Return to Transcripts main page


Al Qaeda Setting Up in Mali; Interview with Orchestra Conductor Marin Alsop

Aired October 25, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Here's a frightening scenario. Islamist insurgents take advantage of a failed state to impose an extremist version of Sharia law. They abolish even the most basic rights of everyone, including women. They destroy the local culture and they use money from drugs and kidnappings to build an international terror network.

Sound familiar? Only this time we are not talking about Afghanistan. We're talking about Mali in western Africa.

The United Nations recently painted a thoroughly grim picture of what's going on there, the wholesale violation of human rights, appalling abuses like beheadings for even minor crimes, forced marriages and enlisting children to carry arms and kill.

Mali is in many ways custom-made for Al Qaeda. It's one of the poorest nations on Earth, devastated by drought. And since a coup in March overturned the democratically-elected government, the country's been breaking apart, literally.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, along with local Islamic extremists, now control about two-thirds of Mali. That's the northern part, an area the size of France. And with a very real prospect of this turning into a new global headquarters for Al Qaeda, a united front has developed amongst the countries of Africa, Europe and the United States to try to stop this in its tracks.

And in a moment, I'll get a live report from the region. And I'll also speak to the U.S. point person on this issue, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson.

But first, a look at what's coming up a little later in the program.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): She shattered the glass ceiling with her baton. But this world-renowned conductor wants more than applause. In an angry world, she's sounding a note for harmony and humanity.

Then imagine a war on music and art in the name of God. First, they attacked the legendary walls of Timbuktu. Now religious extremists want to silence Mali's very pulse.


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit. But first, a live report now from the region.

Adam Nossiter is the West Africa bureau chief for "The New York Times". He's been covering the chaos in Mali since the coup in March and was the first Western reporter to make it to the border of the area that's controlled by Al Qaeda. And he joins me now live from Dakar, Senegal.

Adam, thanks for joining me. You've just come out of Mali last night. How bad is it? Paint me the picture of what's going on in terms of Al Qaeda and what it's doing there.

ADAM NOSSITER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think it is fair to say that the region controlled by Al Qaeda and its allies is probably suffering under one of the harshest regimes on the planet. There are public whippings. There are amputations for theft. There's even been an execution by stoning.

Women who dare to leave the house without a veil are arrested and the Islamists are even compiling lists of unmarried pregnant women for unknown retribution.

So it is a seriously, seriously bad situation.


AMANPOUR: Yes. Adam --

NOSSITER: -- in a real minute (ph).

AMANPOUR: -- it really does sound that way.

And as you know, as we've all been reporting, the Obama administration has been talking about having had Al Qaeda on the run. From being there, do you see Mali as becoming really the next front -- I mean, are all sorts of jihadists coming in from around that region?

NOSSITER: Well, yes. We are hearing reports from people who live in that region, that foreign fighters are coming in to northern Mali to help defend this quasi-Al Qaeda state. They're coming from Western Sahara; they're coming from Algeria. They're coming from Nigeria. And some are even reported to have come from Pakistan.

So, yes, it is fair to say that this area of northern Mali is becoming a magnet for international jihadis in somewhat the same way that Afghanistan was.

AMANPOUR: And now, I mean, really kind of surprisingly, given how long these things can take, there does seem to be a consensus developing that there must be international intervention of some kind.

You have met with and spent some time with the Mali army, which, apparently, is meant to bear the brunt of pushing back these Al Qaeda.

What do you make of their capabilities, their ability to do that?

NOSSITER: Well, at this point, they're a very long way from being able to do it, I would say, judging by what I saw. There's no organized chain of command; they've lost a great deal of their materiel, their weapons; some officers have even sold weapons. They're disorganized and they're -- they lack morale to carry out this job as well.

They don't have the fight for it. This is the same Malian army that retreated without a fight from the towns of the north in April. And they haven't been fundamentally reconstituted. So this is a big job for the western allies, who are now determined, as you say, Christiane, to do something about this.

