Join 3,436 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


A story about a library on fire.
February 5, 2013 5:26 AM   Subscribe

Saving the ancient manuscripts of Mali from Islamic extremists.
posted by seanmpuckett (34 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is an awesome story and great news. The news that the library had been burned was awful and it's good to know that it wasn't as bad it could have been.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:41 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can't believe that I'm grateful for the French.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:51 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, I'm really glad I actually read that. The account was awesome and it's very moving to hear about the guy who worked with the manuscripts for forty years realizing that in order to save them he had to let them go.

This was a fairly big topic of conversation in our house (my husband, roommate and I all have a strong interest in Islamic history and cultural preservation in general) and it's fantastic to realize that they managed to save 95% of the manuscripts. Wow.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:55 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


it's fantastic to realize that they managed to save 95% of the manuscripts.

But we lost 5%. How many ancient, irreplaceable documents is that?

If the French forces had walked in there and killed every one of those looters and their buddies on the spot, I would only be sad that they had taken so long to act. Which makes me bad, I guess, but attacks like that are attacks on civilization itself and the reaction to them should be magnified accordingly. Are they like hate crimes? Like crimes against humanity? Genocide? No idea. They're definitely massive crimes against the past and the future.
posted by pracowity at 5:59 AM on February 5, 2013


Something else that I think is awesome is the timeless nature of the method of saving books; they put them in millet sacks, smuggled them onto boats and sent them down the river to safety. This is literally something that could have happened at any point since the invention of written manuscripts.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:03 AM on February 5, 2013 [14 favorites]


Weren't these 'Islamists' afraid they might be burning copies of the Koran amongst other things?
posted by Segundus at 6:03 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Segundus: "Weren't these 'Islamists' afraid they might be burning copies of the Koran amongst other things?"

You can't expect these guys to be logical. They're twelve year old boys revelling in blowing shit up.
posted by notsnot at 6:08 AM on February 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Big damn heroes.
posted by whuppy at 6:19 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Weren't these 'Islamists' afraid they might be burning copies of the Koran amongst other things?

As it is with most theocrats, it's not about religion. It's about the worship of authority and power, not God.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:21 AM on February 5, 2013


There was nothing they could do, however, for the 2,000 documents that had already been transferred to the new library, to its exhibition and restoration rooms, and to a basement vault. Cisse took solace knowing that most of the texts in the new library had been digitized.

Breathed a sigh of relief when I read that.
posted by ymgve at 6:23 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


This really is the best news. The best.
I had been quite sad about this all week.

Cisse took solace knowing that most of the texts in the new library had been digitized.

As did I. Hopefully they won't get lost or forgotten now.
posted by Mezentian at 6:26 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the stories of the year, if you ask me.
posted by Atreides at 6:40 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


>Cisse took solace knowing that most of the texts in the new library had been digitized.

As did I. Hopefully they won't get lost or forgotten now.


I am nervously awaiting content-targeting electronic attacks....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:43 AM on February 5, 2013


Pirate Bay counters that.
posted by ymgve at 6:49 AM on February 5, 2013


Weren't these 'Islamists' afraid they might be burning copies of the Koran amongst other things?

No, because the version of the Islam traditionally practised in Mali was the wrong sort of Islam anyway.

One of the great tragedies sprung from the decision made in the 1980ties to sponsor the Muhajedin fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan is that it gave power to a particular nasty form of Islamic fundamentalism, wahabism as funnelled through a generation of Aghans raised in refugee camps in Pakistan and exported through Al Quida and The War Against Terror.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:52 AM on February 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


No, because the version of the Islam traditionally practised in Mali was the wrong sort of Islam anyway.

Heresy!

(I read something this week that large parts of Mali are nominally Islamic, but practice a mix of traditional religion, Christianity and Islam. I wish i knew where).
posted by Mezentian at 6:58 AM on February 5, 2013


However, they didn't bother searching the old building, where an elderly man named Abba Alhadi has spent 40 of his 72 years on earth taking care of rare manuscripts. The illiterate old man, who walks with a cane and looks like a character from the Bible, was the perfect foil for the Islamists. They wrongly assumed that the city's European-educated elite would be the ones trying to save the manuscripts, he said.

