Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Seek not to know for whom the bulldozer rumbles: it rumbles for thee.

You will, I am sure, have noticed the destruction of Sufi shrines in Timbuktu by the Islamist fighters belonging to Ansar Dine. As they had just been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site it's hardly surprising that UNESCO is unhappy, nor that the UN is threatening sanctions and referrals to the International Criminal Court.

All well and good: but none of it will bring back the tombs, any more than a worldwide outcry brought back the Bamiyan Buddhas.

But let's not kid ourselves that wanton destruction of religious relics is solely, or even primarily, an Islamic trait. English church history is full of iconoclasm, and in this it was wholly typical of the European Reformation.

In all these cases the destruction had a political dimension as well as a purely religious one, and that is especially true of another famous example, the destruction by Hindu extremists of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in India.

It is also true of the destruction of Islamic sites by the IDF during the early days of the Israeli state.

In some cases the destruction may be seen as stemming purely from negligence and greed, yet even here a political dimension is apparent if you're one of the people whose sites are being trashed.

So what's my point here? Simply that it seems to be a pretty universal, if unattractive, trait in human societies to erase sacred symbols of other societies which have been conquered (either militarily or politically). And that's not counting the destruction that occurs when sites are located in a war zone and are damaged as a direct result of hostilities. Timbuktu is not the first such site to be damaged, nor will it be the last. To view the vandalism as purely African or Islamic is to display total ignorance of history.