de Gruyter, 2021
In 2012, northern Mali seceded from the rest of the country under the leadership of secessionist and Islamist groups. This, and subsequent events, have been interpreted, broadly speaking, in two ways. First, as a result of the unchecked influence of external actors representing ‘global jihad’ on a country whose Islamic practice had until then been described as ‘moderate’. Second, allegiance to Islamist groups was seen as a strategy in local power struggles. Without wanting to invalidate the latter interpretation, this chapter asks what would happen if we took the Islamic rhetoric put forward by various actors in northern Mali seriously. This implies understanding Islam in the region both in local and in transregional terms, and placing it within a narrative not of radical rupture, but of continuity. Contemporary tensions between local conflicts and universal notions of justice, legitimacy and belonging, have in fact a long and variegated history in the area.