Mali, France and Timbuktu’s Treasures
Timbuktu, Mali is one of the historic and majestic cities of Islamic and Muslim cultural heritage, indeed world heritage. For years it bloomed as a center of learning in the disciplines of mathematics, astronomy, physics, philosophy, gnosticism and theology. Mansa Musa, one of the greatest kings of the medieval era built his grand palace in the city, making it a center of trade, knowledge and commerce.
The past year has seen Mali tragically wracked by dangerous instability. Long simmering ethnic divisions have simmered into an insurgency boosted by NATO weapons (used in the war in Libya that ousted Col.Gaddafi) against a corrupt government overthrown in a military coup.
A brutally reckless and religiously illiterate grouping of militant Salafists stepped in to take advantage of the turmoil, in the process destroying ancient tombs of revered saints, applying an unjust and by all reports bastardized form of “Shariah,” and until a few days ago they were thought to have burnt down thousands of ancient manuscripts (see article below).
It must be pointed out that the insurgency is not one that is simply broken down into terrorists vs. the government or Islamists vs. Secularists. In the fog of violence what is clear is that all sorts of elements are mixed into the hostilities between the state of Mali and insurgents, present are: aggrieved state workers, drug smugglers, criminal gangs, nationalists and militant Salafi-Islamists.
France’s entry into Mali has been widely reported as a positive, successful operation but it is not one that is being done for altruistic purposes or as France portrays it: doing their part in the “global War on Terror.” Let us have no illusions about it, France is in Mali to secure its interests (precious resources), as Tariq Ramadan masterfully points out in his article Mali, France and the Extremists(original in French). This is made even more clear when we realize that France had in the case of Libya, and still is in Syria, supporting “rebel” groups explicitly allied to or ideologically aligned with AlQaeda.
Thankfully, intrepid citizens secured Timbuktu’s treasures over a year ago. (h/t: Rizwan)
(The American Interest)
Once again civilization survives barbarism: Timbuktu’s ancient literary treasures were not destroyed after all. In a classic example of how the uncertainty of war can makebad reporters of us all, local accounts apparently vastly exaggerated the damage done to the city’s legendary library. Not only was the place not burned to the ground—as the city’s mayor claimed—but the manuscripts themselves were removed from the library by Malians last year. The Daily Maverick reports:
Preservationists in Mali told Walt that a large-scale rescue operation was executed early last year and thousands of manuscripts were hauled out of the Ahmed Baba Institute [the name of the library that housed the manuscripts] to a safe house elsewhere. “Realising that the documents might be prime targets for pillaging or vindictive attacks from Islamic extremists, staff left behind just a small portion of them, perhaps out of haste, but also to conceal the fact that the centre had been deliberately emptied,” Walt said. . . .
Other reports now suggest just 2,000 manuscripts were kept at the Ahmed Baba Institute while a further 28,000 were transferred safely to Bamako last year. According to these reports, efforts to save the manuscripts began as soon as northern Mali fell to Tuareg rebels last year. So while some manuscripts may have been destroyed, or looted, by fleeing rebels, the bulk of the collection appears to have been saved.
Though of course the loss of even some of the the manuscripts is tragic, we are greatly relieved that the majority of the collection has been saved. We are also inspired by the example of decency and courage displayed by the citizens who saved these treasures.