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.
Unfortunately, some problems I had using the new WordPress editor’s interface earlier today disrupted my train of thoughts as I was trying to write a post on Mali. I was trying to knit together quickly some information from a few different sources, things I’d read in the past and happened to recall and some background I had added to those things earlier this morning. I was juggling several things around in my head, but WordPress’s new design kept asserting itself. Eventually, after my unfamiliarity with the new interface caused me to make some mistakes and lose some of my writing, I just got too frustrated and published the half-written post.
Anyway, before giving up, I made this map of Mali showing the region that had split away a couple of years ago and the approximate location of the national languages. I thought since I did the work I might as well post it.
One of the things I would have noted had I finished the article was that the breakaway region included some ethnic groups other than the Tuareg.
Unmentioned in most reports, however, is the fact that the relatively densely inhabited southern part of “Azawad” is occupied largely by non-Tuareg peoples, which complicates the political situation considerably. As in-depth reporting, such as that of National Public Radio’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, shows, the Songhai, Fulfulde, and other indigenous residents of the middle Niger region are not happy with the self-declared country. As she reports:
[W] e think of the north and the Sahara Desert as being Tuareg country, but there are many, many other tribes who live there, the biggest being the Songhai, but there are also the Bella who used to be the slaves of the Tuaregs, and other smaller ethnic groups also live in the north. They held a meeting, those living in Bamako, the capital, yesterday to say, no. We are – we don’t want independence. We are part of Mali. We want to remain part of Mali.
The map is based on a vector map from Wikimedia and I added some additional information from other sources to it. I apologize for any inaccuracies. I tried to do my best in a short period of time. If you need accurate information, I would recommend verifying this with a better source.
At The New York Review of Books, they highlighted earlier this week an old essay by one of my favorites, Gore Vidal. In it, he discusses all the books that were on the best seller list at the time. I considered trying a similar exercise, but a look at the current best sellers convinced me that it would be too painful – three shades of Fifty Shades of Gray and The Alchemist. What the hell is The Alchemist doing on the list? Was it made into a movie or something?
I came across an interesting video on The New York Times website about the life of people who have to register as sex offenders who have no place to live other than a small, isolated community. Most people who know me well, know that I do not take the matter of sexual assault lightly. However, I have not liked many of the laws requiring people to register as sex offenders. They seem to me to not have been well thought out as to the consequences. The video itself is a little troubling because it appears to want to make the men seem too harmless. For instance, one man refers to sex with an underage girl as “consensual”, indicating that he still doesn’t understand that the law regards minors as being unable to give consent. Would he, continue to prey on juveniles if he had access to them? It’s hard to say. Furthermore, the end of the video makes the statement that no sexual crimes have occurred in “Miracle Village.” Since most of the residents appear to be men who were found guilty of statutory rape and there are no underage people in the village, this outcome is unsurprising. However, it’s hard to see laws that do not allow for rehabilitation, and eventual reintegration into society, as being just.
A story in The New Republic, tells about how, when some Islamists took over Timbuktu and burned shrines and the library, a group of librarians saved the books from the Ahmed Baba Institute, a bright moment in an otherwise depressing incident.