Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Giving thanks for the fine folks of Timbuktu
People are more important than things, so the crisis in Mali is a tragedy on a level more significant than manuscripts -- but that said, as a historian I was profoundly alarmed to learn that retreating Islamic militants had set fire to the library at Timbuktu. Updated reports indicate that in fact, most of the priceless manuscripts were saved by the efforts of local residents who came to hide them away once they realized the documents were in danger. What a tremendous blessing, and what a testimony to Islamic values. Islamic philosophers and scientists have been some of the most intellectually curious and inventive people the world has ever known. Circulation of the blood? Sussed it. Algebra? Invented it. Ancient wisdom of the Greeks and Romans? Preserved it, during a time when most Europeans were too barbaric to recognize its significance. Islam need not be about ignorance or the burning of priceless manuscripts any more than Christianity or Judaism, Buddhism or Hinduism. I applaud the citizens of Timbuktu for realizing this and acting upon their deeply felt commitment to centuries of Malian intellectualism.