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Friday, 30 November 2012

A Land with a People.

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In a discussion over the events in Gaza recently I had the following exchange with a friend of mine about the fundamentals of the conflict. Note that the questioner is coming from a Christian perspective on the conflict, while I'm coming from an atheistic perspective. The primary issue is raised is the claim to the land and the specifics of the Zionist project.

Q: I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up MY land..."Does this land belong to Israel or Palestine? Well actually, according to bible scripture, God calls it His land, but the prophetic word from Joel, written 850BC is that it will in fact be divided.
 
"I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms." (Ezekiel 37:22)
 
Joshua (great name Joshua, means 'God is salvation' or 'God rescues') rightly calls this a 'miserable situation', it has a long history, Ezekiel was written sometime around 590BC, about 650 years before Israel and Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans and the people scattered to 'the four corners of the earth'. We may ask the question was Israel returned there in 1948, fully in 1967 simply to fulfill prophecy, was it just a self-fulfilling prophecy or is there some authenticity to the prophecy. Will Jerusalem be divided? Certainly according to bible scripture it is not intended to be and if it is, will those responsible incur God's judgement?

A: Well, I don't think Jerusalem should be divided, that's merely the beginning of another problem. I take the position that is enshrined in international law: Jerusalem should be an international city, it's just too precious to belong to any state or religion. This is the same framework that would settle the conflict in a roughly 80:20 split of what used to be Palestine into Israel and Palestine. I won't comment on the scripture as I'm not a theologian, nor am I a religious man (in spite of my cool name! lol) and I think it's fair to say that the Bible is open to a lot of debate and theorisation - just look at the use of the recurring use of Gog and Magog by fundamentalists, from Reagan to Bush II, to explain foreign policy decisions.

We know from Israeli archaeology that there is considerable evidence that there has been a Jewish presence in Palestine for a very long time, this can be determined simply by the lack of pig bones in ancient communities. So there is a legitimate Jewish claim to live there. That's the case even if you don't buy the Bible, which most Israeli archaeologists don't by the way. There is also evidence that suggests the Palestinians are the descendents of the Jews who were living there thousands of years ago. Probably they were converted through conquest. This is all interesting, and somewhat ironic, but it doesn't provide any answer to the crisis in itself. The question of what the Zionist mission ought to be in its finer details is left completely open still. That could be part of the reason why there is opposition to peace from inside Israel, it remains unclear where the expansion should end - if 80% is too little how about 90% and so on? There are those who dream of a Greater Israel, and that will mean a perpetual war with the Arabs.

Example, should Israel be a Jewish state or a state for Jews? That's an important distinction which has never been fully clarified in Zionist circles. This matters because it relates to what kind of law there should be in Israel, as well as the demographic composition - if it's a state for Jews then it doesn't have to be a majority Jewish state for instance. By comparison, Pakistan was founded as a state for Muslims modeled on India but in the 1980s the dictatorship began to change this to the notion of Pakistan as an Islamic state (and even began to compare itself to Israel funnily enough). It impacts the internal politics of the nation-state, Pakistan has been dominated by authoritarian governments sometimes more irreligious at times. I think that Israel could've been founded in a better way than it has been, though in its foundation it was just like every other nation-state (e.g. born out of violence/theft). But we can't turn back time. The strongest claim of the Jews is perhaps based on their need for a safe haven. Again, that doesn't really deal with the details of what Israel should look like.

The important point to stress is that Israel (however defined) can exist with an independent and free Palestine as it's neighbour. To paraphrase Abba Eban, a free Palestine would pose the same threat to the existence of Israel as Luxembourg currently poses to Russia.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Epigones of Beria.



The late Alexander Cockburn noted that he was often "savaged as little better than an epigone of Beria" for settling on the figure of five or six million deaths in Stalin's Russia. It shouldn't have to be said that looking for an accurate picture of a monstrous series of crimes is not an act of exoneration. But in this society it would seem that the higher you go the better. Only the maximal estimates of Stalin's victims guarantee credibility. Expect nothing less from the enemies of the people!

