Originally, I thought I’d go back and finish my original post on Mali and use the completed post to test out other blogging platforms, but I just don’t have the momentum at the moment. So I’m just going to throw down here, in no particular order, some of the other information that I meant to put in the original post.
In the New York Times‘ “Borderlines” article, they describe the city of “Timbuktu” as “fabled.” It had its heyday in the 13th through 17th centuries and became rich due to its location on an Arab trade route. The city is known for two things (perhaps others, but these are the two I know): Its library and its shrines. There was a wonderful article in Smithsonian about the efforts to save the medieval manuscripts that existed in Mali. It’s really a fascinating story and I high, highly recommend reading it. I also recommend reading it because it puts real people into what, for many of us, is a story about nameless forces.
The second thing Timbuktu in known for is its shrines to the saints. The city is sometimes called the “city of 333 saints.” Sufi Islam is not considered a “sect”, but it is tradition within Islam that emphasized the mystical aspect of the religion. Most Sufis are Sunni Muslims. Sufis have a tradition of revering individuals who have been important to the tradition and who are called saints. Shrines to saints have been built around their tombs. This is a controversial aspect of Sufism. Such shrines exist in other parts of the world but Timbuktu had many of them reflecting their own style of architecture which I presume is indigenous. I highly recommend that design geeks take a moment to look for some images of these buildings. The shrines in Timbuktu were classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The rise of Islamism reflects not only the tensions between the Muslim world and the rest of the world, but a split within the Muslim world as well.
Salafism is a movement that began within Islam in the 18th century with Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab and is sometimes called “Wahhabism.” It is a fundamentalist version that seeks to return to the ways of the seventh century. There are divisions within Salafism, but the on that concerns us here is Jihadist Salafism. Just keep in mind that all Salafists do not advocate offensive Jihad.
As I mentioned in that first Mali post, the ethnic nationalist rebel movement which started the Tuareg rebellion was pushed aside by Islamist rebels. When they took the city of Timbuktu, they destroyed the library and the shrines. Although the manuscripts in the library were Islamic and so were the shrines, they are not approved of by the current wave of Islamist Jihadis. There is something especially chilling about the destruction of the library.