A House is a Grave: Sahel situation analysis.

A man lives in his wife's tent: a house is a grave. -Tuareg proverb


Précis: as the first phase of the Mali conflict winds down, we see a partial recapitulation of other guerrilla wars in the Sahel. Expelled from Algeria, Ansar Dine has emerged as the major player, the hub around which MUJAO, AQIM and other Islamic groups have coalesced and merged into the local populations. As France withdraws troops, Algeria returns to geopolitical prominence in the region, a brute force (and largely counterproductive) bulwark against Islamism. America returns to its bad habits, having seemingly learned nothing from Afghanistan.


Does the USA have strategic interests in the Sahel? If so, how might we best serve those interests? Let Mali's fall from grace show what happens when the veneer of democracy is pasted onto rotten boards. The nations of the Sahel are going from bad to worse: their wretched poverty and malgovernance are of a piece, a vacuum into which jihaad has moved with a vengeance as it has moved into many other such vacuums.


Africa must save itself. Does America have a role to play in that salvation? I cannot say. This much I do know: the USA appears to be repeating previous mistakes. Therefore, I predict, with considerable anger and sadness, the tragedy of Afghanistan will be writ large in the Sahel, across many nations in an area larger than the United States.


The Curious Case of Pierre Camatte


On 25 November 2009, a French citizen, Pierre Camatte was kidnapped from the Malian city of Ménaka near the border with Niger Republic. According to Temedt, the Tuareg human rights organisation, Ménaka is a city where a master-slave relationship exists between the Tuareg and the ikelan.


Pierre Camatte was given to the AQIM, specifically to Abdelhamid Abou Zeïd, directly responsible for the beheading of Edwin Dyer, a British tourist. Dyer had been kidnapped along with two Swiss citizens and a German.


AQIM is in the business of kidnapping for ransom and has been for some time. But Pierre Camatte was different. Within days of Camatte's kidnapping, AQIM demanded the release of four prisoners held in Mali within 20 days. Mali's president caved immediately, with considerable prodding from that spineless git, then-president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy. Algeria and Mauritania were outraged, withdrawing their ambassadors from Mali, for two of those prisoners were Algerian and one was Mauritanian.


The writing was on the wall. France had blinked and pushed Mali to act against its own best interests. France should have been roundly condemned for negotiating with terrorists to save its own. For all the happy talk about Mali being the poster child for democracy in the Sahel, Mali's fate was sealed in that moment. Emboldened by this capitulation, the Islamists moved immediately, seizing vast tracts of northern Mali.


Most of the rest you know. The USA certainly understood what the Camatte incident meant at the time.


How America Reacted


Though Americans were seriously involved in Mali during the 1990s, after the 9/11 attacks, the US established a program called the Pan-Sahel Initiative. Predictably, as in dozens of other such training efforts, the blowback was horrible. If anything, ham-handed efforts to curb Islamism only created more resentment.


We know how all that worked out in Mali: the military overthrew the civilian government and now commits atrocities in the current blow-up.


To which General Carter Ham, US Army AFRICOM commander responded on January 24:

“We have had a U.S. training effort with the Malian armed forces for some number of years,” he said. “Some of that has occurred in Mali, and some of that was Malian officers coming to the U.S. for training, to include, Captain [Amadou] Sanogo, who led the military coup which overthrew the constitutionally-elected government.”


“[This is] very worrisome for us,” Ham said. “So we looked at that, and we asked ourselves these questions: First of all, did we miss the signs that this was happening? And was there anything that we did in our training that could have been done differently, perhaps, and have caused a different outcome?”


The general said he believes the answer is “a little bit of both.”


From a purely military standpoint, Ham said, U.S. forces focused Malian training almost exclusively on tactical and technical matters such as operating equipment, improving tactical effectiveness and aerial re-supply to remote bases.


“All of which is very, very good,” he said. “We didn’t spend, probably, the requisite time focusing on values, ethics and military ethos.”


“When you put on the uniform of your nation, then you accept the responsibility to defend and protect that nation, to abide by the legitimate civilian authority that has been established,” Ham said.

Additionally, he said, military members should act lawfully and see themselves as servants to the people of their nation.


“We didn’t … [train] that to the degree that we needed to, I think,” Ham said. “I believe that we focused exclusively on tactical and technical [aspects]. So we’ve learned from that.”