Since the passing of Eric Hobsbawm in early October the BBC has made available the widely misquoted interview of Hobsbawm by Michael Ignatieff. It's around 11 minutes in that Ignatieff raises the matter of Stalin's liquidation of huge swathes of kulaks and dooming of millions of peasants in the 30s. The question asked is "If you had known that, would it have made a difference to you at that time?" Hobsbawm responds first by stating that it is an unanswerable academic question. In a retrospective answer, not a historical answer, Hobsbawm said "Probably not". He went on to explain his reasoning, that in a period of universalised mass-murder and mass-suffering the chance of a future at all would be worth supporting. The sacrifices in Russia were unnecessarily great and excessive by any measure and, in his eyes, only marginally worthwhile. The Soviet Union was not the beginning of the world revolution, but if it had been Hobsbawm says he isn't sure if the sacrifices would have been worthwhile.

In the next breathe Eric Hobsbawm asks "Do people now say we shouldn't have had WW2 because more people died in WW2 than in Stalin's terror?" At this point interviewer Ignatieff attempts a summary "So what that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of 15, 20 million people might have been justified." It was not posed as a question and Hobsbawn responds in the affirmative, to indicate that this is the view that could be taken. Yet the old man had made it clear, moments before, that he isn't sure if the terror would have been worth it with the advent of communism. He goes on to qualify his emphatic 'Yes' by explaining that this is what people thought about the World Wars. Even though in the end many would say that the First World War was an unnecessary bloodbath, the Second World War was worth fighting. Yet this is not how the Right likes to portray this conversation, as I quote in my last article on this:

According to Robert Conquest, Hobsbawm was asked by Ignatieff in 1994 "What (your view) comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of 15, 20 million people might have been justified?" Apparently Hobsbawm's only response was "Yes."

We have good reason to suspect the right-wing historian Conquest - a former British intelligence officer and virulent cold warrior - is out to push the worst line possible about the Marxist Left and not just the Soviet Union. It's a sure thing that Conquest wouldn't rebuke in phony moral outrage at someone who sees the slaughter of the Second World War as necessary to bring down the Third Reich. As Hobsbawm emphasises, it was not about the construction of a utopia - it was a case of "a world rather than no world" - at that time for the Communists who saw the world as crumbling at that time. Really it's because Conquest disagrees fundamentally with the ultimate aim, whereas the defeat of National Socialism merely means a return to liberal democratic capitalism. The notion of a "radiant tomorrow" was rhetoric in Hobsbawm's thinking, it was more about a better, more perfect and new world. It was a more upbeat view of the future tempered with the stark realism of the dire situation in the world.

At around 24 minutes in Eric Hobsbawm goes over his view of the estimates of deaths in the Soviet Union under Stalin. He insists that the people involved in the Communist International, in the 1930s, had no substantial knowledge of what was going on under Stalin with regard to human suffering. Hobsbawm makes the same statement about what the anti-Communist intellectuals claim to know about the Soviet Union. Hobsbawm goes on to add that the estimates - ranging from 3 to 14 million in the gulags alone - are speculative and indefensible because of the range of the figures alone. The blunt tool Ignatieff quickly inquired if the old man of British Communism was saying Stalin's crimes have been "exaggerated" and, without hesitation, the old man responded "No... I'm merely saying that nobody knows!" Hobsbawm concludes that the situation in the Soviet Union under Stalin was indefensible and inhuman. And yet the man is still lambasted by the Right as a lifelong apologist for Joseph Stalin's abattoir socialism.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Neocons and Stalinists.


A serious priority of the apologists for empire is to vilify the opposition which may emerge into the public space from time to time to challenge established power in its aggressive designs. There is a variation of the cases, just as there are liars who have understood what Goebbels knew all too well - specifically, that a big lie will be swallowed more easily than a small one. This is what we find when Alan Dershowitz had the effrontery to accuse Norman Finkelstein's deceased mother of being a kapo - a Nazi collaborator - while she was at Auschwitz. That happens to be a particularly sordid and extreme case, Dershowitz is a good lawyer for guilty candidates. Another instance would be when Andrew Sullivan accused Noam Chomsky of being a supporter of the Soviet Union on the Bill Maher show. This level of slander is nothing new. Chomsky has been accused of everything from supporting radical Muslims killing Americans to supporting nationalist Serbs killing Muslims. I'm writing of this because I recently came across this (unsurprisingly) in the work of Douglas Murray:


"Eleven days into the American forces' action in Afghanistan, on October 18, 2001, Chomsky excelled even himself in a broadcast speech: 'The New War Against terror.' In it he spoke of what American forces were doing in Afghanistan declaring "Looks like what's happening is some sort of silent genocide." He alleged that there was a concerted American attempt to starve and kill between three and four million Afghan people."

