The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 29, 2013

Our View: Nothing sacred or safe


From staff reports

— Hard-line Islamists, before pulling out of the ancient city of Timbuktu in Mali, set fire to a library there containing tens of thousands of historic and sacred texts, some of which tell the story of the spread of Islam in North Africa.

The mayor of the town said: “They torched all the important ancient manuscripts. The ancient books of geography and science. It is the history of Timbuktu, of its people.”

They also destroyed an unknown number of sacred sites.

Centuries ago, Timbuktu, on an ancient caravan route in Africa, was fabled for its wealth, a trading center of gold, ivory and even slaves. The very name “Timbuktu” conjured of images of an exotic, mysterious place among Westerners. The city was equally reknowned as a center of Islamic learning.

But as empires, trade and fortunes shifted, Timbuktu’s moment passed.

Today the historic town is but a shadow of its former self. Not much bigger than Joplin, it is a deeply impoverished community of mud-brick homes struggling against the encroaching Sahara Desert.

However, it still possessed a famous library with an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 manuscripts. Some texts were nearly 1,000 years old. How much and what was saved is still unclear.

Timbuktu also was home to tombs of early Islamic saints, some of whom died more than 1,000 years ago. Many of those were also destroyed.

Islamic extremists have brought ruin to other sacred and historic sites before, most notably with the Taliban blowing up giant statues of Buddha that had been carved into a mountain in Afghanistan, and smashing up art in a national museum, destroying an estimated 2,500 statues.

Islamic extremism makes no compromise with the world and in doing so continues to force reactions from the rest of the world, led by the West. In a world ruled by extremism, nothing is sacred, nothing is safe.