No. We didn't learn anything.


Contractors Gone Wild


U.S. Attorney’s Office April 28, 2010

BANGOR, ME—Derek Michael Stansberry, a U.S. citizen and resident of Riverview, Fla., was charged today in a criminal complaint in the District of Maine with interfering with flight crew members and willfully making false threats about an explosive device on an aircraft, U.S. Attorney Paula D. Silsby announced.

Friday, April 30th 2010, 4:00 AM

WASHINGTON – An Ambien-gobbling passenger busted for saying he had explosives on a flight was an ex-Air Commando and decorated war vet with a top security clearance, the Daily News has learned.


The arrest Tuesday of contractor Derek Stansberry, 27, of Easthampton, Mass., for interfering with a flight crew and false threats also cracked open a window on obscure U.S. counterterror operations in West Africa.


He worked for Eatontown, N.J.-based R4 Inc., which provides military services to U.S. Africa Command, command spokesman Vince Crawley said.


Stansberry had a Top Secret-Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance when he left the Air Force after four years last June following duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Capt. Lisa Citino of the shadowy 1st Special Operations Wing.


He was an intelligence airman with the elite 4th Special Operations Squadron “Ghostriders,” who fly AC-130 Spooky gunships, Citino confirmed.


R4 officials refused to comment on Stansberry or their operations in the impoverished West African nation of Burkina Faso, where he was based.

Get ready, folks. Steel yourselves. Here comes the punch line.


Aug. 23, 2011

BANGOR, Maine — A former Air Force intelligence specialist who claimed to have explosives aboard a trans-Atlantic flight suffered from a brief psychotic break caused by a lack of sleep, dehydration, stress and body-building substances, and is free to resume his life because he’s not a threat, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.


The judge found Derek Stansberry, 27, of Riverview, Fla., not guilty by reason of insanity on charges stemming from his actions aboard the April 27, 2010, Paris-to-Atlanta flight that was forced to land at Bangor International Airport.


“It’s something that no one expected to happen [and] most importantly that no one expects will happen again,” defense lawyer Walter McKee of Augusta said after the hearing in federal court.

And from WaPo's followup:

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — The U.S. military is expanding its secret intelligence operations across Africa, establishing a network of small air bases to spy on terrorist hideouts from the fringes of the Sahara to jungle terrain along the equator, according to documents and people involved in the project.


At the heart of the surveillance operations are small, unarmed turboprop aircraft disguised as private planes. Equipped with hidden sensors that can record full-motion video, track infrared heat patterns, and vacuum up radio and cellphone signals, the planes refuel on isolated airstrips favored by African bush pilots, extending their effective flight range by thousands of miles.


About a dozen air bases have been established in Africa since 2007, according to a former senior U.S. commander involved in setting up the network. Most are small operations run out of secluded hangars at African military bases or civilian airports.


The nature and extent of the missions, as well as many of the bases being used, have not been previously reported but are partially documented in public Defense Department contracts. The operations have intensified in recent months, part of a growing shadow war against al-Qaeda affiliates and other militant groups. The surveillance is overseen by U.S. Special Operations forces but relies heavily on private military contractors and support from African troops.


In 2010, Abdelkader Messahel, Algeria's Minister Delegate for African and Maghreb Affairs declared:

"Demanding ransoms is an al Qaeda strategy, Payment of ransoms is a way to finance terrorism. We know that most of the terrorist activity in the Sahel is possible because of the ransom money."

Algeria is engaged in its own proxy war against Morocco, supporting the Polisario Front, composed of various Sahrawi people. Sahrawi just means “desert people”and their culture resembles the Tuareg in some respects. And like the Tuareg, they've engaged in slaving and drug running.


Though the aging gerontocracy in Algeria supports the idea of Sahrawi independence, they will never accept Tuareg autonomy. Qadhafi had backed Tuareg independence, promised them aid of all sorts if they would fight for him. While Qadhafi lived, relations were good, for Qadhafi supported the Polisario Front too. Algeria had allowed Qadhafi to move military equipment through their territory. Libya closed its borders with Algeria but relations are improving with Libya.


It is instructive to note Qadhafi's children and hangers-on ran away to Algeria. Now they're leaving Algeria. They've been hanging around Niger, spending money and suchlike, but Niger gave them the bum's rush. No telling where they'll end up.