Actually the Professor opened the talk on the so-called 'War on Terrorism' with a look at what The New York Times had pointed out about the war of Afghanistan. He covers this in the first 10 minutes, or so, of the aforementioned talk and you can see it all on YouTube. Chomsky picked the estimates of the number of Afghans who were at danger of falling into starvation out of The New York Times, the basis of which came from the United Nations. He emphasises that the millions in Afghanistan on the verge of starvation were dependent on international aid, and that this issue predates the events of 9/11. Chomsky quotes The New York Times in noting that the US demanded from Pakistan the elimination of truck convoys to Afghanistan. This would cut-off the flow of food to the civilian population. He notes that there was no reaction in the US to this demand. Incidentally, this is similar to what the US and Britain imposed on Cambodia in the aftermath of the crimes of Pol Pot and the subsequent Vietnamese occupation. Something that Chomsky was vilified over once again.

Another round of quoting followed as Chomsky notes the threat of military strikes forced out the aid workers, which crippled the assistance programmes. He quotes an evacuated aid worker who says "The country was on a lifeline and we just cut the line." The UN food programme were able to resume food shipments to Afghanistan after a few weeks, this was suspended during bombing. It was the arithmetic of the UN that calculated around 7.5 million Afghans would be left in acute need for 'even a loaf of bread' given the conditions. Chomsky observes that this tells us that Western civilisation is anticipating the slaughter of three to four million. Nevertheless, Murray goes on to dismiss Chomsky's claims as 'lunatic' while he refers us to hacks David Horowitz and Ronald Radosh who ascribe to Chomsky the motive of depicting Americans as "moral monsters" planning on killing millions of Afghans. These self-described "democratic revolutionaries" prefer to conflate anticipation with intention. There is no such thing as subtlety in their worldview.

The real point that Chomsky made was that the conditions of policy-decisions were conducive in potentia to a massive famine in Afghanistan. It was the UN that called on the US to stop the bombing to avert the famine. At this point in the talk Chomsky says "It looks like what's happening is some kind of silent genocide" before adding that this indicates that the US is implementing policies under the assumption that they might kill several million people. The Professor is keen to emphasise that, at this point, we don't know what will happen. That point is not referred to at all in Murray's book. What we do find in the book, strangely, is that Murray can quote Chomsky's reaction when he was faced with the accusation of predicting a "silent genocide". What's strange is that the author is too thick to realise that he's allowed Chomsky to explain what he means quite clearly. Yet Murray ascribes an 'opaque' quality to Chomsky's words in this instance, perhaps his words are only opaque coming after a barrage of lies from right-wing degenerates:


"That is an interesting fabrication, which gives a good deal of insight into the prevailing moral and intellectual culture. First, the facts: I predicted nothing... All of this is precisely accurate and entirely appropriate. The warnings remain accurate as well, a truism that should be unnecessary to explain. Unfortunately, it is apparently necessary to add a moral truism: actions are evaluated in terms of the range of anticipated consequences."

The moral case against the war can't easily be dismissed by hacks. So it has to be reduced to a point that can easily be dismissed by a body-count in Afghanistan that conveniently leaves assumptions about the war untouched. The wretched Stephen Sakur challenged Chomsky on this point a couple of years ago. In response Chomsky aptly pointed out that the fact the "silent genocide" didn't happen because the conditions under which the policies were implemented remain the same. Whether or not the millions lived or died is separate to Chomsky's point, he was talking about the reasonable expectations of the impact of policy at the time. As Chomsky observed, the Stalinist hacks of the Soviet Union could defend Khrushchev's decision to put nuclear weapons in Cuba on the grounds that the move did not lead to a nuclear war and the end of days. To do so takes the decision in separation from its consequences, while conveniently falling back on what actually came after. In this way highly questionable assumptions are guarded from any critical reflection.

Ignoble Liars.


