In a series of disgusting acts of iconoclasm, Islamist extremists in Mali have begun attacking and destroying 15th century World Heritage Sites in the city of Timbuktu. These mosques and Muslim mausolea are among the most impressive and historically significant (or at least, prominent) Muslim historical sites in Africa. To attack them is to show total disregard for their importance, not only in terms of specifically Muslim and African history, but also their incredible importance in standing as monuments to the fact that African people in the past did build great buildings, great cities, great civilizations. Adhering to a narrow definition of Islam and Shariah law as defined by their religious sect today, these extremists display their ignorance, or just utter disregard, for history, for the fact that religions and cultures evolve, and that just because something does not match your narrowly defined understanding of what Islamic observance should be does not mean that it is not perfectly in accordance with the tenets of Islam as practiced in 15th century Mali.
Above, Djinguereber Mosque, a 14th century structure in Timbuktu similar or related to those under attack. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The extremists, a group called Ansar Dine, or “Defenders of the Faith,” is dedicated to seeing a particularly strict version of Shariah law imposed in Mali, and seems to have little or no respect for other sects within their own religion (such as the Sufis who built these monuments over 500 years ago), let alone other cultures or belief systems, not to mention international law. As NPR reports, the group has identified the sites as “idolatrous,” the same reason given for the repulsive act of destruction visited by the Taliban upon the Bamiyan Buddhas back in 2001. Furthermore, the group has explicitly said they do not recognize the authority of the World Court or the United Nations, but only the law of Allah.
The United Nations has of course condemned these attacks, calling them repugnant, but it seems from what little I’ve read that no one has yet actually lifted a finger to do anything about it.
Personally, I find these actions, and the ideology behind them, to be utterly and completely reprehensible. I don’t think there are words to express how disgusted I am by the attitude and worldview of the Ansar Dine. Not that I am advocating the US military get involved in yet another war, as we did in Libya, but it really would be doing the world – and in particular Northern Africa, its culture and heritage, and all of Dar al-Islam – a huge favor if someone would just wipe these religious extremist assholes off the face of the earth.
Read more about these attacks at the following links:
EDIT: A quote from yet another article on the matter.
Timbuktu was a very significant center of Islamic learning, but the Ansar Dine sect is ignorant of this. For these extremists, there is only one book and it’s the Q’uran. All other learning—Islamic or otherwise—is inconsequential to them.
I apologize for the tangent, going off into another political arena entirely, now, but I think there’s a lesson in there for extremists/fundamentalists of the other two Abrahamic religions as well. Thankfully, so far as I know, there have not been any major, physically destructive, campaigns of iconoclasm or the like initiated by extremist Jews or Christians recently. But, in some ways, what they do is sometimes more destructive. For too many people, there is only one book and it’s the Bible. All other learning is inconsequential. This is not only a problem in Mali. It is a problem in our own society, and far too many people are too blinded by their own self-righteousness to see it. It is because of this connection, this similarity, perhaps, that these events in Mali bother me even more than they would otherwise. We think we’re better, we’re alright, we’re distanced from these kinds of events, such as are going on in a faraway place like Mali, a place most Americans probably couldn’t find on a map. But, there are people leading us down a very similar path, and it is extremely frightening and dismaying.