As soon as I heard the name Iyad Ag Ghaly in relation to the events in Mali I began to wonder if this could be the same man from the same country? Could it really be him? Iyad Ag Ghaly heads up the military operations of armed terrorist groups in northern Mali; whilst there was a man with the same name who served as Mali’s consul in Jeddah. I called some friends and confirmed that Iyad Ag Ghaly is indeed the same man that I met at Jeddah’s Hilton hotel less than three years ago.
We are facing a truly strange world where those who are legitimate today could be fugitives tomorrow.
At the time, I knew-from those who had dealt with Ghaly as a Tuareg tribal chief and diplomatic consul-that he was the best source to find intermediaries to negotiate the release of hostages taken in the Azawad region. Now, he is said to be commander of the Ansar Dine movement fighting the Malian army, as well as international French and African forces.
When I read a profile about him in yesterday’s Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, I was even more confused, for this stated that he was close to Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi who reportedly sent him to fight in Lebanon. Yet, Ghaly only recently displayed extremist tendencies.
This kind of confusion and uncertainty has become quite common as shown by the emergence of extremists like Tarek al-Zomor and Mohamed al-Zawahiri on Egypt’s political scene. So how did a man like Iyad Ag Ghaly turn from being a moderate Sunni Muslim to an extremist armed fighter? Is it rational to suppose that a man in his fifties, like Ghaly, should suddenly become radicalized? This is truly hard to believe. I sense that this may be some kind of political maneuver where politicians have pretended to adopt extremist ideologies in order to recruit impulsive youths. These politicians provide these youth with funding under the pretext of religious duty, convincing them to sacrifice their lives for a false cause in return for a place in heaven! Since there is a general international lack of will to fight anywhere in the world, the French-alongside a few African states-will fight this war on their own before realizing that desert wars never end and withdraw. What makes matters more complicated is that conflicts that involve religious slogans and tribal powers can last for decades without any side being defeated.
Our problem with those who are keen on fighting these extremists, like the French today and the Americans yesterday in Afghanistan and perhaps tomorrow in Syria, is their inability to understand the fundamental nature of the problem. These extremist groups represent the smallest part of the equation; rather the greatest and most important challenge is to confront extremist ideologies. Had the West, as well as the Arab countries involved and other relevant parties invested their money and effort in fighting extremist ideologies, this crisis might have come to an end. Instead they spent billions of dollars on tens of thousands of soldiers, advanced weaponry, and combat drones managing to eliminate a number of Al Qaeda’s leaders; however Al Qaeda’s ideology remains the same and in fact continues to spread like a disease. Most people find it easier to jump to easy conclusions by laying the blame on one group or another like Sunnis, Shi’ites, clerics, or even religion as a whole; however all these groups were present prior to this and were never a source of trouble.
We are living in a different world in which political powers are establishing and nourishing extremist ideologies and generations. These politicians have the project, the expertise, and the will to propagate such extremist ideology and they are practically immune to punishment because the wrong parties are always held accountable. Who could have imagined that Mali would become an international battlefield after Afghanistan? The West is repeating the same mistake in Syria by allowing it to fall prey to extremists who are emotionally manipulate the general public under the pretext that they are their only source of salvation from the tyranny of the Assad regime. In reality, they are the only faction active on the scene because everybody else has left the arena.