The current ructions in Mali serve to remind us that there is nothing much new under the geostrategic sun.
P.C. Wren's 1924 French Foreign Legion novel Beau Geste, whose action takes place 100 years ago, covers some of the ground currently being disputed between black Africans and Tuareg raiders. Beau Geste refers to the latter as: "Those who were then so busily stirring the fermenting brew of pan-Islamic discontent in northern Africa." Uh-huh.
The novel does not give the Tuaregs a good press. Meet, for example, Tegama, the Sultan of Agades:
Cross-legged on this bed-like throne, in dirty white robes, sat Tegama, who carried on his face the stamp of his ruling passions, greed, cruelty, lust, savagery, and treachery.
Just one bad apple? Apparently not:
Touaregs are human wolves, professional murderers, whose livelihood is robbery with violence, which commonly takes the form of indescribable and unmentionable tortures.
Nor is the Roumi, the infidel dog, the favourite object of their treacherous attack, save in so far as he is a more rewarding object of attention. They are as much the scourge and terror of the Arab villager, the nomad herdsman, or the defenceless negro, as they are of the wealthy caravan or their peaceful co-religionists of the town, the douar, and the oasis.
Before activists of the Tuareg Defense League leap to their keyboards to denounce my hateful bigotry, let me note that I have no idea what relation Wren's novelistic observations bear to reality, could not distinguish a Tuareg from a Chaoui, and have no dog in the fight. I am just pointing out some possible historical continuities, that's all.
Beau Geste was made into a 1939 movie with Gary Cooper in the title role. Senior staff at the French Foreign Ministry might want to consider it as a weekend Netflix rental.