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Mali: Worldwide Inactivity Over Destruction of Timbuktu Shrines

June 30, 2012, will go down in history as one of the most devastating dates for Mali and for its cultural heritage. In reaction to UNESCO placing Timbuktu on the List of World Heritage in Danger, the Islamists of Ansar Dine (one of the armed groups controlling northern Mali) set about demolishing the shrines of Muslim saints in the city of Timbuktu.

On June 30, saharamedias.net wrote [fr]:

Les combattants du mouvement ont détruit des mausolées construits comme étant les tombeaux de savants et saints jouissant d’une grande estime au sein des populations de la ville historique, avec comme objectif d’ôter toute trace permettant de déterminer l’emplacement de ces lieux.

The fighters destroyed shrines constructed as tombs for scholars and saints that are revered by the people of the historic city. They sought to eliminate all traces of these sites so that it would be impossible to find them again.

A correspondent for saharamedias.net who witnessed the attacks [fr], reported on the fanaticism surrounding this sacrilege:

Les démolitions avaient un caractère particulier. Un homme qui remercie Dieu après avoir détruit un tombeau plus protubérant que les autres ; un autre qui loue Allah de leur avoir accordé toutes ses victoires et de leur avoir permis d’appliquer Sa Loi sur terre’ ; Un troisième qui savoure la victoire et souhaite qu’il en soit ainsi dans tous les pays du monde musulman.

These attacks were of a specific nature. A man thanked God after destroying one of the more prominent tombs; another praised Allah for having granted them all of their victories and allowing them to apply ‘God's Law here on Earth'. A third man relished the victory and wished that it could be this way in every country in the Muslim world.

Even if the destruction of the tomb of Saint Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar, which took place on May 4, is what is occupying much of the conversation, there is no doubt as to the fate of the 15 other sites. Indeed, according to Sanda Ould Boumama (spokesperson for Ansar Dine in Timbuktu) in a post [fr] on senego.com:

Ansar Edine va détruire aujourd’hui tous les mausolée de la ville. Tous les mausolées sans exception

Ansar Dine is going to destroy today all of the shrines in the city—all of the shrines, without exception.

Maghreb Emergent tries to find an explanation [fr] for the Islamists’ furious attacks against sites representing the collective memory of the people of Mali and their contributions to the world’s cultural heritage:

Outre les mosquées, le site classé compte 16 cimetières et mausolées qui étaient des composantes essentielles du système religieux dans la mesure où, selon la croyance populaire, ils étaient le rempart qui protégeait la ville de tous les dangers

In addition to the mosques, the classified property counts 16 cemeteries and mausoleums as essential components of the religious system. According to popular belief, these sites were the ramparts that protected the city from all dangers.
'Centre de recherches historiques ahmed baba' (CEDRHAB) is a research center that aims to protect Timbuktu's historic sites. By upyernoz on FlikR. License CC-BY

‘Centre de recherches historiques ahmed baba’ (CEDRHAB) is a research center that aims to protect Timbuktu's historic sites. By upyernoz on FlikR. License CC-BY

There were many reactions on the blogosphere.

On the portal of French daily newspaper, lemonde.fr, various contributors commented on the story including Michèle Faudrin, who opined in an article [fr]:

Les islamistes ont détruit plusieurs monuments…autodafé ! Entre eux et nous un fossé ; Ils sont intolérants, nous nous efforçons d'être tolérants. Ils ne tolèrent pas notre tolérance, nous ne tolérons pas leur intolérance.

The Islamists destroyed many monuments…it is an auto-da-fé! [refers to the rituals of public penance imposed on condemned heretics during the Spanish Inquisition.] There is a rift between them and us: They are intolerant, while we strive to be tolerant. They do not tolerate our tolerance, and we do not tolerate their intolerance.

Commenting on an article published on tempsreel.nouvelobs.com, nouen marie-claude expressed her fears [fr]:

Quelle tristesse ! On ne peut plus trouver de mots pour qualifier un tel délire ! ……Ils sont déjà en Afghanistan , en Syrie , un peu partout en Afrique ….ils me font penser aux nazis qui ont commencé ..par brûler des livres …….L'Europe a un incendie en face de ses côtes méditerranéennes….allumé par des inquisiteurs au 21 ème siècle ….Horrifiée et inquiète !

What a tragedy! We cannot find the words to describe this madness!…They are already in Afghanistan, in Syria, almost everywhere in Africa…they seem to me like Nazis, who began by burning books…Europe has a fire on its Mediterranean coasts, ignited by 21st-century inquisitors… I am horrified and terrified!

