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What the desert couldn't take in a thousand years, man took in a day.
July 1, 2012 12:57 AM   Subscribe

We've discussed developments in the breakaway Azawad region in Northern Mali here before. The two factions which composed the Azawad government, the nationalist MNLA and the Islamist Ansar Dine broke their alliance, with Ansar Dine now controlling all of the major settlements within the recently declared Awazad. Their treatment of the ancient Muslim shrines of Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has not been kind. If this reminds you of another recent act of destruction against our shared cultural heritage, well, you're not alone.

Perhaps even more precious than the buildings, however, are the massive collections of ancient texts housed within private libraries in Timbuktu. Foreign assistance recently started coming into Timbuktu in an effort to preserve and catalogue the more than 100,000 ancient texts kept there. The fate of the libraries remains as yet unknown.
posted by 1adam12 (28 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yay god!
posted by the noob at 1:06 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh no. Man kept it for a thousand years. Islam kept it for a thousand years. It was ignorant bigots who took it in a day.
posted by Segundus at 1:18 AM on July 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


when i'm god we're gonna have goon-squads out on the streets 24/7, performing free mani-pedis and giving fashion, comportment, and business communication lessons. also free copies of moby dick and the brothers karamazov will be distributed. mcdonalds arches will be summarily blown up and replaced by trees, and the placement of billboards will be punishable by no tv or internet for a week. the only national holidays will be mardi gras and beaujolais nouveaux.
posted by facetious at 1:58 AM on July 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


What the fucking fuck?

.

For history. And sanity.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:04 AM on July 1, 2012


We, in the west, care more about history than "they" do, it seems.
To us its an abstract nice, to "them" is matters about as much as animal rights, because we are sitting at our computers, sipping wine and pontificating, while they are surviving, or fighting.

I get that.

But that doesn't mean that "twhat dicks" escaped my mouth when reading this.

I don't know enough about Mali to feel comfortable passing a strict judgement, but I suspect that as Mali is a modern construct, it's probably "our" fault.

I have a contact who is a frequent visitor to Mali and in with various circles of power. I will send this to him in the hopes that it might help in some small way. Because this just depresses me.
posted by Mezentian at 2:36 AM on July 1, 2012


For all current info, I'll forward everyone to the vast Facebook network, particularly MNLA's page.
posted by iamck at 2:37 AM on July 1, 2012


Also, according to a friend in Gao I just phoned, Ansar Dine, the Islamist group, is composed of "Ghanians, Malians, Ivorians, and Arabs." It's a group, with an ideology, indeed. But it's also a group with money, and has hired many of it's foot soldiers. It currently outnumbers the MNLA, but only because of this financial advantage. I know a kid serving in the ranks -- he's an actor in a theater troupe, hardly an Islamist. But they're paying something like a thousand euros for joining the ranks. Where does this money come from? Cocaine trafficking and kidnapping revenue. It's a dire situation, but keep in mind, it's less ideological than financial, and NO ONE supports this in Northern Mali (Gao, Timbouctou, Kidal are nearly empty of civilians). Things will get restored soon, inchallah.
posted by iamck at 2:42 AM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


For all current info, I'll forward everyone to the vast Facebook network, particularly MNLA's page.

As a non-Facebook user I clicked, saw it requires a login and was like "Fuck Facebook".
Are you aware of any up-to-date public resources?
My initial searches landed me at the Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association (also the Michigan Nursery & Landscape Association)...

Then I found Mouvement National de Liberation de l'Azawadbut it seems to be a week behind. And French.
posted by Mezentian at 2:58 AM on July 1, 2012


Things will get restored soon, inchallah.

That would be nice...but by whom, do you think? The Malian army is still in disarray after the coup and countercoup in Bamako, and anyway have openly admitted they're outgunned. Do you think the Tuaregs will chase out Ansar Dine/AQMI themselves? That would be the best possible ending, I think, but I'm far enough removed that I don't know whether it's a possibility. I know ECOWAS has threatened to step in, but so far they've only committed troops to Guinea-Bissau, and I haven't heard of any similar mobilization for Mali.
posted by solotoro at 3:45 AM on July 1, 2012


We, in the west, care more about history than "they" do, it seems.
To us its an abstract nice, to "them" is matters about as much as animal rights, because we are sitting at our computers, sipping wine and pontificating, while they are surviving, or fighting.


As the article makes clear, the actual Timbuktu people, the Tuaregs, the Sufis, care a lot about it. They are horrified and angry that this bunch of Islamist loonies are destroying everything, but those guys have the guns.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 4:23 AM on July 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


We, in the west, care more about history than "they" do, it seems.
To us its an abstract nice, to "them" is matters about as much as animal rights, because we are sitting at our computers, sipping wine and pontificating, while they are surviving, or fighting.


