“There’s really no such thing as just Sharia, it’s not one monolithic Continuum – Sharia is understood in thousands of different ways over the 1,500 years in which multiple and competing schools of law have tried to construct some kind of civic penal and family law code that would abide by Islamic values and principles, it’s understood in many different ways…” — Reza Aslan
And yet whenever we see Sharia implemented, it looks the same. Now, why is that?
“Under the Mali militants” reign of terror: refugees tell of life under Islamist rule,” by Colin Freeman for the Telegraph, January 19 (thanks to Lookmann):
Having routed the Malian soldiers who were supposed to keep them at bay, the masked fighters toured the neighbourhood, dishing out sweets to children and stern religious sermons to adults.
Lest anyone fail to get the hint, they also laid waste to Diabaly”s church, used by the small Catholic community that has dwelt among the Muslims there for as long as anyone can remember.
“They removed the church’s cement cross and destroyed it,” said Asseye TourÃ©, 26, who fled Diabaly on his motorbike on Friday, driving 20 miles down a track through rice paddies and onion fields to the government-held town of Niono.
“They said they didn’t want to harm us, but that we should all live under Islamic law.”
Mr TourÃ©, a farmer, was among hundreds who hastily left Diabaly on Friday, some by minibus and others crammed 15-a-piece on the back of rice carts towed by motorbikes.
The militants had rolled into the village in a 40-vehicle convoy on Monday, proving they could still capture new ground despite the onset of the French military offensive against their strongholds across northern Mali.
For proof of just how easily they had done so, Mr TourÃ© brandished a picture he had taken on his mobile phone, showing the corpse of a Malian soldier dumped amid the rushes of a nearby river.
“I saw about three dead bodies there,” he said. “The Malian military could not stop them.”
This weekend, the French military appeared to be having rather better luck, with air strikes forcing the militants to flee Diabaly into surrounding forests near the Mauritanian border.
Even so, officials in nearby Niono remained anxious that the militants might suddenly strike there too, and last night (SAT) a column of French armour arrived to secure the town.
“People are still worried, because there are lots of ways into Niono,” said Moriba Coulibaly, the town’s mayor.
Mr Coulibaly”s words echo fears that Mali’s militants may prove rather more resilient than the French initially thought, and that if they cannot compete in a conventional battle, they will respond with insurgent tactics.
This was demonstrated by last week’s mass seizure of hostages across the border in Algeria.
Critics point out that if a police state such as Algeria cannot stop serious terrorism incidents, then Mali’s coup-weakened government will stand even less chance “” with or without foreign military support.
France’s president, FranÃ§ois Hollande, ordered the intervention amid fears that Mali, one of the poorest nations in Africa, was on the point of hosting a “terrorist state” on its vast northern desert flank.
The action, expected to involve a total of 2,500 French troops, has been backed by British transport planes, raising fears of a prolonged Western entanglement in another predominantly Muslim region….
In Timbuktu last week, the first hint that the militants might be losing control came in the form of yet another gun-enforced edict.
Having already banned most forms of temptation, including music, dancing, drinking and smoking, the city”s “morality police” warned locals not to take any pleasure in the fact that French warplanes had been bombing their bases and supply dumps.
“On Wednesday night, the Islamist people went round telling everyone not to show any happiness or joy because of the French intervention,” Timbuktu’s mayor, Halle Ousmane, told The Sunday Telegraph.
“They warned that if they did, they would come to their houses and attack them.”
By then, though, the militants” ability to enforce their threats already seemed to be diminishing.
The French bombardments had already forced many to flee into the surrounding Sahara desert, while those still in the city were said to be panicking every time they heard an aircraft in the distance.
“Until last week, everyone was scared, all the women were covered up except for the eyes,” said Mr Ousmane, 60, who was visiting Bamako when the bombing began.
“But when I spoke to my wife on Thursday morning, she said that she had taken her veil off, as had most of the other women in Timbuktu. The French military intervention has finally brought us some hope.”
The takeover of the north followed a coup last March by the Malian army, whose poorly equipped soldiers were suffering heavy losses in a guerrilla war against the lighter-skinned nomads of Mali’s Tuareg separatist movement.