Reacting to the same article, Kangoo Durant wrote [fr]:

ils se dissent agir au nom de DIEU, ils ont vu DIEU ces malades???? Faudrait leur dire que DIEU bâti, il ne démolit pas des lieux saints lui étant destinés. Mais avant toute chose, ce sont des lieux de l'histoire humaine, avec des âmes!

They claim to act in the name of GOD, but have these people actually heard of GOD???? Someone should tell them that GOD builds—not destroys—places intended for saints. But above all, these are places that belongs to human history—places that have souls!

Ahmed Mouhlay thinks [fr]:

A ce niveau, on quitte le domaine de la croyance/religion pour entrer dans celui de la psychiatrie. Une opération “de force” contre ces gens-là ne serait pas une guerre, mais une thérapie.

At this level, one leaves the domain of belief/religion and enters that of psychiatry. An “operation of force” against these people would not be war, but therapy.

Marc Esnoult believes [fr]:

Nouvel Afghanistan, mais plus près. Nous ne comprenons pas bien cette histoire de saints musulmans rejetés par les islamistes extrémistes; peut-être représentation interdite par la charia; c'était plus net en Afghanistan quand les statues préislamiques ont été détruites par les talibans. Il serait étonnant qu'il n'y ait pas là-bas des camps d'entrainement type Al qaida.

New Afghanistan, but even closer. We do not understand well this history of Muslim saints rejected by Islamic extremists. Perhaps such representation is forbidden by the Sharia. This was clearer in Afghanistan when the Taliban destroyed pre-Islamic statues. It is amazing that Mali doesn’t have Al Qaeda-like training camps.

On Twitter, @Toshikoshi commenting on a post published by slateafrique.com thinks [fr]:

@Toshikoshi: Un véritable génocide culturel s'est opéré à #Tombouctou -http://goo.gl/XKRzX

@Toshikoshi: A veritable cultural genocide is taking place in #Timbuktu -http://goo.gl/XKRzX

Twitter user  ‏@hdstanton1 concludes:

@hdstanton1#Tombouctou Au delà de la destruction des mausolées, les islamistes veulent montrer qu'ils détruiront toute civilisat° étrangère à leur dogme.”

@hdstanton1: #Timbuktu Beyond the destruction of the shrines, the Islamists want to show that they will destroy all foreign civilization with their dogma.
This following reaction [fr] from Toni972, published last May 24 on the site rfi.fr after the first crimes of the extremists, remains relevant today. It sums up the situation: a paralyzed Malian government and an international community whose silence is deafening:

C'est d'autant plus révoltant que le gouvernement malien ne peut rien pour lutter efficacement contre ces intrus, sachant que la seule solution pour les éradiquer est une lutte armée sans merci. On ne négocie pas avec avec des terroristes on les élimine physiquement purement et simplement. Vivement une intervention musclée pour que ces régions redeviennent libres.

It is all the more revolting that the Malian government can do nothing to fight effectively against these intruders, knowing that the only solution to eradicate them is an armed fight without mercy. One does not negotiate with terrorists; one physically eliminates them, pure and simple. Bring on the armed intervention, in order for these regions to become free again.

Temoust.org, thinks [fr]:

Pour tout cela, la situation désastreuse que vit Tombouctou n’est pas qu’une affaire interne au Mali. Elle intéresse l’humanité entière car cette fois, il ne s’agit pas de chasser un dictateur, mais bien d’effacer la trace d’une humanité entière, sa mémoire, ses rites, ses traditions, ses langues et, bien sûr, l’enjeu, la mort d’une des villes dont les mausolées et les demeures d’hommes et de femmes s’ouvrent sur le désert.

For all of this, the disastrous situation seen in Timbuktu is not only an internal affair in Mali. It concerns all of humanity because this time, it is not to hunt a dictator, but rather to obliterate all traces of humanity—its memory, its rites, its traditions, its languages, and of course, the heart of the matter, the death of a city whose shrines and the ancestral homes of men and women are open to the desert.

While Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, expresses her distress and dismay, the Islamists continue their attacks and force people to submit to Sharia [Islamic law], all the while being reinforced by the arrival of new troops. The site malikounda.com reported [fr] the arrival in Timbuktu of about 30 Algerian jihadists on June 29.

The first crimes provoked a violent reaction [fr] with protests in the streets and clashes with the terrorists. This time, unfortunately, people living in terror and reduced to silence may not find leaders who will drive them to new protests.

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