The difference between intelligence and stupidity is that intelligence has its limits. This saying sums up perfectly what is going on at the moment in Timbuktu.
The Islamist combatants of Ansar Dine, one of the armed groups controlling Northern Mali, have destroyed a major part of the mausoleums of the Muslim saints of Timbuktu, which are on UNESCO's list of World Heritage in Danger.
The spokesperson for Ansar Dine, a group allied to Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, told the news agency AFP that the group as acting "in the name of God" and in retaliation for UNESCO's decision on 28th June to place Timbuktu on the aforementioned d list. The organisation believed, quite correctly, that the presence of the Islamists placed the city in danger. Ansar Dine believes that one can only pray to God and that all other veneration equates to idolatry and not to religion. Their objective is to impose sharia law on the whole of Mali. The mausoleums of Muslim saints are considered as protectors in the mythical city. These venerated persons, which give Timbuktu the nickname 'the city of 333 saints', are the equivalent of what we call in the West, patron saints. They are regularly sought for marriages, to bring rain and against famine. The saints' mausoleums are "essential elements in a religious system as, according to popular belief, they constitute a rampart that shields the city from all misfortune," according to UNESCO's website.
In total, seven of the 16 mausoleums, mostly made from bare soil, were destroyed in just two days: after the sanctuaries of Sidi Mahmoud (north of the city), Sidi Moctar (north-east) and Alpha Moya (east) two Saturdays ago, men from Ansar Dine then demolished, with hoes and chisels, four other mausoleums the following day, including that of Sheikh el-Kebir, situated within the Djingareyber cemetery (south).
The Ansar Dine rebels then went on to destroy religious objects in a sacred 15th century mosque after breaking down the doors on the Monday. The wooden door, situated on the southern side of the Sidi Yayia mosque, had been closed for decades as, according to local beliefs, its opening could be the cause of bad luck.
During their rampaging on the Sunday, a member of the Ansar Dine group said, according to a witness, that wherever there were mausoleums they would destroy them, even within the mosques. Timbuktu has three grand mosques: Djingareyber, Sankoré and Sidi Yahia, architectural jewels bearing witness to its apogee, all three of which are on UNESCO's World Heritage list. Saints are buried in both Djingareyber and Sidi Yahia mosques.
These Islamists who are destroying the mosques, are getting dangerously close to the 90,000 manuscripts in Timbuktu dating from the 12th and 13th century and we should be highly concerned for their fate.
The demolition of these religious buildings recalls the fate of other world heritage sites, for example the Buddhas of Bamiyan in the centre of Afghanistan, destroyed in March 2011 by the Taliban and their allies Al-Qaeda.
Unfortunately, UNESCO has no power to combat these fanatics. That these attacks are being committed by the simple-minded and ignorant and galvanised by the power of arms is not the worst of it. The deafening silence of religious authorities of all orders has become unbearable. Faced with this vandalism in the name of God, only men of religion could bring these blind actors to see the light.
NB: since this article was translated from the French original, Ansar Dine has destroyed further sites and there remain now only 4 of the original 16.
The recent weeks have seen a great deal of hype in the news about the latest ...More
Last week, the Telegraph reported that one of Hollywood's hottest couples, namely ...More
Last week saw India dominate newspaper headlines both in the UK and across the ...More
Last week saw the Maldives take a hit to its tourist industry after an online ...More
After 48% of Brits agreed that passengers who are overweight should be charged ...More
Last week the luxury experiences website veryfirstto.com, together with London-based ...More
Last week's news brought to light the issue of crime in south Thailand's province ...More
Each year it seems that the ease of air travel becomes hindered further by the ...More
Paris is the most visited city in the world. As we saw earlier on in the year ...More