The Tuaregs, who have long been in tension with the black Africans of the south, had returned to northern Mali with heavy weaponry after fighting as mercenaries in 2011 for Col Muammar Gaddafi.
But while the coup easily toppled the regime of President Amadou Toumani TourÃ©, the ensuing chaos left the north open for takeover by the Tuareg separatist militia, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, more commonly referred to by its French abbreviation of MNLA.
And with the separatists came fighters known by a much more sinister acronym “” AQIM, or al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb.
Having initially formed an alliance of convenience with the Tuaregs, AQIM quickly staged a coup of its own, sidelining the separatists and turning Timbuktu not into a Tuareg homeland, but into a mini-caliphate.
At the entrance to the city, twinned with Hay-on-Wye in Wales in 2007, a new sign went up saying “welcome to the city of sharia”.
While the city”s governor and prefect left, Mr Ousmane decided to stay, requesting a meeting with Timbuktu’s self-declared new masters.
It brought him face-to-face with a short, taciturn al-Qaeda leader named Abu Zaid, whose unassuming appearance belies a brutal reputation.
In 2009, he is believed to have ordered the murder of Edwin Dyer, the British hostage, kidnapped along with three other European tourists after attending a Tuareg cultural festival near the Mali-Niger border.
“At first they didn’t even let us speak at the meeting, and Abu Zaid, along with others, just recited verses from the Koran,” said Mr Ousmane.
“They said we have to talk about religion, and I told them that we were already Muslim people, so why were they here? They said they wanted sharia not just in Timbuktu, but all over Mali. And they told me, ‘You are no longer mayor”.”
A Taliban-style regime then took hold, turning a city recently famed for its world music festivals into one where the only melodies allowed “” even on mobile telephone ring tones “” were Koranic verses.
Those who broke the rules were hauled before a sharia court in a former tourist hotel, where punishments such as flogging by camelhair whip were dispensed.
Suspected thieves would be strapped to a chair and have a hand amputed “” sometimes with a painkiller administered by a doctor first, sometimes not. Mr Ousmane’s daughter was arrested by the Islamic morality police simply for wearing a veil that was not black.
“They told her it looked too pretty, and that they could smell the perfume she was wearing at 100 metres,” he said.
Mr Ousmane decided the safest thing to do was to tell his fellow citizens to co-operate, fearing they would be killed if they were provoked into retaliation, such as when the Islamists began destroying Timbuktu’s mud-built Islamic shrines for being “idolatrous”.
“It was horrifying when they did that, but what they destroyed is only mud, and we are Muslims in our hearts,” he said. “The day they leave, we can rebuild them.”
Also nursing reconstruction plans is Sadou Diallo, 57, the mayor of the northern city of Gao, whose private property empire incurred Islamist wrath for rather different reasons.
Not only did he own two raucous nightclubs, frequented by hip hop DJs and local ladies of the night, he also had a chain of hotels rented out to US special forces teams, who until last year, were training troops in Gao as part of a counter-terrorism strategy.
“All of my properties were burned down and I lost about Â£500,000,” said Mr Diallo, whose office wall in Bamako bears a “certificate of appreciation” from 1st Bn, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
“When the French attacked last week, I felt alive for the first time since last year.”
Quite how long Malians” new-found love affair with their former imperial masters will last is another matter.
While some see it as a benign intervention that could heal old colonial wounds altogether, others think it will simply reopen them, especially if it attracts even more jihadists to the country.
And while France has pledged to stick with the mission “as long as it takes”, the military side is just one aspect of it.
Equally daunting is the task of holding fresh elections, slated for later this year, that will find a credible replacement for the ousted Mr TourÃ©, whose corrupt, ineffectual regime achieved little more than giving democracy a bad name.
“We used to have a usually very tolerant brand of Islam, but bad governance is pushing people into embracing militant causes,” said one Malian development worker….
That leaves open the question of why people choose Sharia in places not significantly marked by “bad governance.” Is Turkey re-Islamizing and discarding Kemalist secularism because of “bad governance”?