While radical Islamist forces are wreaking havoc in the north of Mali, “a republican form of Islamism is peacefully conquering the south,” says Hannah Armstrong, a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs in the Sahel.
“The High Council of Islam, an Islamist civil society organization, has gradually emerged as the country’s strongest political force,’ she writes for the International Herald Tribune:
Since a coup d’état by Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo and low-ranking soldiers threw the political class into upheaval last March, the H.C.I. has stepped in to fill the vacuum. Many Malians — 90 percent of whom are Muslim — respect the council for providing social services and education through a network of 165 NGOs. The country’s new leaders are forging close ties with the group in the hope of consolidating their support among the public.
The HCI is demonstrating that Muslim citizens’ political convictions and activities can be informed by a form of civil Islam, which respects tolerance and pluralism, rather than the intolerant, autocratic traits of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood which, as Bassam Tibi has noted, have “ideologized Islam” into a rigid dogma.
“If southern Mali is heading toward Islamism, it is an Islamism based on persuasion, not violence and repression, as in the north,” writes Armstrong:
Also this week Mahmoud Dicko [above], leader of the H.C.I., extended “warm thanks” to François Hollande for the recent French intervention, while slamming “certain Gulf and other Muslim countries” — meaning Tunisia, Qatar, Egypt and members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — which called the French campaign an attack against Islam.
One Malian recently tweeted in support of Dicko: “These Arab Islamists are racists for they only conceive of Islam as being by Arabs, blacks are just second class.” He, like most black southern Malians, who overwhelmingly support the intervention, do not grant Arab countries a monopoly on the interpretation of Islam. They favor their own version, leavened by pluralism and compromise-seeking.