Stories like Sarah’s are increasingly common. A report released today by the group Working ‎Families has revealed high levels of maternity discrimination for the third year running, ‎reinforcing recent research suggesting this is a growing trend. ‎

Despite this, very few women take any formal action. According to the most recent national ‎research in 2005, of women who lost their jobs due to discrimination, 8% took action, while ‎only 3% went to tribunal. The vast majority (71%) did nothing, a statistic advocacy group ‎Maternity Action put down to women being “very cautious out of fear, they’ll be labelled ‎trouble makers – a lot of women simply go quietly”. Sarah Jackson, chief executive of ‎Working Families stated “we have far too many callers who, even when advised about their ‎rights, are reluctant to take action for fear of losing their jobs”. And as of this year, women ‎taking a pregnancy discrimination claim to an employment tribunal will face fees of £1,200, ‎deterring many more. ‎

In 2005, the Equal Opportunity Commission found that 30,000 women each year were losing ‎their job as a result of pregnancy discrimination. Today, campaigners describe increasing ‎levels of unfair selection of pregnant women and new mothers for redundancy and described ‎the discrimination as increasingly “blatant”. Figures show that one in seven women in a recent ‎survey by OnePoll had lost their job while on maternity leave. The Fawcett Society believes in ‎times of austerity, when employers cannot afford to take any perceived risks to profits and ‎growing business, discrimination against women in the workplace is likely to rise. The ‎downsizing and restructuring of many companies due to the economic recession has meant a ‎hike in redundancies, with many pregnant and new mothers adversely affected and those in ‎less skilled jobs perceived as dispensable.‎

In many cases, pregnant women or new mothers are made to feel they no longer have a place ‎within the company, with attitudes towards pregnancy increasingly hostile. Just last month, ‎Mark Thomas, the former chief executive of BBC Studios & Post Production, was accused of ‎declaring that “female workers of child-caring responsibilities should not hold senior ‎management positions”. Businessman Lord Alan Sugar, who’d previously stated that the way ‎to get round the laws protecting pregnant women was not to employ them, has also criticised ‎laws which ban interviewers from grilling women about whether they want children. And ‎such attitudes are not restricted to a few renegades, with a government survey indicating that ‎‎24% of men thought that women on maternity leave should be made redundant before ‎anyone else. ‎

For Rosalind Bragg, whose organisation Maternity Action has also recorded a hike in ‎discrimination, media coverage of pregnancy leave negatively affects women’s perception of ‎their rights: “Media coverage of maternity leave increasingly represents this as a burden on ‎business, and this has definitely influenced women’s approach to their maternity rights”. The ‎consequence of these misrepresentations is women often feel unsure about their entitlements, ‎and guilty for demanding their rights. She added: “Many women are unaware of the law ‎prohibiting pregnancy discrimination and do not recognize their experiences as ‎discrimination.” From the notion of ditzy mums ill-equipped to handle the pressures of work ‎through to portrayals of ‘yummy mummies’* unabashedly enjoying iced Frappuccino’s while ‎their employers foot the bill, feminist writer Glosswitch notes “almost all mummies – no ‎matter who they are or what they’re doing – are perceived to be a bit rubbish.” ‎

The very perception of pregnant woman betrays assumptions concerning their abilities and ‎reliability. A 2007 study found that “visibly pregnant women managers are judged as less ‎committed to their jobs, less dependable, and less authoritative, but warmer, more emotional, ‎and more irrational than otherwise equal women managers who are not visibly pregnant”. ‎What’s more, research published in the Harvard Business Review suggests bearing children ‎means women are “judged to be significantly less competent” and were “least likely to be ‎hired or promoted”. Such perceptions are born out in the cases handled by charities like ‎Working Families. One caller who was four months pregnant was sacked following her three ‎month probationary period with her employer stating that she “would be focusing on other ‎things and that she wouldn’t be capable of doing the job”.‎

Among the core concerns listed in Working Families’ report is “employer imposed changes to ‎working patterns which undermine parents’ ability to combine work and childcare”. The ‎organisation found many more employers in 2012 were too quick to turn down a request for ‎flexible working, which combined with the impact of childcare tax credit cuts, ‎disproportionately and negatively impacts women. Britain has some of the highest childcare ‎costs in the world, in an economic climate which renders the cost of childcare relative to ‎wages so disadvantageous as to push women towards non-remunerated work within the home ‎‎- even when they’d rather be out working for a salary.

Among the incidents handled by the ‎group was an employer insisting that a female staffer work a late night rota. If she did, she ‎could not pick her child up in time from nursery and it would cost her between £60 and £80 ‎in charges for every late night worked. Despite informing the employer that she was ‎struggling to feed her children and was feeling “completely and utterly desperate”, her ‎employer responded that it was “her choice to have children”. For many women, flexible ‎hours are not simply a luxury, they are a basic necessity allowing them to remain in the ‎workplace. ‎

Liz Gardiner, head of policy for Working Families believes the government’s Children and ‎Families Bill, which seeks to promote a system of shared parental leave, including extending ‎the right to request flexible working to all employees, could help tackle pregnancy related ‎discrimination. “Improving rights for fathers to take paternity leave, would make it harder for ‎employers to view women of child bearing age as the problem”. She also believes it is high ‎time an EHRC review was conducted to document what she deems a ‘hardening of attitudes ‎among employers’. At a time when the UK ranks 18th of 27 countries on job security and ‎pay for women, the ‘motherhood penalty’ perpetuates the glass ceiling and fails to recognise ‎the true contribution of mothers to society. ‎

Written by Myriam Francois

March 15, 2013 at 18:27

HuffPost: Mali: France’s Afghanistan?