This doesn't have anything to do with survival or fighting on the human level. It's about the perpetuation of ideology by erasing evidence of alternates. Militant ideologies are always in tension between the "evident truth" of their creed, which makes its triumph inevitable, and the need to maintain purity of thought in the faithful by eliminating competing answers. This is what is going on pretty much every time you see cultural vandalism, whether Nazi book burnings, the destruction of libraries and archives in Kosovo, or library challenges in the US.

The past must be purged to protect the "inevitable victory" of the ideology.

tl;dr: bored thugs with weapons and an ideology
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:27 AM on July 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


> This doesn't have anything to do with survival or fighting on the human level. It's about the perpetuation of ideology by erasing evidence of alternates.

It isn't about that either. It's part of the ideology of purist/Wahhabi-inspired Islam, which deprecates all physical objects of worship as violations of true Islam. This has been going on for a long time. From Wikipedia:
As administrative authority of the Hejaz passed into the hands of Najdi sunni Muslims from the interior, the sunni ‘ulema (body of religious scholars) viewed local religious practices as unfounded superstition superseding codified religious sanction that was considered a total corruption of religion and the spreading of heresy.

What followed was a cleansing of the physical infrastructure, the tombs, mausoleums, mosques and sites connected with the rites of innovated grave and saint-worship and deemed questionable by state-dogma and the introduction of a reformed theology that espoused a uniform, ultra-orthodox Islam.

The initial dismantling of the sites began in 1806 when the Wahhabi army of the First Saudi State occupied Medina and systematically leveled many of the structures at the Jannat al-Baqi' Cemetery. This is the vast burial site adjacent the Prophet's Mosque (Al-Masjid al-Nabawi) housing the remains of many of the members of Muhammad’s family, close companions and central figures of early Islam. The Ottoman Turks, practitioners themselves of more tolerant and at times mystical strains of Islam, had erected elaborate mausoleums over the graves of Al-Baqi’. These were leveled in their entirety. Mosques across the city were also targeted and an attempt was made to tear down Muhammad's tomb.
posted by languagehat at 7:44 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do the scholarly Saudi versions of Wahhabism (in that its practitioners have the time and resources to focus on theology rather than warfare) have no historical frame at all, that would allow adherents to treat potentially idolatrous works as history (however negatively exhibited) rather than competition?
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:04 AM on July 1, 2012


If your rebellion is smashing cultural icons and/or killing endangered species, chances are your rebels and/or their leaders are a bunch of assholes and should be quashed immediately.
posted by Scientist at 8:43 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Do the scholarly Saudi versions of Wahhabism (in that its practitioners have the time and resources to focus on theology rather than warfare) have no historical frame at all, that would allow adherents to treat potentially idolatrous works as history (however negatively exhibited) rather than competition?

You seem to be asking "Come on, they don't really believe that stuff, do they?" I assure you they do; it genuinely offends their religious sensibilities to have people paying what they see as misdirected homage to physical remnants. It has nothing to do with "historical frame."
posted by languagehat at 9:56 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the locals are outgunned, they should learn to snipe.
posted by rhizome at 12:10 PM on July 1, 2012


It isn't about that either. It's part of the ideology of purist/Wahhabi-inspired Islam, which deprecates all physical objects of worship as violations of true Islam.

I'd say that fits under "the perpetuation of ideology by erasing evidence of alternates," although in a way that is embedded in the ideology rather than just a typical practice. Yeah, there is an extreme kind of iconoclasm at work, but I don't think that invalidates my point particularly.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:20 PM on July 1, 2012


A bit more from Al Jazeera.
Latest from Reuters: Mali Islamists destroy more holy Timbuktu sites.
posted by adamvasco at 12:28 PM on July 1, 2012


> I'd say that fits under "the perpetuation of ideology by erasing evidence of alternates," although in a way that is embedded in the ideology rather than just a typical practice.

Well, if you insist that no matter what people say they believe they're actually following the script you've written, it becomes much easier to paint with a broad brush. Similarly, Chomsky takes it as a given that all human languages are really the same, with a few surface differences that can easily be explained away with a few diagrams and arrows. I happen to think human thought and behavior is more interesting when seen in all its diversity, and that genuine understanding is better than one-size-fits-all analysis. But if you think "bored thugs with weapons and an ideology" constitutes genuine insight, I'm not going to argue with you.
posted by languagehat at 12:55 PM on July 1, 2012


Snuffleupagus asked: Do the scholarly Saudi versions of Wahhabism (in that its practitioners have the time and resources to focus on theology rather than warfare) have no historical frame at all, that would allow adherents to treat potentially idolatrous works as history (however negatively exhibited) rather than competition?

