Mali: The Next Afghanistan!

Mali is one of those places we’ve all heard of but, without Google, can’t actually find on a map.  (I tried and only got close.)  In fact, it’s not exactly a country so much as an ill-defined area with poor people in it.  Most Westerners’ knowledge of Mali starts-and-stops with Timbuktu, the proverbial name for nowhere from our childhood.  At one time, it was the centre of a great trading empire (built on slaves and ivory) but by the time the French marched their Foreign Legion there at the end of the 19th century, all they found was a mud and waddle village.  According to all reports, they were deeply disappointed.

For the last half century, since independence from France in 1960, Mali has been kept in permanent poverty by UNICEF and a number of other well-meaning humanitarian agencies.  Unfortunately, since the Malians as just soul-suckingly poor, and not actually starving, people like Bono and Geldof give them a miss, and Oprah hasn’t built them any schools.  The only real distinction Mali has in the family of nations is it’s generally listed as the poorest place on the planet.  Mostly it flies under the radar — at least until now.  You can read about it here.

Mali is rapidly becoming a future destination for Western military might, and, like Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq before it, many of our young people won’t be making the return journey vertically.  This deadly adventure is going to be brought to you by the dithering diplomats of the United Nations who are practically digging the graves even as we speak.  If it sounds as though I’ve lost my girlish laughter over these relentless debacles, it’s because I have.  I’m fed up to the eyeballs with career politicos weeping crocodile tears over the honoured dead, when they are the ones doing their incompetent best to stretch the casualty lists to the breaking point.  Let me explain.

Recently, a Moslem fundamentalist group (read Al Qaeda) has taken control ofPeople who have fled fighting in Mali rest at the Banibangou refugee camp in Niger northern Mali.  That’s the deserty bit that runs from Timbuktu to the Algerian border.  They now control a patch of real estate that’s roughly the size of Afghanistan.  Hmmm?  These boys (No Girls Allowed) are working flat out, to establish a safe haven for anybody with a homicidal grudge against the 21st century.  To that end, they’re collecting tons of Libyan weapons that NATO neglected to inventory after they bombed Gaddafi out of business.  They’re loading up on food, vehicles, oil, etc., creating safe routes in and out of Algeria, and generally digging in for the duration.  Basically, because nobody’s asked them to leave (the Mali military isn’t up to the task) they’re going full throttle Taliban and telling the legitimate Mali government to take a hike.

Cut to the chase: our world doesn’t exactly need yet another band of frontline fanatics hell-bent on destroying anything that doesn’t happen to fit their 7th century view of reality.  Nor, having seen the results in Somalia and Sudan, do we need another pack of heavily armed jihadists spreading their mutant Arab Spring across the lower Sahara.  Why?  Because recent history has shown us that, once these folks get established they tend to branch out.  Argue black is white all you want, but this Mali crew (actually, many of them aren’t locals) are eventually going follow the trail of their older brothers to London, Madrid and New York mali1and bring the battle to us.  Why?  They don’t like us.  They think we’re evil.  Everything we do sets their teeth on edge.  They don’t like our consumer society, our liberal education, our divorce rate, our homosexuals or our half-naked women.  They don’t like our social structure or our crazy adherence to the notion of democracy.   Plus, and most importantly, they don’t like our live-and-let-live brand of tolerance.  In the jihadist world, it’s their way or the highway.  No amount of reasonable discussion is going to change that.  These are facts, and anybody who hasn’t come to terms with them by now is either an abject apologist or a complete dolt.

The bottom line is at some point we’re going to have to fight these people.  Our only choice is where and when.  We can dick around like we did (and are still doing) in Afghanistan.  That’s basically waiting until all hell breaks loose and then getting tangled up in an Orwellian series of never-ending counterattacks with the resulting continuum of casualties.  Or we can exercise some political will and decide to commit our military and economic resources to the novel notion of victory — minimize the casualties (on both sides) and then go back to real life.

Unfortunately, it looks like the United Nations and the Western world are, once again, going to stick with Plan A.  So, I suggest you get out the Google Maps, folks — because Bamako, Kidal and Gao are going to be as familiar to our children as Darfur, Kabul and Mogadishu are to us.  And they are going to be there for a long time.