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This piece was originally published on my HuffPost blog, here
It was also re-published on the Back-Bencher, here

Is France’s military intervention in Mali a neo-colonial enterprise, dressed up in the conveniently ‎nebulous language of the ‘war on terror’? France’s less than gleaming record in the region – ‎with 50 military interventions, since the 50 years of independence in 14 francophone African ‎countries – has left many questioning the official narrative of restoring order to the country.

In the midst of its economic woes, cynics might look at France’s intervention in Libya which brought ‎home lucrative oil and reconstruction contracts and point to Mali’s significant natural resources. ‎Others speculate that Hollande’s shaky political standing and the virtually unquestioned support ‎bestowed upon any leader opining to combat Al Qaeda and its associates, offers motivations closer ‎to home. Few things can ensure political consensus on the French political scene the way ‎‎’operation Serval’ has. A few renegades not withstanding – including former PM Dominique de ‎Villepin who drew parallels with Iraq and Afghanistan – the Socialists, UMP and even the National ‎Front have approved Hollande’s decision. But surely if the decade has taught us anything about ‎defeating highly motivated guerrilla groups, it is that short interventions turn into protracted, ‎bloody battles which can only actually be resolved at the diplomatic table. ‎

So why has France decided to intervene and why now? Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has ‎been a longstanding concern in the region and the suggestion it has teamed up with criminal and ‎militant elements in the lawless region in northern Mali is bound to create some concern. This is ‎particularly true as these elements take advantage of the power vacuum which has followed Mali’s ‎military coup in March 2012, to expand control over greater parts of the north, emboldened by the ‎government’s unresponsiveness. Indeed, in October last year an EU official warned “”We consider ‎AQIM the growing, and maybe the leading, threat against us.”‎

In the last few years, the northern region has become a haven for criminal activity and a key transit ‎route for cocaine trafficking. A recent United Nations mission in the Sahel region described ‎northern Mali as a dangerous crossroads of drugs, crime, terrorism and rebellion. Until recently, ‎Mali’s disaffected ethnic tuaregs, a nomadic people at odds with the Mali government, had ‎teamed with jihadists to take control over an area the size of France, in a marriage of convenience ‎which soon ended in infighting. Criminal activity has funded the purchase of weapons used to ‎impose an extremist form of control, which has included public executions and the use of child ‎soldiers. ‎

This growing militancy in northern Mali has occurred alongside the demise of one of West Africa’s ‎hopes, as the military overthrow of a democratic government has left the country as just another ‎‎’failed state.’ Given broader instability in the region, namely that of the indigenous militants of the ‎Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, arms floating around following NATO support to rebels in Libya, ‎and the predominantly Algerian AQIM, a small but dangerous group involved in the hostage crisis ‎on an oil plant in alleged retaliation for France’s “crusade”, the implications of Mali’s instability are ‎far reaching for the region. Popular support for French intervention among African leaders should ‎be understood in light of the instability wrought by extremist elements and more cynically, to the ‎Western aid which may also ensue.‎

On one hand, the extremist alliance at work in northern Mali, which includes AQIM, Mali’s ‎homegrown Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa and Ansar Dine rebels suggests an ‎emboldening of jihadist elements in the face of West Africa’s struggling states. Though a military ‎solution will likely defeat this threat, although perhaps not as quickly as the French might hope, ‎Foreign minister Laurent Fabius having optimistically predicted the intervention would last “a ‎matter of weeks”- it is unlikely to resolve systemic political instability. A military intervention looks ‎a lot like a quick fix solution to a much deeper problem which involves a legacy of failed states, ‎poverty, ethnic tensions and corruption. Northern Mali has never been properly integrated into ‎the state, with poor social indicators across the board, leaving an alienated ethnical tuareg minority ‎willing to forge insalubrious alliances. Oxford researcher in African studies, Harry Verhoeven ‎described the problem, saying: “the jihadists are a symptom, veiling a deeper crisis of ‎underdevelopment, failed nation-building and faltering public services delivery in Mali and the ‎Sahel more broadly.”

Comparisons with Afghanistan have their limitations, but after 11 years of armed conflict, the ‎realisation has dawned on many that the political stability of any nation cannot be secured through ‎strictly military means. French President François Hollande has described the goal of the operation ‎as “to ensure that when we leave (…) Mali is safe, has legitimate authorities, an electoral process ‎and there are no more terrorists threatening its territory.” A unilateral military approach alone is ‎unlikely to achieve any of these goals. Without addressing the endemic problems which contribute ‎to the fragility of Mali’s state, France’s actions could simply be adding fuel to the fire. ‎

Written by Myriam Francois

January 18, 2013 at 15:54