Adam Diarra, Reuters, in Globe and Mail, June 30, 2012
BAMAKO, Mali -Al-Qaeda-linked Mali Islamists armed with Kalashnikovs and pick-axes destroyed centuries-old mausoleums of saints in the UNESCO-listed city of Timbuktu on Saturday in front of shocked locals, witnesses said.
The Islamist Ansar Dine group backs strict Islamic law, and considers the shrines of the local Sufi version of Islam to be idolatrous. Sufi shrines have also been attacked by hardline Salafists in Egypt and Libya in the past year.
The attack came just days after UNESCO placed Timbuktu on its list of heritage sites in danger and will recall the 2001 dynamiting by the Taliban of two 6th-century statues of Buddha carved into a cliff in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan.
“They are armed and have surrounded the sites with pick-up trucks,” local journalist Yeya Tandina said by telephone. “The population is just looking on helplessly.”
Mr. Tandina and other witnesses said Ansar Dine had already destroyed the mausoleums of three local saints – Sidi Mahmoud, Sidi El Mokhtar and Alfa Moya – and at least seven tombs.
“The mausoleum doesn’t exist any more and the cemetery is as bare as a soccer pitch,” local teacher Abdoulaye Boulahi said of the Mahmoud burial place. “There’s about 30 of them breaking everything up with pick-axes and hoes. They’ve put their Kalashnikovs down by their side. These are shocking scenes for the people in Timbuktu.”
Locals said the attackers had threatened to destroy all of the 16 main mausoleum sites by the end of the day. UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova called for an immediate halt.
“There is no justification for such wanton destruction and I call on all parties engaged in the conflict to stop these terrible and irreversible acts,” she said in a statement. The sites date from Timbuktu’s Golden Age in the 16th century.
France’s Foreign Ministry condemned the attacks on what it called “a part of the soul of this prestigious Sahelian city”.
Ansar Dine has gained the upper hand over less well-armed Tuareg-led separatists since the two joined forces to rout government troops and seize control in April of the northern two-thirds of the inland West African state.
Located on an old Saharan trading route that saw salt from the Arab north exchanged for gold and slaves from black Africa to the south, Timbuktu blossomed in the 16th century as an Islamic seat of learning, home to priests, scribes and jurists.
Mali had in recent years sought to create a desert tourism industry around Timbuktu but even before April’s rebellion many tourists were being discouraged by a spate of kidnappings of Westerners in the region claimed by al-Qaeda-linked groups.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee said this week it had accepted the request of the Malian government to place Timbuktu on its list of endangered heritage sites.
“The Committee ... also asked Mali’s neighbours to do all in their power to prevent the trafficking in cultural objects from these sites,” it said of the risk of looting.
The rebel seizure of the north came as the southern capital, Bamako, was struggling with the aftermath of a March 22 coup.
Mali’s neighbours are seeking UN backing for a military intervention to stabilise the country but Security Council members say they need more details on the mission being planned.
It is neither safe nor sensible for a non-Muslim to harangue those strict Islamists who carried out these acts. Nevertheless, respect for the religion of another, or for the non-religion of another, seems to have been imprinted in the minds and hearts of many people over the last few centuries. Somehow, these strict Islamists missed that cultural upheaval part of the cultural curriculum.
And it is these same 'strict Islamists' who have wrought destruction and murder and mayhem around the world for the last couple of decades or more. Where I live, there are UNESCO World Heritage sites, which, if they were desecrated in any way by anyone would generate a public uproar, in the spirit of 'who do the perpetrators of these acts of desecration think they are?'
This is an act not only of civil disobedience, vandalism and terrorism but strikes at the central icons of a specific Islamic sect, by another self-proclaimed Islamic sect. And there is very little likelihood that the United Nations is going to send a military battalion to Mali to protect these artifacts.