This is my favorite part of the article. An illiterate old man is to thank for saving thousands of precious historical documents. We live in an interesting world with interesting people.
posted by The Girl Who Ate Boston at 7:19 AM on February 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


This is not behavior limited to extremists. Guess which U.S. ally also destroys historic buildings according to a certain interpretation of Islam?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:39 AM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


What a relief! When I heard the news that the library was on fire I thought, these extremists are evil idiots! Which is the reaction that the press/governments and sponsors of the French military incursion wanted me to think. It is fair to say that the situation is a bit more nuanced than the picture being painted by the mainstream press and government statements, but burning ancient Islamic texts is a pretty terrible PR move as well as blatant idiocy. If they had blown up the Kuwait funded, UNESCO supervised building at least that would have shown that they wanted to rid the country of foreign influence or something. Targeting the manuscripts specifically seems ignorant cowardice, but then these are the same people who banned music in world renowned Mali.
It would seem the people of Mali are pretty popular! This intervention surely has nothing to do with who controls the local oil, uranium or gold reserves. The people of Mali will not be left to fight amongst themselves, disenfranchised, marginalised and ignored as foreign interests divide up their country's assets. Well, at least not the rich ones.
posted by asok at 8:00 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Big love to Abba Alhadi
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:06 AM on February 5, 2013


However, they didn't bother searching the old building, where an elderly man named Abba Alhadi has spent 40 of his 72 years on earth taking care of rare manuscripts

Does UNESCO have some sort of medal for cultural heroism? If not, they should.
posted by Think_Long at 8:40 AM on February 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Report from the Tombouctou Manuscript Project, Jan. 30.
posted by nangar at 8:45 AM on February 5, 2013


An earlier article on the same site, by Blake Gopnik, "Is Destroying Timbuktu’s Heritage Un-Islamic?"
posted by nangar at 8:52 AM on February 5, 2013


That took longer than expected for the "I'm going to make this about America" derail attempt.
posted by kjs3 at 9:46 AM on February 5, 2013


Oh my god, I've been carrying the library fire around in my mind like a weight all week; I had heard they'd saved some books but I had no idea they'd saved so many. This is amazing, just amazing wonderful news. Wow. This is a pivot moment in history, where if Abba Alhadi (or maybe others working with him too) hadn't acted, this would be a huge unrecoverable disaster, but he did act. It just makes you think what would be different if someone had been able to do this at Alexandria or any of the other cultural holocaust moments that narrow our view of the past. Wow, wow, wow. Thank you for posting this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:21 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Related: Tuareg MNLA fighters captured two fleeing Islamic leaders, including the one who was in charge of imposing sharia law in Timbuktu. This goodwill gesture from tuareg autonomists (who just vowed to help French forces to hunt down Islamists) is apparently made to facilitate peace talks with the Malian governement.
posted by elgilito at 11:10 AM on February 5, 2013


Digitization is great, and it *is* wonderful that those words weren't lost, but there are valuable things other than text to be gained from the actual physical manuscripts.
posted by littleap71 at 11:12 AM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I definitely read that as "Tuareg MMA fighters" which sounded a lot more like an action movie.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:15 AM on February 5, 2013


> No, because the version of the Islam traditionally practised in Mali was the wrong sort of Islam anyway.

Huh? That has nothing to do with anything; the Koran is the word of God under any interpretation of Islam—in fact, for a salafi who wants to get back to the roots, despises images and saint-worship and all that stuff, a Koran is about the only sacred thing there is.
posted by languagehat at 11:16 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think they were being facetious.
posted by Atreides at 3:22 PM on February 5, 2013


Great story.
posted by PHINC at 5:02 PM on February 5, 2013


ymgve writes "Pirate Bay counters that."

Magnet link?
posted by Mitheral at 7:38 AM on February 7, 2013


Magnet link?

I was talking more about in the general sense for countering "content-targeting electronic attacks" mentioned upthread. It sadly looks like the scanned documents in this case, like many others, is walled off and not directly accessible to anyone without the right credentials.
posted by ymgve at 2:21 PM on February 7, 2013


That is the problem with depending on the torrent community to preserve your store of ancient texts; you've got to have been open with the texts in the first place. Especially in the case of of something that few want to pirate.

It's unfortunate if predicable that the owners caretakers gatekeepers of these documents have chosen the walled garden. The publicity of the attack would probably have disseminated a .torrent far and wide.
posted by Mitheral at 12:12 AM on February 8, 2013


« Older More and more companies residing (typically) in Si...  |  The Guardian is liveblogging t... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments