What Are the French Really Up to in Mali?
When it comes to going to war, it’s not too often we get to see France beat the US to the punch. But in the case of Mali, the troubled north African country with a serious jihadi problem, the French are playing the usual American role of global terrorist-hunter, launching a string of airstrikes and deploying 2,500 troops to its former colony in what could end up being a long and dirty war, à la Afghanistan. Since its unwillingness to support the war in Iraq in 2003 (which launched a mindless jingoistic shit-storm in the States), the French track record of interventionism has actually been more belligerent than widely held American perceptions would have it.
Besides leading the NATO charge in Libya against Gaddafi in 2011, leading up to the Malian campaign, France actually sent troops to two different countries within a month. In December, soldiers were deployed to the Central African Republic and then, in early January, a helicopter commando mission in Somalia failed to free a French hostage. They also maintain the largest and readiest Western military presence on the continent, with permanently stationed troops in countries like Chad and Gabon. Not to mention the rich history of corrupt African dictators being propped up by French political leaders in exchange for syphoning natural resources.
When it comes to Africa, since the wave of independence movements directly following WWII, the French secretly considered the continent its colonial playground, even without the title of imperial overlord. In fact, there’s evidence of all sorts of sinister stuff, like alleged connections between Hutu militiamen in Rwanda and French military officials before the 1994 genocide.
NATO in Chicago - Weekend Warriors
Nobody will know what it was like if you weren’t there, as the media and the PR and personal accounts are all over the place, decrying arrests and violence and terrorist threats. Actually, I was there, on the streets for 12-plus hours all weekend and I still barely have a grasp on what happened. Thousands of police patrolled downtown, even the river, drastically outnumbering protesters, as usual: billy clubs, riot shields lining the perimeter of banks, guns drawn on the street. I went where I was not supposed to, behind police lines. I ran through alleys and watched the police in the silent moments before they beat everyone.
Yes, everyone knows the story, demonstrator vs. police officer, and it happens like this to take the focus off what’s going on inside the buildings, the reason why we were protesting in the first place. It was deeply disturbing to see my city emptied out for the relatively few elite, leaders around the world that are wasting money and watching people get killed.
I have a poetry minor; I’m not a trained journalist. I don’t want to show the same stuff everyone else has been proliferating, all the protest porn. I had to keep taking breaks to look at the emptiness. Local business were slaughtered that weekend; the media told people not to bother showing up to work. So who really came and destroyed the city?
Friday night everyone was still upset about the unwarranted, illegal Occupy arrests that happened when the cops raided an apartment on the south side and took nine people away. Saturday, even with no evidence, three of them were officially charged with terrorism—coincidentally, it was the three who are not from Chicago—and their bond is now set at $1.5 million. Later on Saturday, two other individuals, in separate accounts (one of ‘em lives just down the street from me), were arrested on other charges of terrorism, something about Molotov cocktails that has also yet to be substantiated with evidence. Charges are getting vague and they keep changing, and no one can understand what’s happening.
The NATO Demonstrations continued throughout the weekend, beginning on Saturday on the North Side, when at least a thousand people gathered and marched to mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house. Later in the night, there were two more marches: one, an anti-capitalist gathering leaving from Haymarket Square, and the other, in solidarity for those detained from the illegal raids last week, from Daley Plaza. What started as a chaotic, disorganized couple marches turned into a living, breathing organism: Beautiful kids running their hearts out away from police telling them, “I can’t wait to smash your head in.” The march would split, scatter, get trampled and hit by the police. Then marchers would push and try to gain access down any one of Chicago’s wide streets. Then, pissing the police off, they would turn backwards and run the other way.
It seemed like a standoff happened every 15 minutes; meanwhile, two kids (one 12, one 14) were killed in drive-bys on Saturday night. While little kids were getting murdered and actual violence was happening elsewhere, the cops were beating up protesters in the ghost city of downtown.
Sunday was the big protest—it seemed like tens of thousands showed up, though official counts just say “thousands.” Girls with Forever 21 bags in Ugg boots joined in from a day out shopping. If you weren’t over 30 and balling, you joined. It was an organism that didn’t go the route of violence, mischievous yet innocent… young kids smiling and running in the streets like a fucking musical.
Ten city blocks were jammed tight with demonstrators chanting, a march organized by the Iraq Veterans Against the War. A rally made its way to McCormick Place around 3:30. Here, the vets tossed their medals back to the government and addressed a crowd of thousands. Police outnumbered protestors like 50 to one, it seemed. They weren’t allowed much freedom to move. It was slow and hot, and the police started some shoving. “GET ON THE SIDEWALK!” they yelled, or “GET ON THE STREET!” It was total chaos.
Around 4-ish, the permit ran out. We got orders to “move west” in English and Español. Eventually, according to a lot of people, undercover police threw some bricks and bottles. That’s when the riot police charged and demonstrators fought back. It was mayhem for an hour, with police slowly emptying the area. Forty-five people were officially arrested; at least 20 protesters were injured, many using makeshift clinics and not the hospital.
By 7 PM the crowd was gone, but still moved to march again. Catching police by surprise, a game of cat and mouse ensued for several hours. Demonstrators sprinted, tossed barricades, made a peace sign out of bodies and chanted, “Stop throwing shit!” at litterbug cops. Firemen were called in and were about to hose but decided not to.
Monday, today, there was a demonstration at Boeing that went through downtown. Everyone’s exhausted, and it’s still continuing tonight.