AMANPOUR: Well, what about if the -- if the army can't do something - - and apparently, you know, the idea is to train them and bolster them -- you've reported on citizen militias. What about these militias? Will they be able to do the job? And who are they?

NOSSITER: Well, these are citizens, most of whom have fled from the north, and it's pretty unlikely that they're going to play any kind of serious role, although it has to be said that they have a key element that the Malian army does not have, which is a fierce determination to take back the land that was -- that's been lost to the Islamists.

So they could, in theory, be used; but, at this point, they lack both training, arms and money.

AMANPOUR: Adam Nossiter, thank you so much for bringing us up to date, a really vivid report from there.

And mulling the threat that Al Qaeda poses in Mali, consider this now: some 30,000 people have died in Syria in a civil war that's been going on for 19 months, and yet there certainly is no consensus on a single measure to stop that.

But Al Qaeda, as we've said, has moved into northern Mali and that was just six months ago. And already world leaders, as we've been reporting, are speaking as one. There is now a consensus on military intervention to try to stop Al Qaeda in Mali and in that region. That's how dangerous the whole organization looks to the world.

The U.S. has put one man in charge of the coordinated effort, and he is U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson. He's in Paris right now. He's been talking with French officials and others on how to push forward. And I spoke to him just a short while ago.


AMANPOUR: Assistant Secretary Carson, thank you for joining me from Paris.


AMANPOUR: Do you believe that a military intervention, a military solution, is now inevitable and the only thing possible to try to reclaim that part of Mali?

CARSON: I think that pushing AQIM out of Northern Mali will probably require some security and military action. But that should be action led by Africa and led by African forces. I think that there is a need for international assistance and support, but that international assistance and support should not be in the form of individuals fighting on the ground.

It is training, it is equipment, and it is logistical support that the international community can provide - can provide to Malian forces, can provide to African forces who are taking part in this effort.

But there is certainly no need for American or Western forces to participate in any military activities there. The support and assistance in a secondary fashion should be sufficient.

AMANPOUR: What is the United States prepared to do and what is it doing now? I understand there's surveillance drones. What is the U.S. prepared to do in this regard?

CARSON: The United States wants to help Mali restore its democracy, wants to help Mali --


AMANPOUR: But specifically would there be troops?

CARSON: -- restore its territorial integrity.

No. We believe that this must be an African-led mission and operation. It is important that Africans take the leadership in this and they certainly are showing a willingness to do it.

AMANPOUR: Do you think they're strong enough?

CARSON: I think the United States can play a strong support.

I think yes. I think that Africans have demonstrated over the last two decades that they are prepared to stand up and fight for democracy and against tyranny. They've done it in Somalia recently and they have done it in West Africa in the past in their efforts against Charles Taylor in Liberia and against rebel groups in Sierra Leone.

Yes, the Africans do have the capacity. And I think if they are given the support from the international community, they can, in fact, be effective on the ground.

AMANPOUR: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, indeed, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, have all, in the last few weeks and days, talked about the danger from AQIM.

How bad is the danger of al Qaeda in Mali and in that surrounding area right now?

CARSON: There's no question that AQIM controls half of Mali's territory. We believe that many of the AQIM leadership are individuals of non-Malian extraction. Many are Algerians who are former Salafis.

Equally, we have seen a number of Mauritanians a part of the AQIM, and we have seen a number of others coming in from other North African states to join them.

It is a concern. It's a concern because they now control all of the northern part of the country, including the three largest cities in the north, including the historical Timbuktu. And it's a concern because they could create safe havens that might draw al Qaeda rebels from other parts of the -- other parts of North Africa and other parts of the world.

AMANPOUR: One of necessary ingredients for al Qaeda and other terrorism to flourish is a failed state. And at the moment we're looking at a practically totally failed state in Mali.

So is that a potential hotbed, a laboratory, for the growing of al Qaeda unfettered?

CARSON: Well, let me say that Mali is one of the poorest states in the world and it has faced a military coup and intervention that has further weakened its ability to hold on to its national territory. I think this is why the states in the region and why the international community is responding.

