North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Monday, December 24, 2012

Timbuktu's ancient Islamic shrines come down

There are relatively few artifacts across much of the continent of Africa that indicate its past - the pyramids of Egypt, and some Coptic churches in Ethiopia come to mind. This week, from reports by the BBC, we read that one of the less familiar, but still "world heritage" class artifacts - Timbuktu's ancient Islamic shrines - are now being taken apart by Islamic extremists.

"Islamists in control of northern Mali began earlier this year to pull down shrines that they consider idolatrous. "Not a single mausoleum will remain in Timbuktu," Abou Dardar, a leader of the Islamist group Ansar Dine, told AFP news agency. Tourist official Sane Chirfi said four mausoleums had been razed on Sunday. One resident told AFP that the Islamists were destroying the shrines with pickaxes."

Timbuktu was a center of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th centuries. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) added three mosques and 16 cemeteries and mausoleums to its world heritage list in 1988 . The structures played a major role in spreading Islam in West Africa.

Timbuktu, an ancient centre in Africa's dry Sahel

The most famous Djinguereber Mosque was built in 1327, and had been in the process of being restored and preserved since 2006. In July this year, two tombs on the site were destroyed by the Ansar Dine extremists.

Most of these structures are built entirely of local, organic material - mud (adobe like), stones, and wood. Amazingly well preserved in the dry climate, but unable to withstand picks and axes.

A loss within a greater setback

Covered once before in this blog, the presence of the Ansar Dine extremists in Timbuktu stems from a spiraling of events in 2011-2012 when the Mali government lost control the northern half of the country to an alliance of the Toureg people and the Ansar Dine.

The government itself lost its legitimacy when a group of officers took over in April 2012, forcing the civilian government to flee from the capitol of Bamoko. After negotiations led by the UN and Western countries such as France and the US, the coup officers, led by Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo handed back power to civilians, but retain influence in the Malian capital, where tensions remain high between their supporters and opponents.

The coup in Bamako led to the fall of north Mali into the hands of armed Islamic group (the most prominent being Ansar Dine) linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The group applies strict Islamic sharia law including summary executions, stonings, amputations and beatings as punishments.

Much is ahead

Last month a United Nations Security Council resolution paved the way for an international military intervention in Mali. With the Mali army and troops from the Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas) fighting on the ground and the US and the EU providing logistical support and training.

The coup leader, Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, remains in the army, and leads the Junta, which considers itself to have retained power but is overseeing a one year interim power sharing arrangement with new civilian leaders - an election is scheduled within the year.

Interim Mali President Dioncounda Traoré, currently leading the country after pressure from the UN and the West led to the ceding of power by Captain Sanogo.

So much is going on. Elections for a return to pre-coup civilian leadership, the loss of half the country (the size of France alone), and preparations for the deployment of a 3,300-strong West African force to retake the northern half back from Islamic and Toureg control.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and the African Union have been tasked to submit a detailed and costed plan for the military offensive. Again, from the BBC, "No-one is under any illusion that the restoration of government authority over northern Mali will be easy. Reports of jihadist fighters from Sudan and Western Sahara arriving to reinforce the radical Islamist rebels controlling northern Mali will add new urgency to international debates over military intervention to help the government restore its authority and reunite the country."

The Touregs call northern Mali, Azawad, and show their flag here.

However, Azawad, whatever the Toureg's vision of their land was at one point, is now a place oppressed by harsh Islamic law.

This image shows the geographic and climatic separateness between the more humid and vegetated southern Mali, and the arid Sahel with its different peoples and cultures.

Not a rosy picture ahead for Mali for 2013.

And it is Christmas ...

Once again, so far from this West African region full of sorrow and grief, Christmas 2012 seems a world apart, yet with peace so elusive in so many parts of the globe. Teatree's own personal favorite song (from an innocent early time when he learned verses 1,2,6,7), composed in 1863 by the American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow himself wrote the poem soon after he had lost his wife in an accidental fire, and his oldest son lay severely wounded from a battle in the then-raging US civil war:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and mild and sweet The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

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