Though it's done a great deal to fight Islamic terrorism, Algeria has failed to stamp out militancy. Algeria has the best military in the area and by far the best intelligence operation. Algeria's goal was to make them someone else's problem by evicting them -- into Mali, mostly. Many of the current Islamist groups, notably AQIM began as insurgents in Algeria.


Ansar Dine


There's no tidying up the Tuareg insurgency and it's been ongoing since colonial times. There's no point in me slinging acronyms like MUJAO and AQIM and the Signed in Blood battalion, etc. That's just factoid generation, informing nothing. I'd rather address Ansar Dine as a set of policy domains.


Ansar Dine is a locus for Tuareg insurgency. It was co-opted by Islamist groups, many led by outsiders from Algeria and Mauritania. It remains the only viable interlocutor for the Tuareg in terms of a solution for Mali and the larger Sahel. Ansar Dine is centred on the city of Kidal in the far north of Mali and Alghabass Ag Intalla is emerging as its chief spokesman.


The Tuareg are nomadic people. For them, a house is a grave. As such, they're not a majority anywhere. National borders mean nothing to the Tuareg. They've got internal problems with crime and the issue of slavery, problems they haven't addressed. They're interdependent with their erstwhile slaves and many other tribes.


If this were a just world, the Tuareg would have a measure of autonomy. Like the Kurds and Pashtun, they haven't been given a country of their own. Even if they had a nation of their own, they'd be just another landlocked mess. Niger and Burkina Faso have negotiated long and hard with the Tuareg. Both nations have come to terms with the Tuareg: both have established regions where the Tuareg have some autonomy. The Tuareg, though I've said many horrible (and absolutely true) things about them, deserve some special treatment as nomads. There aren't many nomadic cultures left in the world. The Tuareg have been more sinned-against than sinners, though there's a gracious plenty on the Sinner Side of the balance sheet.


The Tuareg have their animistic beliefs which they've mixed with Islam. Most of the leaders of this Islamic revolt are not even Tuareg. Any sensible approach to the issues of Africa must be guided by the identities of these wildly disparate tribes and clans. At its heart, the struggle for the Sahel is not religious. The religious troublemakers are imported, funded from the outside, certainly not seen as intrinsically bound to the struggle. They're just “there to help” -- which puts these Islamist agents provocateurs in the same predicament as the USA's misguided policy of training up these rogue military units.


Tuareg women own the tents. Men own houses. As the Tuareg move off the desert and into these flypecked towns, they've become more patriarchal and more Islamic. It's a terrible thing to see Tuareg in town. The Black People hate them. The Tuareg are like great predatory animals in some filthy zoo, tragic, ghostly figures, echoes of America's Apache people, also nomads and raiders.




I'm good at pointing out problems, not so good at furnishing solutions. Sometimes I come across as if I understand this stuff. I don't. It's all research, guided by sensibilities established long ago, when Tuareg caravans would come out of the desert past our house, their camels snarling, bells jingling, saddles creaking, the people astride them as naturally as if they were born on them. As often as I saw them, I never knew the Tuareg. Nobody knew them, really. The Hausa would trade with them. Every so often we'd see one turn up at the clinic, I remember one girl, her arm smashed by a camel bite.


America can't do anything in this situation. We've meddled too much already. We had the good sense to stay off the ground in Libya. We'd better stay out of the air in the Sahel. It seems the USA is planning on building another drone base in Niger and it's a bad move.


There is no Malian state nor will there be in the near term. The French pulled out the tent poles on Mali: let them deal with the fallout.


The USA might have some humanitarian interests in the Sahel. I cannot see the USA having any strategic interests. We're already waist deep in this mess and have been for decades. Our influence has been counterproductive in extremis.


Does America in its hubris thinks it's going to change Africa for the better? Dream on. Afghanistan was bad. The Sahel will be worse.

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I think, Blaise, that


we suffer from a 20th century hangover. Americans have been taught for at least three generations that isolationism led to both world wars and that great evil could have been avoided had we been involved sooner.


I'm not going to argue whether that theory is true or not: likely it was for the world wars. But we've applied that principle of meddling interference ever since, and, I suspect, to our detriment.

