News tends to be slow Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, and there’s not much of consequence in between, but when news does return — wham! — it can be extremely jarring.
One day you’re ooohing and aaahing as fireworks burst overhead and the world grows another year older, and the next your hopes for a better, saner 2013 are dashed by a Globe and Mail headline reading, “How Canadian troops could end up in Mali.”
The flashy sparkles of “Hades Hailstorm” become a colourful memory, and you wonder whether another string of nightclub bombings has occurred to prompt talk of sending Canadian soldiers to the rescue.
No, that would be Bali, the popular Indonesian tourist destination. Not to be confused with Mali, one of dozens of obscure African nations.
As is usual with obscure African nations, Mali occasionally makes the news. So far, no internationally famous celebrity has taken up its cause. Angelina Jolie has not visited, George Clooney is nowhere to be seen and Bono has not flown to Washington to talk about it with U.S. President Barack Obama. Rock stars have not held an aid concert.
Off the beaten track
Mali is less well known than its legendary city, Timbuktu.
In the West, “Timbuktu” has long been used to describe extreme distance or isolation, in such phrases as “from here to Timbuktu” or “all the way to Timbuktu” and so on. It even became part of pop culture with “Between Time and Timbuktu,” a script by American author Kurt Vonnegut.
Over the past few decades, Timbuktu has receded — so to speak — even further in Westerners’ consciousness. Reminders of its existence came in news reports last spring when gun-lugging louts who are really enthusiastic about their religion took control of the town.
Current rules in Timbuktu
prohibit music, drinking and football/soccer. Adulterers are stoned. (Not with pot, with rocks.) Thieves are mutilated. Westerners can only wonder whether residents of Timbuktu shot off fireworks this week to celebrate the arrival of the 7th century.
On our way?
Thus we come full circle, to newspaper headlines about the possibility of sending Canadian troops to Mali to help its government deal with its internal mayhem and discord.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said this week Canada could send military advisers to Mali sometime this year to help train its army.
Such interventionist urges seem to arise from the so-called R2P doctrine — responsibility to protect.
Politicians and diplomats will appeal to our better sides by saying R2P defends innocents.
But really, it is just jargon for sticking your guns in where they don’t belong.
If your neighbour behaved this way, you would call him or her a busybody.
Defence ministers, prime ministers and presidents are apparently unable to learn lessons from places such as Afghanistan and Iraq (and, in a previous generation, Vietnam). One important lesson is that when outsiders butt in, the local citizenry is likely to tell them to butt out.
In related news, the United Nations used R2P arguments this week to suggest international intervention in Syria’s ongoing civil war. It’s a good thing all those Western conservative governments ignored leftist calls to curtail military spending — otherwise there wouldn’t be enough soldiers to go around.
R2P skeptics are inclined to ask: how did it work out in Libya?
Have our newfound friends there supplied a satisfactory answer about why they expressed their thanks by murdering the American ambassador?
In some unfortunate places, life is too cruel and brutal. Good intentions, R2P or otherwise, won’t change that.
MacKay should explain to Canadians why we should send even a pair of boots to Mali, let alone a soldier wearing them.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.