Magharebia (Washington DC)

West Africa: Touaregs Preach Tolerance

Nouakchott — Touaregs are determined to show that they promote tolerance and combat extremism.

A 2-day meeting, which wrapped up Saturday (February 8th) in Nouakchott, aimed to demonstrate the pivotal role that could be played by traditional culture in presenting a positive image of Touareg people, in contrast to the news of terrorism and extremism that emerged from northern Mali in recent years.

Atay Ag Mohamed, who introduced himself as a young Touareg working to promote women rights said that the aim of the event, the first of its kind, was to "develop and promote the culture of the Touareg in order to express the openness of Touareg identity to the world and especially in Mauritania where our values intersect with others."

"This activity will show the world the firm rejection of Touaregs of the culture of extremism and terrorism deployed in the Sahel region, especially in the province of Azawad where most Touaregs live," Ag Mohamed told Magharebia.

He added, "We have a culture open to the world and we love peace, security, and stability. Our culture can play a significant role in the provision of real values of tolerance and openness, more than is possible in the realm of politics."

He concluded by calling on people to "recognise that Touaregs, despite their attachment to their uniqueness, also express their rejection of all forms of extremism and encourage the freedom of women and are interested in arts and culture."

The Touareg women who had a prominent part in the cultural event also emphasised their role in guiding young people.

"This reflects our commitment to the values of peace and rejection of various kinds of deviation, terrorism, and drug smuggling," said Metou Walet Mohamed, spokeswoman for the Association of Touareg Craftswomen.

"We as women activists in the cultural arena want to achieve these goals, but we always need a helping hand from the world in order to do this," she told Magharebia.

As part of her talk about the role of women in the face of terrorism, she said, "Touareg women always try to guide children toward the values of tolerance and to promote peace. We seek to rescue those among our children who fall victim to extremism and terrorism. We want also to create a generation far from the effects of the bad fate of those who have fallen into the trap of terrorism in Azawad."

One young participant, Mohamed Ag Mohamed, told Magharebia that he realised that the absence of cultural activities and the low educational level in Azawad were "among the biggest reasons behind youth delinquency and joining al-Qaeda and smuggling gangs."

"If we had good education and cultural activities, young people would not have found a chance to be delinquent," he added.

"Militant groups have taken advantage of a combination of factors facing Touaregs, such as the absence of cultural awareness, the spread of ignorance, and a culture of conservative Islam in order to promote their culture. If society were aware of the seriousness of these groups, they would not have dealt with them from the beginning," the young Touareg said.

He continued by saying that such a cultural initiative as the one sponsored by the group of Touareg women was a good start.

"It will continue and develop in many of the neighbouring countries in order to show the world the role of Touareg women in promoting openness and preaching the values of peace, tolerance, and diversity," Ag Mohamed said.

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