Mali’s Sufi shrines destroyed by fanatics-Bangkok Post

July 3, 2012


Another hit at civilisation

Bangkok Post: July 2, 2012


The weekend destruction of world heritage sites in Africa is yet another sign of the lack of tolerance among hard-core, pro-terrorist groups. An al-Qaeda group called Ansar Dine set out to invade and tear apart ancient tombs in fabled Timbuktu, Mali. The frantic violence against the UN-designated historic areas was reminiscent of the 2001 destruction of ancient Buddhas at Bamiyan, Afghanistan by the Taliban.

Timbuktu, in the north of Mali’s desert, is known as the “City of 333 Muslim Saints”. Shrines dating back as much as 800 years were built to honour particularly memorable Islamic figures in Mali’s history. In addition to the three mosques known as shrines to Sidi Mahmoud, Sidi Moctar and Alpha Moya, Timbuktu is home to other historic areas now threatened by the pro-terrorist groups who have seized political control of the area.

“They have raped Timbuktu today,” said the aide to an imam. A spokesman for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation called the destruction “tragic news”. Like the Taliban blowing up Buddhas, the Ansar Dine group was fanatically proud of its despicable actions. A spokesman, Sanda Ould Boumama, told appalled onlookers that followers would “destroy every mausoleum in the city … without exception”. He explained that true Muslims consider the shrines to be idolatrous.

As with the passionate Taliban who dynamited the Bamiyan Buddhist relics, the spokesman for Ansar Dine is badly, sadly wrong. There is no explanation, religious or otherwise, to justify the razing of the Timbuktu shrines. Even if the zealous Islamists find them offensive, it is within their power to easily ignore them. Millions of people for hundreds of years had tolerated the treasures of Timbuktu, without repercussions on themselves or the tiny minority who chose to stay away.

Ansar Dine, which has close ties to al-Qaeda and never has denied committing terrorist acts in and near Mali, seized power in the north after a March 22 coup that left the country in a largely lawless limbo. As with the Taliban in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, Islamists have stepped in to restore order, but in a way the people of Mali have never seen. The barbaric destruction on the weekend is only the latest and most spectacular act by a regime installing Taliban-like laws against females and freedom.

The scurrilous and intolerant claim by Ansar Dine that they were performing God’s will at the Unesco World Heritage Sites must be condemned. Indeed, spokesmen in the Mali capital Bamako, in France and at UN headquarters quickly denounced the Islamist attack on history and culture. Mali’s neighbours have held emergency discussions on the deterioration of political control.

The sight of religiously fervent men chanting God’s praise while swinging clubs and pick-axes was uncivilised in the extreme. It brought to mind old, equally savage acts of giving sacrifices _ including humans _ to try to placate imagined gods of volcanoes, storms or earthquakes.

The constant claim by cruel men to be serving God’s will has long ago grown old and disreputable. Tiny groups of Islamists dotted throughout the world cannot and will not represent more than a billion Muslims or seven billion humans.

The world must stand against such groups and gangs, and never allow them to replace civilisation with their barbarity.


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