Opinion: A ring of fire from Paris to Bamako | Opinion | DW | 21.11.2015
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Opinion: A ring of fire from Paris to Bamako

The hostage-taking in a hotel in Bamako brings home the fact that the fight against terrorism goes beyond European cities. Unusual alliances will be necessary, says DW's Claus Stäcker.

"The Sunny 16 Rule": shortly before the massacre in Bamako, the German army, the Bundeswehr, filed a humorous report under this title about a photography course for Malian press officers. One day later, no one was laughing. Radical Islamists have once more sent an unmistakable signal - a signal that they are ready and willing to continue with their merciless campaign, and all the more so after the impact they made in Paris. "You are showing signs of weakness and uncertainty," they seemed to be saying. "Our success is growing."

Paris, Ankara, Beirut, Sharm el-Sheikh and Bamako, and Yola and Kano further to the south: if we draw a line between the locations of the latest bloody attacks, we become aware of what the military calls a "ring of fire." This unsafe zone, defined by extremism and extensive conflicts, almost surrounds Europe. Twenty-four years ago, the highest-ranking soldier in the Bundeswehr, Inspector General Klaus Naumann, already warned of a "crisis belt from Afghanistan to Morocco." At that time, many thought he was just a military strategist who was blowing the danger out of proportion. Naumann's statement at the time that "[b]loodshed must no longer be a taboo for German soldiers" itself broke a taboo.

Staecker Claus Kommentarbild App

Claus Stäcker is the head of DW's Africa service

Removing Europe's "firewall"

Today, the "ring of fire" is only a few hundred kilometers away from Europe, and the buffer zone between Mali and the now nonexistent Libya is smaller than the vast and sandy emptiness of the Sahara would have us believe. The West has got rid of some dictators, but with them it has removed the "firewall" that protected Europe.

The takeover of the Radisson Blu, allegedly one of the best-protected hotels in the Malian capital, was indeed aimed at France, which prevented the country's imminent collapse with decisive military action in 2013 and recently succeeded in eliminating some terrorist leaders. But the Bamako attack was also directed against France's allies and the Western way of life. As in the Paris attacks, the perpetrators were making a point of principle, following the efficient logic of indiscriminate mass murderers. And German soldiers - currently in their capacity as trainers - are right in the midst of it all.

A similar pattern

Paris seems to have strengthened the jihadis' bloodlust. There is no reason to believe that some kind of global IS command center in Raqqa is coordinating actions in the Sahara and Sahel via telephone, telegram or even PlayStation. Such soul mates don't need any calls to action. They behave according to the same primitive, but determined, pattern. It makes no difference if they call themselves "The Sentinels" (Al-Murabitoun), "Defenders of the Faith" (Ansar Dine) or even "Islamic State."

Some people believe that a Third World War, or even a global religious war, is already underway. This bellicose rhetoric leads to a dead end. Rather, it is necessary to close ranks in the name of civilization, even with unusual allies such as China and Russia. The warriors of this asymmetrical army are difficult to conquer, but they are in a minority. Their allies can be identified and isolated by means of a joint effort.

A military component will, however, be inevitable - and, indeed, inevitable from Bamako to Berlin. If Germany wants to relieve pressure on its comrade-in-arms, in France, in Mali, it will need to employ not just spades, pontoons and cameras, but strike forces as well, under a robust UN mandate.

Sooner or later, blood will flow, as General Naumann once warned. As in Afghanistan, there will be German casualties. But the risk needs to be taken so that moderate elements, ordinary citizens, do not lose faith - whatever that faith may be.

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