"I've been on food stamps and welfare.  Anybody help me out?  No!" Craig T. Nelson (6/2/2009)

That evil genius Napoleon

mmghosh's picture

his deliberate distortion of the French Revolutionary notion of a citizen army (something I was discussing with Traveller recently) into an imperialist Grand Armee, changing nations at (his) will and especially the deliberate taunting of the German people led to the 1870 Franco-Prussian war and then WW1.  


The German society (taken as a whole) in the latter 18th and early 19th century was peaceful, pacific and perhaps the most culturally creative human society ever.


There's a great book on how Bach's well-tempered clavier and the concept of equal temperament influenced our classical music - and what would we do without the harmonium?

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

We see it today vis a vis Syria:


God knows it's a humanitarian tragedy there, and part of me understands the impulse to fire up the jets and Do Something. But it seems to me that there isn't likely much we actually can do in Syria, other than to offer humanitarian aid, and support if and when a democratic government replaces the Assad regime.

"I've been on food stamps and welfare.  Anybody help me out?  No!" Craig T. Nelson (6/2/2009)

Oh, there's something we could do

HankP's picture

get militarily involved, screw it up, and have everyone in Syria hate the US for a few generations. We're actually pretty good at that.


I blame it all on the Internet

We're awesome at it.


I remain hopeful that the Obama administration will remain wise enough to remain hands off.

"I've been on food stamps and welfare.  Anybody help me out?  No!" Craig T. Nelson (6/2/2009)

The Libyan enterprise opened the door to Mali

Bird Dog's picture

Bringing weapons and battle-hardened jihadists to that region (link). I don't doubt that Americans were ineffective in north Africa, but distracts from the real issue: militant Islamism is a festering problem.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

It was more akin to the breakup of the Warsaw Pact.


A great flood of weapons and ammunition flooded out of those bankrupt regimes.  Those weapons were bought, with good hard European currency, think Nicholas Cage in Lord of War.  They got that currency from ransom payments.  Call it a form of financial assistance, courtesy of these weak-willed idiots willing enough to pay them.  They tried that with some Russians in Lebanon.  The Russians went around, captured a few of the kidnappers' relatives, cut them in pieces and sent the kidnappers a few chunks.  Solved that problem immediately and permanently.


Militant Islam is a symptom.  No different than Communism, really, when you get right down to it.  All those useless old Marxists, lying to themselves -- Communism might have worked if it had been given a chance -- remember all those swine?  I sure do.  "Mao made mistakes"  Etcetera.  All quite disgusting.  That's what happens when top-down utopian idealism is applied to the problems of poor people.  You just get another tyrant, only this dictator comes with a ready-made justification for his tyranny: I'm doing it for the betterment of society as a whole and how dare you be a Capitalist Roader.  The pragmatists are the first to go under the knife.


We really must let Africa come to terms with its own problems.  If they want help, and they always do, they can ask for it.  Trouble is, we're always listening to the wrong people in these situations.  They tell us what we want to hear and take our money and that's all she wrote.   I wouldn't care if some Islamist came along as long as he tolerated a free press and didn't lock up his dissidents and heretics and suchlike.  Doesn't have to be a democracy at first but it does have to be stable.  I hear tell it's quite possible to be a man of faith and not be a complete idiot.  These societies need stability first.  


Governments of the people, by the people, etc. do not arise because we take sides in these squabbles.  It's like King Midas in reverse, all we touch turns to doo-doo in our hands.  For goodness' sake, they're poor, they're not idiots.   We need to take these people seriously.  If they do the right things, we support them.  Otherwise, no soup for you.   First they do the right thing, then we help them a little.  But not before.  

Therein the problem

Bird Dog's picture

An Islamist-run regime isn't going to allow a free press or let dissidents freely dissent. Just look at Egypt. No, Islamism--particularly militant Islamism, like with Soviet communism--is a cancer on humanity. It needs to be snuffed out. Problem is, this snuffing cannot occur without the aid of a sufficient number of Muslims with common sense.

As for so-called stability, look what that got Mubarak and Assad.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Where there is no fuel, the fire goeth out.


If we really wanted to "snuff" out Islamism, we'd reward good behaviour -- and not pay good money to bad people or give military training to cannibals.  You don't give the dog a treat before he does the trick.


