We’ve been covering the turmoil in Mali for some time now. Three months ago, rebels in the north of the country took advantage of a coup in the capital to break away and set up the nation of Azawad. This new nation, as yet unrecognized by any other, was supposed to be a homeland for the Tuaregs, a people who complain of poor treatment from the central government.
All did not go as planned. The radical Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) took over part of the area and put it under harsh Sharia law. Their area of control includes Timbuktu, where they have been destroying the medieval shrines of Muslim saints they say are contrary to Islam. There are also fears they may burn the hundreds of thousands of early manuscripts in Timbuktu. Fundamentalists tend not to like reading much.
Now moderate Muslims are fighting back. Sufi Muslims, who are the majority in Mali and who honor the shrines, have created an armed band to defend them. They’re guarding the holy tombs at Araouane and Gasser-Cheick, close to Timbuktu.
This is the latest step towards conflict between the supposedly allied Ansar Dine and the other rebel groups. Ansar Dine has overstepped its bounds and insulted local religious feeling. They may soon pay the price.
With the world community doing nothing but wringing their hands and making sympathetic noises, it appears the only hope to save the ancient treasures of Mali is in the hands of the locals.
[Photo courtesy Emilio Labrador]
Israeli police suspect ultra-Orthodox Jews are behind Monday’s vandalism at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
Anti-Zionist graffiti written in Hebrew was sprayed over several parts of the building, with lines like, “Jews, wake up, the evil Zionist regime doesn’t protect us, it jeopardizes us,” and, “If Hitler hadn’t existed, the Zionists would have invented him.”
As implausible as this sounds, many ultra-Orthodox Jews believe that Israel shouldn’t exist until the coming of the Messiah. I myself know one family that subscribes to this belief, although being decent human beings they would never vandalize a Holocaust Memorial.
This is only the latest in a string of controversial incidents involving Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community. Recently vandals seriously damaged a 1,600-year-old mosaic from a synagogue. The Tiberias mosaic was one of the finest examples of Jewish art. Vandals broke into the museum and smashed parts of the mosaic, while spray painting slogans in Hebrew calling archaeological excavations a sacrilege.
Last year the country was stunned by the news that Ultra-Orthodox Jews had spat on an 8-year-old Jewish girl and called her a whore for not dressing modestly enough. Another group have been picketing a girls school they think is immodest and throwing feces and rocks at the kids. Back in 1990, some fellow archaeologists and I had rocks thrown at our vehicle because we drove through an Orthodox neighborhood on the Sabbath. Travelers beware.
[Photo credit: Getty images]