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The Fun Part of the Malian War

Even as national treasures are being destroyed by retreating Islamist radicals, liberated Malians in Gao are dancing in the streets, celebrating newfound freedoms. The New York Times reports:

Residents of Gao, northern Mali’s largest city, poured out of their homes to celebrate the expulsion of Islamist fighters who had held their town for months, playing the music that had been forbidden under the militants’ harsh interpretation of Islamic rule and dancing in the streets. [ . . . ]

The city’s residents were subject to strict rules and harsh punishment, including amputations for suspected thieves and public beatings or whippings for perceived violations of Islamic law. [ . . . ]

For many residents of towns under Islamist control, it was the little things about their previous lives that they missed most.

“No smoking, no music, no girlfriends,” said Amadou Kané, a 26-year-old history student from Niafounké. “We couldn’t do anything fun.”

We’re not sure we agree with the implied NYT assertion that the absence of girlfriends is a small part of life; nevertheless, this joy sounds familiar. It reminds us of U.S. forces sweeping across Iraq, pulling down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square, and flashing victory signs with jubilant Iraqis. As before, expect the celebrations to fade when the realities of postwar governance sink in.

War is an act of politics; the problem of bringing some kind of stability to northern Mali that keeps the radicals out of power and on the run will be the hard part. The Malian army is a farcically inept force. The civilian government is worse than incompetent. There is no cultural or ethnic unity to the country; its boundaries reflect nothing more real than colonial lines.

All of these points are true of many of Mali’s neighboring states as well. Knocking the radicals out of the civilized cities and towns of central Mali is important. Figuring out what to do about the ungoverned and possibly ungovernable north will be harder. Much harder.

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