Mali is a place where we have seen al Qaeda operate, it's a place where we have seen narco traffickers and criminals and smugglers operate. It is important for not only Mali but the regional states to do everything that they can to push out both the criminal and terrorist elements.

AMANPOUR: Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, thank you very much for joining me.

CARSON: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And, worryingly, even in Iraq, Al Qaeda is resurgent and, of course, elements of Al Qaeda have been inserting themselves into the chaotic vacuum that exists in Syria.

Now as we've seen in Mali, the line between barbarism and civilization can be razor-thin. For the world-renowned conductor Marin Alsop, music is the all-important firewall, and she will join me after a break.

But first, another look at Mali.

Those pieces of wood there contain scriptures from the Koran, on display in the Library of Genet, an ancient city and world heritage site in Mali.

The head of conservation, seated there, is charged with preserving them as well as manuscripts dating back some seven centuries. Librarians fro Timbuktu wanted to digitize these irreplaceable treasures to protect them from the destructive path of extremists. We'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. And turning now to the universal language of music and a pioneer on the podium -- the conductor's podium, that is.


AMANPOUR: Marin Alsop became the first woman to lead a major American, British and Brazilian orchestra at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Bournemouth Symphony and the Sao Paulo Symphony.

Alsop's journey began as a child in New York, where her parents were musicians and her career has composed a new role model for women in symphony orchestras and industries that still very much dominated by men.

And welcome, Marin Alsop. I must say, looking at that amazing picture and that video of you, it is unusual -- even I sort of went, oh my goodness, a woman conducting a major orchestra.

How difficult has it been for you to break through?

MARIN ALSOP, CONDUCTOR AND VIOLINIST: Well, it's such a conservative field and I think the idea of women in the ultimate leadership roles is still a big obstacle and an issue for people today. And if you look around, there aren't that many women still on the podiums of the world.

AMANPOUR: And this is you at the BSO during your inaugural conducting there.

What was it like? I mean, why was there the resistance? You talk about it being a macho world and, of course, we're all used to seeing the man in the white tie and the tails.

ALSOP: Well, I don't know that it's a matter of prejudice. I think it's a matter of comfort level. You know, we're not really comfortable in our society, in our world yet, with seeing women in these roles.

And so it's always a little bit of a shock, as you say, you yourself were uh-oh, that's a woman, you know. I have that feeling occasionally myself, too. And if I have that feeling, I can imagine what other people think.

AMANPOUR: What will it take, do you think, to bring more women like yourself to the very top of the conducting world, so to speak -- I know in New York and elsewhere?

ALSOP: Well, I do think that this is a great moment because orchestras are changing. They're evolving right now. It's a new time. We have to reinvent ourselves for this 21st century. And always at those moments, there's an opportunity, I think. And people are willing to take more chances. But I think we, as women leaders, have to create opportunities for the next generations as much as we can.

AMANPOUR: There was, I think, it's Sarah Caldwell --


AMANPOUR: -- who played in New York. And she got her chance to a great extent by a mentor of hers, by a woman who helped her.

ALSOP: Well, I do think as women we have to be not only role models, which is a natural byproduct, but we also have to take an active proactive role in becoming mentors.

I have a fellowship for young women conductors. And I -- many of my colleagues join me in this. And I think we're all in this together. It's just a matter -- it takes a long time.

AMANPOUR: So tell me about the universality of music as a language. I mean, you're not just a conductor here in the United States, but you conduct in Britain, in Brazil. Why? Why take it -- why do that? Is it -- is it -- is it breaking barriers? Is it just another job?

ALSOP: Well, for me, it's an incredible opportunity because, as you said, music is this universal language and it's something that bind us together. We're all hotwired. Our DNA is filled with music, whether you say, oh, I can't carry a tune or I'm not musical, we're born with music inherent to our beings.

And by reaching out in this way, we can transcend so many of the problems in the world, so many -- and reach each other on an emotional level. And especially for young people, learning an instrument can transform their lives. I'm passionate about education for kids.

