Malian scholar Aldiouma Yattara has firsthand experience of the Islamist terror regime in his country. In an interview with DW, he describes how Islamists mainpulate religion for their own purposes.
DW: In March 2012 Tuareg rebels and Islamists seized control of large parts of northern Mali, your home town Gao included. In early 2013 a French military operation drove them out of Gao. How much influence do they still have?
Aldiouma Yattara: The jhadist movements were particularly active in the years 2011 and 2012. Currently things are calmer, but they are still present. Many jihadists were killed or driven out, but their ideologies still weigh on the population. In Gao, where I live, there are constant missile attacks and suicide bombings. This is the work of the jihadists. They are still present because they still have supporters in the population. They have won them over either by using money or brainwashing. Even though the Islamists themselves are no longer here in many places, part of the population still remains loyal to them and helps them to hide.
Groups such as Ansar Dine describe themselves as "Defenders of the Faith". They want to introduce Islamic law in northern Mali. Do you think that religion is their true motivation?
When the Islamist groups came in, they used Islam and jihad as a pretext. What they did has nothing to do with Islam. They cut off people's hands and feet. They whipped people. We have never seen anything like this in Mali. The motivation of this group is not Islam. They want to use northern Mali, which is sparsely populated, as a base to smuggle arms and drugs. How can you want to impose Sharia law in a country that is already Muslim? 90 percent of Malians are Muslims! The world's most important manuscripts and Mali's largest mosques are in Timbuktu! Here people are awoken by the call of the muezzin every morning. Even the marabouts [ Islamic holy men] from Gao have confronted the jihadists and clearly told them that their actions do not conform with the Koran.
What is your understanding of jihad?
If you want to call for a jihad, if you want to convert people to Islam, then you have to be moderate in your teaching, sensitizing and moralizing. You do not need to enter a mosque with weapons in order to convince people to join the jihad. Why should weapons be used against people who already believe in Islam? How can a person cut off someone's hands without being able to prove that person really is a thief? How can men and women be whipped just because they have sexual relationships without being married? The Islamists also destroyed hotels and bars. If a jihadist marries a woman, the other fighters have also slept with her. They are now gone and left these women with their children behind. What will happen to these children in this country?
Aldiouma Yattara is an academic and director of the Sahel Museum in Gao, northern Mali. He experienced the Islamist terror regime at first hand in his home town.