If efforts are not made to prevent further vandalism, much of the heritage of Timbuktu could be lost in a similar way to the Bamiyan Buddhas some years ago. Once an item is destroyed, it will never be there again – a later recreation can never replace all the detail & the stories that associated themselves with it.
It is worth remembering that the people who are making these actions – against items that have been there for many years – are not representative of Islam, but represent a small extremist minority. At the time this article was written, I was in the South of Morocco – in a little town called M’Hamid at the end of the surfaced road on the fringes of the Sahara. In Morocco, as in Mali, there is a strong tradition of Sufi sites that are revered – but there, it seems to be tolerated & integrated into the country’s culture with few problems – it is something that has always been like that for as long as people can remember & is accepted as an integral part of their religion.
Will anyone save Timbuktu from Islamist tomb raiders?
Monday 2 July 2012
Militant fundamentalists are destroying the Malian town’s legacy with pickaxes. Someone must step in to stop this atrocity
What a sick joke. I wrote in the Guardian today about lost art. But looking at the news, I see that some of the world’s great treasures are being destroyed, lost forever, at this moment.
In Timbuktu in Mali, great art is being attacked right now, as if it were an enemy. It is being assaulted, smashed, assailed. The aim is total destruction. The same brand of militant Islamism that deprived the world of the Buddhas of Bamiyan is now being turned on medieval tombs that are among the wonders of Africa.
The architecture of Timbuktu, with its strange organic beauty, is extraordinary. In the middle ages, this was a land of gold-rich rulers and marketplaces that connected Africa with the Mediterranean world across the Sahara.
Unlike the colossal statues of the Buddha destroyed by the Taliban, the monuments of Timbuktu are themselves Islamic. This is a great Muslim art centre. But the tombs revere Sufi saints, and the Islamist rebels who have taken over Timbuktu regard such saint-cults as idolatrous.
This is serious. The world needs to act. It is an attack on Africa itself. How many cultural monuments have endured the centuries on this continent? The Nigerian city of Benin was crushed by a British “punitive expedition” in 1897, its palaces ravaged, their great works of art plundered to become curiosities in museums. The San hunter-gatherers who painted wondrous rock art in modern south Africa were criminalised as vagrants. One by one, the rich, plural art traditions of Africa have been wrecked. But through the ages, from Renaissance times to today, Timbuktu – the near-legendary city at the end of the Saharan camel routes – was a place of mystery and renown. It is now being trashed and no one is going to stop it.
There is no ambiguity about the attack on culture that started this weekend. The Ansar Dine group says it will “destroy every mausoleum in the city – all of them, without exception”. It also threatens to demolish the mosques themselves if they contain monuments to saints.
It is horrible to see one of the most fantastic art capitals on earth assaulted in this way. Africa’s heritage is being systematically trashed. How will the world respond?