the streets of Gao were full of Malians celebrating the defeat of Islamic Jihadists at the hands of the French. Women went out into the streets unveiled, men smoked, played drums and rode on motorbikes with unfurled flags, celebrating the return of their freedom and the end of Islamic rule.
SÉVARÉ, Mali — Residents of Gao, northern Mali’s largest city, poured out of their homes to celebrate the expulsion of Islamist fighters who had held their town for months, playing the music that had been forbidden under the militants’ harsh interpretation of Islamic rule and dancing in the streets.When Islamists lose there is freedom. When they win, there is horror as in Egypt, Mali and Tunisia.
“Everyone is in the streets,” a Gao resident, Ibrahim Touré, said in a telephone interview. “It is like a party. There is music. There are drums. It’s freedom.”
And the Islamophobes of Gao are happy to see the end of Islamic rule and to see…
Everywhere we go in Gao, people cheer and clap. They haven’t seen white people in a long time. In fact, the women haven’t seen very much for a long time because the jihadis would not let them wear glasses.
Hamchat Dicko, who has only one eye, told me that she was not allowed to buy a replacement pair. “They didn’t want women to see the world,” she said.
She was among a group of women who pulled us into their sandy compound to chat. Her friend, Malama al-Zouma, a tiny woman in a yellow skirt and blouse, insisted on showing me all her favourite dresses that she had hidden in a pillowcase from the jihadis. Then she proudly put on a blue uniform and badge, which she used to wear in her job as an orderly at the hospital.
All around Gao we can see the damage the jihadis have wrought. They fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the Baji nightclub, which is now full of rubble. One of their first acts was to climb the earthen turret of the Catholic cathedral and destroy the cross.
Now I’m watching two young women drive by on a motor bike with a baby. They’ve got a Malian flag at the front, and they’ve pinned ribbons in the Malian green, red and yellow and the French red, white and blue, all over their head dresses.
They’re enjoying the freedom to dress as they please, ride on a motor bike to see their friends, and wear glasses to see the world.
Only Islamophobes want women to have glasses and be able to see the world. Real Muslims want women to be Noglassabis.
In Gao, people who had been under occupation for nearly a year by Islamist fighters flooded the streets in jubilation, weeping and shouting to welcome the Malian and French troops who arrived in force on Sunday, residents said.
Fatou Cissé, a Gao resident reached by telephone, said crowds were chanting “Vive la France!” and singing the Malian national anthem.
“I was out there with them,” said Ms. Cissé, who said she was wearing bright wax-print fabric with short sleeves, the kind of clothing that was banned when the city was under militant control.
“My head is not covered,” she said. “Girls are out of the house, and they are dancing.”
Adiarratou Sanogo, a 30-year-old teacher from Niafounké, stepped off a ferry that arrived in the riverside town of Mopti on Sunday morning. As a schoolteacher she was used to a certain amount of respect, but the Islamist militants who took control of her town demanded that she cover her hair. One afternoon they came upon her talking with her brothers outside her front door, her neatly braided hair brazenly showing.
“They shook a stick at me and said I must cover up or they would beat me,” she said. “I ran inside to find a scarf.”
For many residents of towns under Islamist control, it was the little things about their previous lives that they missed most.
“No smoking, no music, no girlfriends,” said Amadou Kané, a 26-year-old history student from Niafounké. “We couldn’t do anything fun.”