Y'know, our current policy about Snuffing Out Islamism -- how is that any different than their policy of Snuffing Out Corrupt Dictators?   They don't like what we're doing any more than we like what they're doing.  Both are outside influences, these hard-core jihaadis are all imported, well, so are our military trainers.   There is no excuse for what we've been doing and how we've been doing it.   The cannibals murder civilians, the jihaadis murder civilians.   We make excuses for our cannibals, they make excuses for their jihaadis.


We've never figured out how to get the local people on our side in these struggles, mostly because it's Our Side we're concerned about, folks.  It's not about Our Side. It's about Their Side.  When we get that one straight, when we care about what these people want, then we'll make some progress.   Training their cannibal militaries is not how we're going to win that struggle.

Agree and disagree

Bird Dog's picture

I agree about our rewarding unsavory regimes. Our policy has been to favor the lesser evils, but they're still evils.

I disagree that there is no difference between an Islamist regimes and those run by dictators. With the former you're dealing with a 13th century ideology, with the latter you're dealing with ordinary (or even extraordinary) greed and power politics.

I agree that we think more about our own interests than the people in those nations.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Kill, kill, kill

HankP's picture

you still don't get it, and never will.


I blame it all on the Internet


Bird Dog's picture

You're the one who doesn't know what he's talking about. You're not even reading what I'm saying. Just so it's clear, I'm saying the ideology needs to be snuffed out, not its people. Similarly, the Cold War was a war of ideology. It didn't mean that conservatives wanted to go out kill all Russians. Dude, get a clue. Buy one if you have to.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Ha. Sure, and Afghanistan and Iraq had nothing to do with it

HankP's picture

Let's face it, if a Republican was in office we'd be occupying Libya right now and planning on attacking Syria. You and your party are the promoters of using the military as a solution to every problem (unless there's a Democratic president). The funny thing is watching you criticize Obama for the same things that you cheered on in the Bush years.


I blame it all on the Internet

Pray tell how...

Bird Dog's picture

...events in Iraq and Afghanistan caused a military coup in Mali that allowed al Qaeda elements to take over. Smells like you're blame-shifting.


"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

You and your party gave Islamic extremists just what they wanted

HankP's picture

a war of civilizations. Stupidest foreign policy moves in 50 years, yet you still don't see the error in it.


I blame it all on the Internet

The militant Islamists did that their own selves

Bird Dog's picture

Oh, and Obama's 4% approval rating in Pakistan? All Bush's fault!

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

No they didn't

HankP's picture

they were our best buds when they were fighting the Soviets, and we enabled them. We also helped terrorist groups when they were fighting people like Iran. Now we get a taste of our own medicine after screwing things up around the globe for the past 60+ years. But some people never learn.


I blame it all on the Internet

Revisionist history

Bird Dog's picture

Your so-called analysis completely ignores bin Laden, starting with Somalia circa 1993 and going from there.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009


HankP's picture

because my analysis actually starts years before that in the late 70s. But the military first last and always mentality* can't seem to wrap it's mind around the idea that unlimited intervention doesn't make us safer. You can stack the dead like cordwood but their kids and grandkids will keep coming.





*Unless there's a Democratic President, of course


I blame it all on the Internet

Indeed, funny

Bird Dog's picture

Calling your comment an "analysis", that is. The Afghan mujahideen in the late 1970s and 1980s weren't terrorists. We didn't enable them to commit terrorism. The growth of the Taliban came because we completely withdrew our involvement in Afghanistan after the Cold War and left a political-military-economic vacuum, thus allowing a group of backward Islamist whackjobs into power, thus allowing bin Laden & Co. to establish a base.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

The Haqqani clan were actively nurtured by the 1980s CIA

mmghosh's picture

to take just one example.  The Haqqani are Soviet-era mujahideen and are not the Taliban (you could call them pre-Taliban), though the two groups allied after the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan.


AFAIK, this is all well remembered history.  The issue probably needs a diary.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency


HankP's picture

yes, they're never terrorists when they're on our side. Your statement is so ridiculous the only sane response is to point and laugh.


I blame it all on the Internet

Mali fell because Sarkozy punked the Malian government.


You can't do that sort of thing, not in Africa anyway.  Show weakness and the vultures will start circling.  The French meddled as they always seem to do.