Saudi Arabia has, or used to have some structures that apparently dated back to the time of Mohammed and were used by his family and associates. They have been deliberately degraded or destroyed over the past few decades because treating them as special is implicitly idolatrous. So I don't think a call to preserve shrines that are (in their eyes) actually heretical will be successful.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:34 PM on July 1, 2012


But if you think "bored thugs with weapons and an ideology" constitutes genuine insight, I'm not going to argue with you.

OK, that last line was a bit flip. Although, I expect, if you were able to interview the men who did most of the work, you would find no greater ideological reason than "someone in authority said I could bust things up."

As for the rest of it, yes, there is something to be gained from looking at the specific ideology. But isn't there also something to be gained from looking at how depressingly common this behavior is? 2200 hundred years ago, Chin Shi Hwang Di attempted to destroy all writings in China that were not a) of practical use or b) supported the Legalist philosophy. He went on to destroy many of the scholars as well. I hardly think he originated the practice, but are his actions more like this current vandalism than different? Does it really matter if the Library of Alexandria was burned by accident, for religious reasons (Christian or Muslim), or to remind the people of Egypt of the power of Rome? We have still lost irreplaceable things. Similarly, there are always ideological differences between genocidal purges, but there are at least as many commonalities. Which is more important?

In other words, do either of us have to be right, or are these both legitimate approaches to another depressing episode in history?
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:36 PM on July 1, 2012


Huh. Reminds me of when the Americans shot all the buffalos. And turned sacred sites into gold mines. And the Chinese destroyed hundreds of monasteries.

Erase history and there's no past to compete with. Doomed to repeat forever.
posted by Twang at 4:28 PM on July 1, 2012


You seem to be asking "Come on, they don't really believe that stuff, do they?" I assure you they do; it genuinely offends their religious sensibilities to have people paying what they see as misdirected homage to physical remnants. It has nothing to do with "historical frame."

Not exactly, more like "do they all take the same view of this," with the suggestion that scholars and students in countries like Saudi Arabia might take a more nuanced view than less educated adherents participating in active rebellions elsewhere.

Saudi Arabia has, or used to have some structures that apparently dated back to the time of Mohammed and were used by his family and associates. They have been deliberately degraded or destroyed over the past few decades because treating them as special is implicitly idolatrous. So I don't think a call to preserve shrines that are (in their eyes) actually heretical will be successful.

Fair enough!
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:09 PM on July 1, 2012


> But isn't there also something to be gained from looking at how depressingly common this behavior is?

Eh, not really. I mean, when you first encounter history, sure, it blows you away: my god, people have always been such shits? But once you make that basic leap, usually in adolescence, I'm not sure what is to be gained by repeating the same observation. Yes, we have lost irreplaceable things, yes, there's a long history of genocidal purges... and? It's like looking at a murder victim and saying "Murder is bad!" Well, yes, I think we can all agree on that, but does saying that really get us anyplace? The only way to accomplish anything, or even understand the behavior we dislike, is to dig into the details and try to figure out the mindset of the people who are doing it. Which is not "Whee, I'm gonna be a thug today because I have the urge to destroy cultural treasures and/or deprive my fellow humans of life and/or property!" Not that I think you think that, but I'm not sure what you think is to be gained by just saying "this behavior can be classed under the general heading Thuggery, as can many other forms of human behavior."

> the suggestion that scholars and students in countries like Saudi Arabia might take a more nuanced view

It's precisely the scholars and students in Saudi Arabia who spread this ideology around the world once the country was awash in oil wealth (one of the tragedies of the twentieth century). They didn't invent it—they got it from Ibn Taymiyyah and his followers—but they're the immediate source in the modern world (and they created the Saudi state a couple of centuries ago).
posted by languagehat at 7:52 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know enough about Mali to feel comfortable passing a strict judgement, but I suspect that as Mali is a modern construct, it's probably "our" fault.

No it isn't. Virulent fundamentalism was around long before modern colonialism. The idea that before Western Society came into being, the world lived in some sort of halcyon equanimity is bogus.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:46 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


They didn't invent it—they got it from Ibn Taymiyyah and his followers—but they're the immediate source in the modern world (and they created the Saudi state a couple of centuries ago).

This led to some fascinating reading. TYVM.

posted by snuffleupagus at 2:24 PM on July 4, 2012


YW!
posted by languagehat at 2:30 PM on July 4, 2012




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