Douglas Murray is just the youngest public ideologist of the 'War on Terrorism' and his work is worth reading at least to know thy enemy. Noting the charge of 'noble lies' leveled by critics of the Iraq war, and its pretext, Douglas Murray writes "The notion of the 'noble lie' certainly arises in Plato, and it is true that Strauss and many neoconservatives admire Plato. But what Plato described (in his Republic) was that, on occasion, leaders have to conceal truths from the masses in order to lead them most wisely. He certainly did not (as one commentator put it with wild hyperbole) claim that 'it is practically a duty to lie to the masses.'" Going on to stress that "Plato described how in matters of grave importance, occasions arise in which a leader will know best, and in which the less well-informed masses, if given the opportunity to decide on a specific matter, might decide wrongly." This goes against his earlier position in the book where he slams the conclusion that Leo Strauss was a "champion of the 'noble lie'" as misinformed.

Even after this Murray maintains that the charge is unfounded, offensive, glib, ignorant and nonsensical. Furthermore it is hurled about by people who have "misrepresented their Plato and not read their Strauss". He describes the outrage regarding 'noble lies' as a "faked outrage". This really comes out of his loyalty to a particular agenda manifested in the policy designs of the Bush administration. In his view the UK and US governments didn't lie because they merely revealed what they knew about Saddam's Iraq - or rather, what they thought they knew - to their people. The twerp goes further to say "they discussed intelligence that was incorrect, information certain amount of raw intelligence that may turn out to have been comprehensively mistaken." He even claims that the governments were too eager to pander to public opinion (except that which was anti-war) as he derides critics as 'conspiracy theorists' once again - it would seem, it is one of his favourite swearwords second only to 'moral equivalence' in his arsenal of vilification and obfuscation.

So the fault of the Anglo-American establishment was not in but in telling the people too much, revealing information that should not have been revealed. Apparently there is not the remotest possibility that any of this could constitute deception. Murray is keen to guard against anyone who might attribute immoral behaviour to George W Bush and Dick Cheney, while looking to maintain a high bar for American aggression against Iraq. Yet the administration officially dumped the talk of WMD as soon as the invasion found there were no such weapons. The supposed links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were dropped as the invasion quickly turned Iraq into a centre of terrorist activity. The doctrine of 2004 was that it's enough for a country to have the capacity to build weapons and the intent to use them. So that's virtually any country in the world. It's this kind of thing that the neoconservatives are looking to defend by damning critics as 'relativists', yet another swearword deployed against critics of imperial adventurism.

I wonder if Murray refined these abilities in whatever public school mummy and daddy sent him to when they realised they didn't love him. It's clear Murray is aware that the Platonist framework gives convenient reasoning to the wider agenda to which he is a loyal servant. In Plato's Republic the 'noble lie' is supposed to engender devotion to the city-state among the citizenry, it is meant to be employed when philosophy fails. So if we accept that the established authority has to propagate a particular view of the world in order to maintain social harmony we can still question the neoconservative mission. Really it's that Murray believes in the cause to the extent that he can be totally cynical. To get to the bottom of this we have to question the fundamentals: the position that the United States can and ought to invade countries to make democracies out of them. It's the insistence that the interests of the US (which are pervasive in all of its interventions) are synonymous with the interests of the countries it invades and occupies that we rightly take fault with.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Brand Obama - Four More Years.


As far as I can see there are a hand full of important reasons for Obama's victory that we should keep in mind. We should never kid ourselves that the US is a shining beacon of democracy atop a hill. In this election the American ruling-class had largely no reason to initiate a seat change. This was reflected by the pressure on the Republican Party to churn out a saleable extremist candidate, only to dress up 'moderate' Mitt as 'reactionnaire' Romney - it was a cop-out from the start. I think we'll probably find from analysis of the campaign funding that Obama had a lot more institutional capital behind, while irrational types like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers poured cash into Romney's doomed campaign. This may indicate that the composition of capital may be even more important than the actual concentration of wealth. Romney was chosen given his record for stable continuity and adaptability, if he lost it wasn't a big deal - the real opportunity for the GOP is 2016 and I suspect that is well understood in the belly of the Republican beast.