This wasn't about Sarkozy

Bird Dog's picture

There were other factors, along with the recent Libyan unpleasantness, that didn't involve Sarkozy:

Factors that led to the coup:

  • Bamako always had difficuty controlling the north of the country, a territory that had been disputed by the MNLA and its precursor groups since the 1960s.
  • Mali was going through a security crisis as AQIM members flooded in from Algeria and other neighboring countries.
  • Mali was going through a harsh food crisis that led to displaced populations, refugee camps, and starving women and children.

Link. I don't doubt that Sarkozy didn't help the situation by tacitly allowing negotiations with terrorists, but I don't see how his actions were the be-all end-all to what happened. Al Qaeda got a foothold in north Mali in 2007 and they had been growing it since then.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Have You Got 150 Years to Spare, Handsome Fellow?



...or maybe more?


I just happen to be reading that it was Leo III's defeat of the Moslem (singular intentionally used) at Constantinople in 718 that saved the West from Gibbon's nightmare of the Koran being taught in Oxford instead of the Bible, more than Charles Martel's defeat of Ad-ar-Rahman at Tours in 732.


Be that as it may, the seige of Vienna had to be lifted in 1529 from Suleiman the Magnificent and the Battle of Vienna had to be won in 1683 before the West could truly breath a sigh of respite...


So why be so surprised to see this new Long War continue on multiple fronts for multiple decades?


It will be a while.


Sit back and relax.


Best Wishes, Traveller

On this we agree

Bird Dog's picture

The 21st century religion of violence and intolerance will be around for a while. The part that bothers me is the Wahhabist/Salafist strain that continues to spread.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Wrong way around.

mmghosh's picture

Byzantium itself almost managed to exterminate Islam from the Near East and North Africa.


Another almost moment for Islam was around the time of the destruction of Baghdad by Hulagu.


Also, the West has won, pretty finally. I refer you to the apocryphal statement of General Henri Gouraud, I see this often referred to in the ME.  

After marching into Damascus in July 1920 to put down an anti-colonial rising, Gouraud is reputed have stood upon Saladin's grave, kicked it and said: "The Crusades have ended now! Awake Saladin, we have returned!"

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

It is a Shame Then That We Didn't Kill the Baby in the Crib...nt



Then you push back math, chemistry

HankP's picture

physics and medicine hundreds of years. When Europe was in the grip of fundamentalism, the Islamic world preserved and expanded intellectual pursuits that would otherwise be lost.


I blame it all on the Internet

Look North to Irish Monks....




On a more serious note, the question might be asked what the rise of the Warrior Religion of Islam, sweeping out of Arabia, across the Middle East, being checked at the Bosphorus in 718, but successful across North Africa, into Spain and up even the Rhone Valley until being pushed back across the Pyrenees to settle more permanently in Moorish Spain...without Europe's borders under such assault, who's to say how Europe would have developed?


The age where Islam preserved ancient learning is considerably after this onslaught. 


Though it might be correctly said that there would be no Europe without the external pressures of Islam giving a reason for Charlemagne to unite the lands from the Elbe to the Atlantic, from the Baltic to the Tiber and the Pyrenees, this is a mean gruel of praise for Islam.


And, as noted above, the Irish maintained the Old Books Quite well, thank you very much.


Best Wishes, Traveller



Maintained, but didn't expand

HankP's picture

you don't see articles about the Irish medieval scientific revolution because it never happened. Medieval Islam, on the other hand, is well known for it's advances in many scientific areas.


I'll also note that there are a large number of Spanish Jews (not just native,but immigrants from across Europe) due to the fact that Islam was far more hospitable to Jews than the anti-semitic Visigoths or Crusaders. After the Reconquista, Jews were given a choice: leave, convert or be killed. It's pretty clear that during the time period of ~ 750 - 1300 CE, it was Islam (and particularly Persian Islam) that was civilized and advanced, and Christians that were barbaric. Until they made the mistake of subordinating science to religion - a mistake many Americans seem intent on replicating.


I blame it all on the Internet

The Intellectual Argument, or Conceit, I'm Proposing is That...



...Islam through its "aggression," prior to 750CE distorted the development of Europe....so it is impossible to know if a similar flowering would not have occurred in Europe that you now ascribe to innocent Islam.


This is sort of the old Usenet Newsgroup, Soc.history.what-if


Best Wishes, Traveller

Not for lack of trying. nt.

mmghosh's picture


freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

It Is a Work in Prgress & Takes Time...(raised eyebrows).nt



To be replaced with what?

mmghosh's picture

Christianity?  Secular humanism?