AMANPOUR: One of your great mentors was Leonard Bernstein. And he once said that he feels the orchestra is a metaphor for the gathering of humanity. And we have this wonderful picture here.

It is really, isn't it? When all sorts of communication breaks down, music can be the reparative tissue.

ALSOP: It can, you know, because you have to just let go and exist with each other to create something greater than yourselves. And I find that it is not only a healing experience, but it really does transform, especially young people's lives.

AMANPOUR: Tell me about technology, because you have taken advantage of some of the new technologies that are out there. But I was just reading an interesting article on David Byrne, a new book that he's written. He was, you know, the Talking Heads.

And he's talked about technology and, yes, there have been some liberating instances, like iTunes has made the, you know, the acquisition of music so much more democratic. But he feels that perhaps some of the more human contact has been lost with the more corporate sound, the more synthetic sound.

ALSOP: Well, that's -- I think that's a very interesting perspective. I -- one of the things I love about symphonic music is that it ties us to the past with an incredible immediacy. So as soon as you hear a Beethoven symphony, you're transported a couple hundred years ago immediately. And we don't want to lose that connection to our past and our human history.

But we live in this world filled with technology. So how can technology play a supporting role, not a replacing role, I think, is the key.

AMANPOUR: And have you found how we can do that?

ALSOP: Well, we're working on it. We're involved right now. The Baltimore Symphony's involved with a partnership with Parsons School of Design. And we're working on new fabrics that incorporate technology into them to collect data and project it. So all kinds of fun things. But it never replaces the music. I mean, ultimately that's -- that has to remain as it is.

AMANPOUR: And you know, obviously, there's a fantastic orchestral music. And then there are all sorts of other music that have been anthemic for so many events in the world, when you think of so many of the songwriters, you know, since the '60s, all the -- whether it's civil rights or human rights in South Africa. And again, you've traveled a lot. Do you see music as playing a vital social role?

ALSOP: I think -- I think music -- besides being able to bring people together and transform young people's lives, it also captures a moment, an emotional moment, for all of us. And I think when people are deprived of music, it's like taking away an emotional experience, denying them an emotional connection to living and to each other.

AMANPOUR: And finally, before we go to another beautiful clip of you and your conducting there, you know, in Mali and in Afghanistan, before the Taliban, they basically just ban music and in other places. What do you think when you hear that? They just ban the culture.

ALSOP: Oh, I think is one of the most cruel things I can imagine, living a life devoid of music, which is the emotional journey, the emotional connection we have -- we can experience to each other. And to deny people this basic human right is unconscionable to me.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Marin Alsop, thank you very much. And we're going to take one last look and listen to your wonderful music.




AMANPOUR: Thanks again.

And the late, great guitarist Jimi Hendrix once said, "Music is my religion."

But in the embattled nation of Mali, music, art and learning are being murdered systematically in the name of religion today. Preserving the pulse of a nation when we return.



AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we've seen how Al Qaeda linked rebels are waging war on the people of Mali. Now imagine a world where the heartbeat of a nation is being destroyed in the name of God.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): In Mali, that music isn't just a playlist; it's the national pulse. It's loved at home and exported all over the globe. But that glorious sound is being silenced by extremists with instruments burned in a bonfire of the vanities, and musicians threatened with having their fingers cut off to keep them from playing.

It's one more attack on Mali's proud culture that began last summer in Timbuktu. Once the fabled crossroads for caravans and a center of Islamic learning, with its ancient mud walls, its mosques and sacred tombs, some dating back to the 13th century.

In July, Ansar Dine, the fundamentalist fighters bent on the usual crusade, leveled the tombs of Sunni saints and just last week they came again, destroying more of those holy sites. It's the same brutal business we saw in Afghanistan after 9/11, when the Taliban blew up those magnificent huge Buddhas, leaving only a gaping hole in the sandstone.

Or in Pakistan five years ago, when fundamentalists made a bonfire of CDs and DVDs, all in the name of supposed religious purity.


AMANPOUR: That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, our inbox is always open -- Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.