There is some evidence to suggest that voter-turnout was actually lower than in 2008, with a difference of maybe 10 million votes give or take. I suspect that the majority of voters were mobilised on the basis of cultural fears of either candidate, while the liberal vote went automatically for the Democrats and the rest stayed home. This is the standard culture war theory of American politics. It's possible that the Tea Party voters were even put-off by Romney, difficult to say at this point. It was a matter of continuity, of maintaining the status quo. Here we find the slim majority of votes converged with an enormous exercise of financial power on the part of the bourgeoisie to bloat Obama's campaign chest, thereby enabling him to reach as many voters as possible. The lesser evilism of Michael Moore and Bill Maher triumphed as there was no perceived left-wing alternative to Obama. But it was more about the defeat of the Right, it was a negative victory and not positive in other words. Putting aside cultural issues, there is the materialist issue of immigration.

Much has been made of the changing ethnic makeup of America, specifically the burgeoning Latino-American population. It's even been predicted that the US will not be a majority white country in a matter of decades. It's worth noting that the impact this could have on the Republican Party, given that it's share of the Hispanic vote collapsed from 44% for Bush in 2004 to 27% in 2012. It was partly due to Romney's own inconsistency, his warming to the most reactionary positions on abortion and homosexuality could not reconcile the Catholic vote given his endorsement of racist policies on Mexican immigration. These votes eventually went to the Obama campaign. Bush had managed to appeal to a broad Catholic base with socially conservative positions on gay marriage, abortion and stem-cell research. Notably Bush maintained a moderate position on immigration and even produced an absurd campaign ad in which he claimed to be proud of his 'Latino heritage'. So we've seen that this contradiction might only be resolved by burning a policy plank or two.
 
It remains to be seen whether or not the GOP will moderate it's positions in order to appeal to a much wider base. It's plausible that the Republicans will get crazier and crazier as their voters get whiter. But it is also possible that they will have to concede ground in order to gain greater influence. After all that is the major priority of the Party's primary constituent, namely the American bourgeoisie. This is an instance of the capitalist system undermining it's own interests ultimately. It was the US that has enforced an appalling economic programme on Mexico and Latin America, that has led to Hispanics migrating north just to earn a mediocre living. The militarisation of the border offers only a way to temporarily mobilise a shrinking white voter-base, but the question of Latin-American voter-base still looms large. It's out of the realm of the possible for the Republicans to seek to improve the economic conditions in Mexico in order to limit immigration. The same goes for the prospect of a unionisation of Mexican immigrants.
 
In either case these measures would improve the living standards of Latin-Americans, yet it's also the case that the rising number of Latinos may be inevitable. To put it briefly, America will be skin deep for many years to come. I digress, I've already noted that it was the logic of the lesser evil that was behind a great deal of left-wing support for Obama, but there's another angle here. The late Alexander Cockburn argued in 2010 that Obama may actually be more susceptible to left-wing pressure than Clinton, so the problem is that there's not much of a Left left in America to push the Democrats around. There may be some hope in the charged discourse we now live with thanks to Occupy Wall Street. For a long time it looked as though the era of a lively culture of organised and disciplined politics is dead in the US. We should not kid ourselves that with Occupy Wall Street this era will be reborn. We might hope that the discourse has been impregnated with a certain potential. Though there needs to be something more than a lively grass-roots base to win this thing.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

What about Mali?

Yesterday.

In early 2012 the US was seen as turning a blind eye to the Tuareg rebellion, at least by many Malians who find it unlikely that the US would not notice the return of many of Gaddafi's fighters-for-hire to Northern Mali. The Malian military overthrew Amadou Toumani Touré because he was seen as too ineffectual in fighting the Tuaregs. A popular view in the country was that Touré had allowed soldiers to be killed defenselessly. Captain Amadou Sanogo seized the healm once Touré was expelled from the country. Sanogo was smart enough to make the usual pronouncements of working to rescusitate democracy and the state's sovereignty. Interestingly, Amadou Sanogo was trained in the US and more than likely had the approval of the US State Department to overthrow Touré. It looks as though the era of coups is not over after all. Nevertheless the military coup failed to prevent the Tuaregs from seizing the North about ten days later. It was then that the Tuaregs declared the North to be the independent state of Azawad, it would seem with Iyad Ag Ghaly at the healm.