And who is going to enforce these changes?  USMC - seriously?

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

This Has Been a Serious Conflict for More Than an Entire 1,000..





I don't see why anyone should be surprised by this conflict raging round our entire globe, the will to theocracy is pernicious.


And probably less than that of Christianity or Buddhism.


Easy enough to understand...the conflict and the blood will continue.


I am just surprised that anyone continues to be surprised.



The religion conflict thing is a sham problem.

mmghosh's picture

It affects, directly, a tiny number of people.  


There are much more serious issues to be dealt with.  All the colonialist and conflict rhetoric masks the world's real problems which are all about economics, as one US President once remarked.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

Let it fester. The real problem is not Islamism

mmghosh's picture

but rather the poverty and inequality that drives people to desperation.  And that is a problem that cannot be addressed by external agencies.  


Neo-colonialism adds nothing to the solution.  It complicates matters in that lashing out against external agencies and their representatives gains a certain validity.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

We've already established that militant Islamists are...

Bird Dog's picture

...not necessarily poor or uneducated. Quite the opposite in many cases, especially with top al Qaeda leadership. The problem is a cancerous ideology that takes advantage of unstable or chaotic environments. Mali wasn't doing all that great before the Libyan invasion, but it was a military coup that opened the door to their entry and takeover of territory. As for poverty and inequality, the disadvantaged rubes are merely trading one form of oppression and squalor for another.

"Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

--Barack Obama, January 2009

Neither are Communists poor or uneducated.

mmghosh's picture

But Communist movements flourish where people are poor and there is gross inequality.  The same is true of Islam which has a definite communist flavour in its emphasis on brotherhood and universalism among believers.


I don't like militant Islam.  But countering it requires more understanding of its long and deep roots than lionising it as a vehicle of the deepest aspirations of mankind one day and demonising it as a cancerous ideology a few years later in the name of realpolitik.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

I'm not sure the Third World is blameless in general

mmghosh's picture

with regard to outside interference - one of the problems is that warring groups (in a generic sense) seek aid from external sources.  The current Malian government actually directly requested French aid.


As for interference, I would add the need for extractive resources. 

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

That's a cogent observation, Manish.


Every time we turn around, some Curveball figure turns up, feeds us a line of malarkey and gets us in the trick bag. 


France has a bad habit of taking sides in these fights: case in point Rwanda.  As I said, France has shown itself weak and feckless, ready enough to negotiate with sinister ministers.  In SE Asia, it's my opinion we only picked up the cudgels from where the French had left them.


As for extractive resources, Niger has uranium and I suppose there are other resources available.  Let China or someone else get in there and see how well they do in that situation.  Let them get bogged down.  As a nation, we need a break, a vacation from nation building. 

You can't cheat an honest man

HankP's picture

or an honest country. If we weren't so hot to get our fingers in innumerable pies around the world, people like curveball wouldn't matter.


I blame it all on the Internet

People Tend to Forget the Vast Size of Africa...(see Photo)


...actually Africa is off my Radar. I am afraid to go there and don't even even muse on this. The fact that someone like me looks at Africa in this fashion must indicate something...


Best Wishes, Traveller

Great graphic


I think there's immense potential in Africa.

"I don't want us to descend into a nation of bloggers." - Steve Jobs

Yes but somehow when I think of Africa


I imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever


mmghosh's picture

That is a great comment.

freedom is a fundamental value that does not need to be justified in terms of some other value like efficiency

Americans learn their geography from the war reporting


That's Ambrose Bierce.  Saw that Big Picture thing you put up, all those wonderful places ingrained in our minds, Dak To, all that mess up in Kontum. 

Yes, I Know That You Are Even More Familiar With the Area Than I


...and I know it more that I wished I did...lol


When I was in Laos 3 years ago, I went up to the border area from the Laotian side...as rugged as I remembered it.


It is nice to see your Africa diary.


Best Wishes, Traveller

Blame Gerardus Mercator For That

M Scott Eiland's picture

Africa is rather precisely split in two by the equator (in "vertical" dimension if not actual land mass), and as such benefits less than any of the other major continents from the size increase distortion inherent to the Mercator projection map as the view approaches the polar regions.

. . .and Don Mattingly must be fired (bye Ned--don't let the door hit you in the @$$ on the way out!).