Destruction of Timbuktu manuscripts is an offence against the whole of Africa

A Quran from the 12th century in Timbuktu

Jonathan Jones writes: The reported destruction of two important manuscript collections by Islamist rebels as they fled Timbuktu is an offence to the whole of Africa and its universally important cultural heritage. Like their systematic destruction of 300 Sufi saints’ shrines while they held Timbuktu at their mercy, it is an assault on world heritage comparable with the demolition of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban in 2001.

The literary heritage of Timbuktu dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries when the gold-rich kingdoms of Mali and Songhai traded across the Sahara with the Mediterranean world. It took two months for merchant caravans to cross the desert, and while gold and slaves went north, books were going south.

In his Description of Africa, published in 1550, the traveller Leo Africanus marvels that in the bustling markets of Timbuktu, under the towers of its majestic mosques, the richest traders were booksellers.

They were selling manuscripts by Arab scholars on everything from astronomy and arithmetic to Islamic law, as well as mystical texts on Sufism, the otherworldly, saintly style of faith that the al-Qaida-affiliated Ansar Dine finds so offensive. [Continue reading…]

In a 2010 BBC documentary, Aminatta Forna tells the story of the lost libraries of Timbuktu.

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2 thoughts on “Destruction of Timbuktu manuscripts is an offence against the whole of Africa

  1. pabelmont

    This is very sad news. The destruction (or stealing) of libraries seems to be a habit of the viciously (and ignorantly) intolerant, whoever they may be. There are reports that Israeli armies stole the libraries of the Palestinians when they captured the West Bank in 1967, and, presumably, also in 1948. Let us hope that they preserved what they stole and will one day return the materials. I suppose it is too much to entertain the same hope for the libraries of Timbuktu.

  2. bernd rust

    Equally revolting was the looting and destruction of not only the cultural/historic heritage
    in Iraq under the conniving eye of the US “liberators”. In fact, in years to come, when a fair and balanced version of history has finally been written, we will understand that the terrorists and the liberators were of one cloth.

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