The international community has not recognised the declaration of independence. In the new state of Azawad we know that the MNLA has not solidified its hold over the whole territory. There is Ansar Dine, a Jihadist group with alleged ties to 'al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb', which has the aim of unifying Mali under Shariah. The French seem to be leaning towards a 'humanitarian intervention' to restore the South's dominion over the North. Alternatively, there has been some discussion about the prospect of an African-led intervention, probably due to the strained resources of the imperial triumvirate. The Germans have expressed a willingness to train Malian troops. Meanwhile, the Islamist leadership of the forces in Azawad have threatened to launch an assault on Mali's capital if the intervention goes ahead. The drumbeat of war was playing at The Guardian where the case for intervention was laid out on October 17th. The case against intervention was laid out as well, in standard liberal practice - the illusion of neutrality.


In case you haven't heard of Mali, it's the seventh largest country in Africa with a population of around 15 million people. Like many African countries Mali was a French colony until it became independent in 1960, incidentally the demands for Tuareg autonomy predate independence. As for the economic conditions, Mali is built on agriculture specifically cotton in the South and cattle in the North of Mali which has been damaged by American and European economic policies. Around half of the population live on less than $1.25 a day. This remains so even as prospectors are keen to find gold and oil in Mali, while narcotraffickers use the country as a midway point to Europe. The life expectancy in Mali is about 48 years for Men and 52 years for women. In cultural terms Mali is very diverse, 90% of the population are Muslim, 1% are Christian and 9% adhere to an "indigenous religion", though it's not uncommon for Muslims to blend their beliefs with traditional animism. Notably the majority of the population live in the South, while the Northern chunk of the country is actually far larger and extends into the Sahara.


Today.

 
The economic situation in Mali has long been exacerbated by Western policy. The US government subsidises American cotton farmers with more money than the Malian government spends in it's entire budget. Nor can the Malians compete with the Europeans, since the EU subsidises each farmer with 500 euros per each cow and that is even more than the per capita GDP in Mali. The Minister for the Malian economy once said: "We don't need your help or advice or lectures on the beneficial effects of abolishing excessive state regulation; please, just stick to your own rules about the free-market and our troubles will basically be over." His words fell on deaf ears in America and Europe. The politicians placing tarrifs on imported goods and restrict imports by establishing administrative barriers often claim to be "putting country first". Clearly capitalism is not synonymous with economic liberty, whether it be a free-market or free trade. All of this I noted a couple of years ago, and it should kept in mind that Islamism is typically divorced from economic doctrine.

This is where the Tuaregs reside and have long demanded autonomy from the central government in the South. And it's not an illegitimate claim as the nation-state is not an African phenomenon, rather it was an imposition of European colonialism. But that's not to say that these countries can just be torn apart. The Tuaregs could be seen as similar to the Kurds, a desert people who are on the move and reside in countries such as Algeria and Niger. It wasn't until 2012 that the Tuaregs demanded total independence. This may have been avoided had autonomy been granted to the Tuaregs sooner. Incidentally the Obama administration has reached out to the Algerians, with talk of an African-led intervention. It's important to understand this crisis with regard to the NATO intervention that helped to finish off the Gaddafi regime in Libya. Mali's most important neighbours are Algeria, Niger and Burkina Faso, though it was Libya which intervened in Malian affairs under Colonel Gaddafi. Now it looks as though Gaddafi's fall has affected Mali.

Ironic as Gaddafi was the mediator of negotiations between the Malian government and the Tuareg rebels. Near the desperate end the Colonel had even enlisted Malian mercenaries, including Tuaregs, to fight the rebellion. It seems as though the mercenaries passed into Mali with new arms and confident in their experience of a lost battle. It would seem that this is the sort of situation that has already gone too far in its very happening. The Tuaregs have a legitimate grievance, the claim to autonomy was a legitimate one. The hybridity of Malian society, including among its Muslims, shouldn't be forgotten. This is as much a threat to animist Muslims and the remnants of Sufism as it is to Malian Christians and the descendents of slaves. Of course, it follows that the Islamists tearing down Timbuktu's cultural heritage and looking to silence all music is not a legitimate expression of this grievance or any other for that matter. There's the very real possibility that this will become another front in the imaginary culture war between Islam and the West. This remains so if the conflict is left to stew as it was in Sudan.