Strict adherence to a set of words in a literal and ideological way is one clear manifestation of a kind of anal perfectionism that has too many people of all faiths in its grip. Anyone who considers such anal perfectionism, in the name of any god, as legitimate worship of that god, is smoking something I do not want to be near. And what's more, with these people there is no option to negotiate because they are so sanctimonious and self-righteous that they believe they are doing the will of their version of god.
And this kind of misguided power, in the hands of the most frightened and most neurotic among us is doing great damage to our collective safety, security and sense of what it means to be a human being.
So we address these issues, generally, from a legal and a judicial and perhaps even a military perspective, since public order has been violated. However, no public response, on the part of any country, or any collective of countries, through the UN for example, is going to have any impact on those who hold these rigid, and righteous and religious beliefs. If anything, push-back will only deepen their resolve to carry out their acts of defiance in their misguided frenetic and almost insane intensity.
And such people exist in all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
And they are a scourge on the god of all faiths, and on all faith institutions. Their virulence and their hatred and contempt of 'other' can only be seen as sociopathic, even though our institutions, including our courts and our schools have no adequate ways to deal with their beliefs and their actions.
And sociopathic actions, when shared, will prompt other sociopathic reactions among groups or individuals who have a need to resist, as in the Breivik case in Oslo.
By Jonathan Kay, National Post, June 25, 2010
On July 22, 2011, Anders Breivik set off a bomb outside a government building in Oslo, killing eight people. Hours later, he murdered 69 innocent activists and volunteers, most of them teenagers, at an island political retreat. It was the worst peace-time mass murder in Norwegian history. Though the court’s verdict in his criminal trial won’t be announced until next month, he is certain to become an icon of evil for generations.
But another aspect of Breivik’s crimes also deserves to be remembered: the humane and intelligent response they elicited among Norwegian authorities. Even in the most civilized of societies, our instinctive response to senseless slaughter is vilification and revenge. Instead, the court sent teams of neutral psychiatrists to interview Breivik, and find out how his mind works. Thanks to their findings, the prosecution has been arguing that Breivik is insane — and that he belongs in a (well-guarded) mental institution, not a prison.
Norwegian psychiatrists are split on Breivik’s precise diagnosis. In 2011, two experts interviewed him more than a dozen times, and produced a lengthy report concluding that he is a paranoid schizophrenic. Other experts rejected the schizoid diagnosis, and testified that Breivik merely has narcissistic personality disorder, autism-spectrum disorder, Tourette’s syndrome and (possibly) a form of paranoid psychosis.
There is no conclusive way to settle this argument because there is no laboratory test for any of these conditions. One thing seems certain though: Breivik was, in layman’s terms, nuts. And the story of his descent into madness makes for fascinating, if extremely dark, reading.
It is almost as if the global community is unpacking another 'frontier' of human experience, once contained in the attics of Victorian mansions now unleashed in public acts of violence, desecration and mayhem, under the banner of some god, or some principle or some ideology, or some need for power (Assad in Syria). Not only do we not have tests for many 'conditions'; we have only named some conditions themselves in the last decade or two.
And while the academic, scientific and so-called expert communities begin their investigative research processes, the world continues to listen, read and attempt to digest the stories of human acts that seem to stretch our common understanding of reasonable, responsible and modest human beings.
Have we, now, to face our collective Shadow, unleashed as it seems to be, at a time when even the unpacking and releasing the personal, individual Shadow is so verboten to so many, providing the unlikely and unexpected clash of two completely opposed forces...the individual resistance to anything unconscious like the Shadow, and the public release of portions of that Shadow as public acts of terror and violence?
If that hypothetical scenario has any credibility and relevance to the discussions in both public and private domains, then we would do well to back away from micro-managing these events, and begin to look at how each of us participates in the culture that represses the true and full expression of human emotions. Not that emotionally-based actions are not and cannot be illegal. Of course they can. However, our capacity to hold and to restrain and to control public acts of violence will not be sufficient as these incidents, wherever and whenever they occur, demand our immediate response.
We would do well to begin to consider such acts as part of a broader landscape, of which we are all a part.