Algeria, Mali, and why this week has looked like an obscene remake of earlier Western interventions

We are outraged not by the massacre of the innocents, but because the hostages killed were largely white, blue-eyed chaps rather than darker, brown-eyed chaps

Share

Odd, isn’t it, how our “collateral damage” is different from their “collateral damage”. Speaking yesterday to an old Algerian friend in the aviation business, I asked him what he thought of his country’s raid on the In Amenas gas plant.“Brilliant operation, Robert,” he shouted down the phone. “We destroyed the terrorists!” But the innocent hostages? What about their deaths, I asked? “Poor guys,” he replied. “We had thousands of women and children killed in our war [in the 1990s] – terrible tragedy – but we are fighting terrorism.”

And there you have it. Our dead men didn't matter in the slightest to him. And he had a point, didn't he? For we are outraged today, not by the massacre of the innocents, but because the hostages killed by the Algerian army - along with some of their captors - were largely white, blue-eyed chaps rather than darker, brown-eyed chaps. Had all the "Western" hostages - I am including the Japanese in this ridiculous, all-purpose definition - been rescued and had the innocent dead all been Algerian, there would have been no talk yesterday of a "botched raid".

If all those slaughtered in the Algerian helicopter bombing had been Algerian, we would have mentioned the "tragic consequences" of the raid, but our headlines would have dwelt on the courage and efficiency of Algeria's military rescuers, alongside interviews with grateful Western families.

Obscene

Racism isn't the word for it. When George W Bush and Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara kicked off their war crimes with a full-scale invasion of Iraq, we didn't care a damn about the Iraqis.Ten thousand dead in a year? Twenty thousand? Or as George Bush said, "Thirty thousand, more or less." More or less what? But no problems with our precious dead. We know, for example, that since the Bush-Blair Iraqi adventure began, exactly 4,486 American military personnel died in the war.

So you know whom we care about. And whom we don't care about. Watch carefully in the coming weeks, therefore, for the growing "Roll of Honour" of French troops in Mali, interviews in the French press with their relatives, statistics of the wounded. And don't waste your time searching for details of dead Nigerian soldiers - or, indeed, dead Malian soldiers - because there will be no details of their sacrifice.

From the Middle East, the whole thing looks like an obscene television remake of our preposterous interventions in other parts of the world. French troops will be in Mali for only "several weeks", Hollande and his cronies tell us. Isn't that what we said when British troops first appeared on the streets of Northern Ireland, and then spent decades fighting there? Isn't that what the Israelis said when they marched into Lebanon in 1982 and stayed for another 18 years? Isn't this what we thought when we invaded Afghanistan? That our chaps might not even hear a shot fired in anger?

It was incredible to watch that old rogue Bernard Kouchner this week, mischievously demanding that British troops on the ground in Mali assist in France's fight against Islamist "terror". His eyes were alight with both cynicism and patriotism - a peculiarly French characteristic - as he played his 1914 entente cordiale "we'll-be-in-Timbuktu-by-Christmas" routine.But why are "we", the West, in Mali? How many readers - hands up, oh virtuous and honest folk, could actually name the capital of Mali two weeks ago?

I called up another friend, a French ex-legionnaire, yesterday. Why was France in Mali, I asked? "Well, they say that the Islamists would have reached Bamako and there would have been a Taliban-in-Kabul situation, a state that had fallen into extremist hands. But I myself don't understand. Mali is an artificial state whose northern inhabitants, especially the Tuaregs, have always refused to be ruled by a black government in the south. It's tribal, with a veil of 'Islamism' over the top of it - and now how do we get ourselves out of this mess?"

Disdain

Maybe we should ask Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the presumed "mastermind" - note the comic-cuts language we have to use for these vagabonds - of the Algerian raid. This is the "legendary" - again, note the adjective - "Mr Marlboro", whose interest in contraband and semtex explosive belts seems to outweigh his duties to Islam. North African journalists know a lot about Belmokhtar and his cross-border trade in cigarettes, weapons, 4x4s, drugs, diamonds and illegal migrants, and they are also appalled that Algeria - Belmokhtar's own birthplace - should now be involved in the Western crusade in Mali.

France's overflights have been bitterly criticised in the Algerian press - a fact largely ignored in London where "wars on terror" take precedence over local Algerian opinion - as a symbol of Algerian humiliation at the hands of the country's former colonisers.

But why should we care about the Algerians when they treat our dead with the disdain we have always shown for the Muslim dead of Iraq, Afghanistan or, for that matter, Palestine? Syria, please note, is temporarily in a different category, since our desire to destroy Bashar al-Assad allows us to turn all his victims into honorary Westerners. Odd, that. For among the rebels facing the ruthless Assad are folk very similar to Mr Belmokhtar and his merry Islamists, the very men who rouse the anger of Crusader Kouchner.

Do I sniff a bit of old-fashioned colonial insanity here? Carry on up the Niger? French troops battle rebels. "Terrorists" in retreat. Daily headlines from 1954 until 1962. In a country called Algeria. And I promise you, the French didn't win that war.

Robert Fisk on Algeria

Buy the new Independent eBook - £1.99 Two decades of reportage on a tragic conflict the West can no longer afford to ignore - by one of the world’s great foreign correspondents

kobo iBooks Amazon Kindle

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: We are winning the fight against extreme poverty and hunger. It's time to up the ante

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron addresses No campagn supporters in Aberdeen  

Scottish independence: Cameron faces a choice between destroying his country or his party

Matthew Norman
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week