Go ahead: touch my junk

Recently an airline passenger didn’t feel it was necessary to be groped by airport security and he told them so — in no uncertain terms.  I think what he said was “If you touch my junk I’ll charge you with sexual assault,” or something like that.  Suddenly, the whole security/rights debate was on again.  Let me make a couple of things perfectly clear concerning air travel.  I do not want to get blown up at 30 thousand feet, and I want my government to protect me up there.  Therefore, I am willing to help them do it.  For example, I think it is reasonable to identify yourself before you get on an airplane.  I also think it is reasonable that sharp objects and things that go boom are prohibited from airplanes.  I think it is reasonable to go through a metal detector and/or be searched before boarding an airplane.  I think these are just prudent precautions that everyone should take before getting into an oversized, airtight aluminum tube with a bunch of strangers.  I have nothing against my fellow passengers, but when I’m speeding through the sky, I think trust is an overrated concept.  Having said that, I would also like to know what sorry sack of stupid is in charge of airport security.

I love the art of travel.  Everything about it breathes adventure.  If I ever won the lottery, I would walk into British Airways with a stack of 20s and say, “Just tell me when it’s gone.”

However, at the risk of stating the obvious, air travel is really not as pleasant as it used to be.  There’s nothing wrong with the friendly skies or the airlines that fly in them.  They’re pretty much the same as they always were — average movies, mystery food and a complimentary crying baby – all part of the experience.   It’s the train wreck (oops!) they’re calling security that’s ruining it for me.

First of all, I don’t feel safe.  The last time I went through security at YVR (Vancouver) I thought I was watching an amateur theatrical troupe performing The Bourne Identity.  The person at the baggage scanner looked like she was checking groceries at Safeway.  The woman snooping through my backpack didn’t have her glasses on, and the roly-poly guy with the gun couldn’t have caught Betty White in a footrace (no offence, Betty.)  If it wasn’t so serious, it would have been funny.

Unfortunately, it is serious.  There are people out there trying to kill me.  I can theorize and chatter all day about why, but does it really matter?  I have paid huge dinero in taxes, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask that my government return the favour and at least give me the illusion of safety when I decide to fling myself through the stratosphere.  Or better still: why not actually make it safe?

 The problem is the people in charge of security are acting like a bunch of nomadic tribesmen chasing the rain.  Every time they see a cloud, they run to it. Every new avenue of attack produces yet another set of procedures, restrictions and devices.  We can’t go on like this indefinitely.  Eventually, we’re all going to be getting on the plane naked.  Personally, I don’t care.  If somebody wants to feel my junk, let him go ahead.  I would even submit to a cavity search if there was an ironclad guarantee that my cavity and I would arrive at our destination intact.  But there is no guarantee, so keep your hands to yourself.  By the way, you might want to change those little blue gloves every once in a while: I don’t know where they’ve been.  I wouldn’t mind getting pinched, poked and prodded by teams of semi-trained farmers, so much, if it did any good.  It doesn’t.

Airport security and their minions are hunting the wrong thing.  They’re searching for weapons when they should be looking for terrorists — who are a hell of a lot easier to find.  I’ll grant you that keeping guns, knives and explosive devices off airplanes is a #1 priority.  However, until terrorists perfect a Star Trek style transporter, somebody’s got to be carrying that crap around with them.  That person — whoever he or she is — is going to be stuck in the airport for the same length of time as I am.  They are going to have to go through ever-narrowing gates to get to my plane, just like I do.  And each of those gates is going to have a variety of personnel gawking at them.  There are always going to be new and better devices that can kill me, but people haven’t changed that much since Eve discovered the recipe for applesauce.  Technology is a wonderful friend, but security is a people business.  We need to concentrate on finding the people who wish to do me harm, not the things they bring with them.

Let me make a couple of suggestions on how to do that.  We need to get some people who are willing to conduct themselves in a professional manner.  We need to train them to be more than just junk feelers.    We need to motivate them: after all, they’re on the frontline of the War on Terror.  We need to give them tons of professional help.  Finally we need to pay them as professionals – minimum wage plus tips doesn’t cut it.  In the end, they won’t be running around looking for a needle in a haystack; they’ll be preventing the guy from putting the needle there in the first place.