Who needs history? by Zarrar khuhro

As a child, along with the ubiquitous Mr Men series, “Alif Laila” and Peter and Jane books, I used to read a series of children’s books about talking animals. Written by Roger Hargreaves, the same genius who brought us characters like Mr Happy and Mr Greedy, this short-lived series featured regulars like Moo the cow and Woof the dog. And they all lived in a place called Timbuktu, which, I thought with all the clarity of a six-year-old, was a perfectly wonderful name for a fantasy land filled with talking animals.

Later, I learnt Timbuktu was a real place in West Africa, a city of learning and culture that became part of the empire of Mali in 1324. Mali itself was a place of such wealth that when its ruler Mansa Musa went for Hajj in the same year, he distributed such massive amounts of gold en route that he ended up depressing the price of gold in Egypt and the Hejaz for decades to come, leading to a period of hyperinflation. Even more interestingly, Musa came to the throne after his predecessor sailed off to find the limits of the Atlantic with a reported fleet of 3,000 ships, never to be seen again. However, the greatest wealth in Timbuktu was not in its gold but in its knowledge and it is related that books were the most valuable commodities available in this historic city. It is also home to the fabled University of Sankore and innumerable mud mosques and shrines, many of which are protected Unesco world heritage sites.
Despite its history, odds are you’ve never heard of either Mali or Timbuktu, simply because they’re in a distant part of the world that we really don’t care to learn much about. In fact, the world at large doesn’t interest us much, unless it ‘drones’ us or until a blasphemous video or cartoon is made. Then all hell breaks loose. Incidentally, hell is exactly what’s broken loose in Mali as well. Thanks to porous borders and tribal populations that don’t recognise those borders, the aftermath of Muammar Gaddafi’s fall helped plunge this once promising state into anarchy. Massive amounts of weapons left over from Gaddafi’s forces made their way to Tuareg rebels, who promptly declared an independent state in the north. Following this, a group of junior military officers decided their ‘bloody civilians’ weren’t man enough to deal with the threat and took over. The result is that Mali is now a no-man’s land where fanatics run wild. What’s different about this period of turmoil and previous ones is that Mali’s history may not survive it.
That’s because the groups that have benefited the most from the chaos are the kind of Islamists we have become all too familiar with right here in Pakistan. They are the ones that want to make you better Muslims through the use of instructive methods like public flogging and summary execution. They also feel that the centuries old shrines that dot Mali are a sign of apostasy and are, therefore, on a mission to destroy them all. The fact that most of these are also world heritage sites makes them even more appealing as targets. After all, if the infidel West wants them protected, then there really has to be something wrong about them.
Why is it important to know about this? Because for one thing, it shows us that we’re not alone in facing this kind of unthinking fanaticism. It also brings home the inevitable consequences of ceding space, whether by design or default, to such fanatics. Also because, at some point, Western-backed and African-led military intervention in Mali will become inevitable and when that happens there may well be the usual propaganda about a Muslim country being targeted. It’ll be half-right: Mali is being targeted, but not by the West. Rather it’s being targeted by Muslims who don’t consider anyone else to be worthy of being called a Muslim.
A similar murder of history is taking place a little closer to home as well, as ancient mosques and buildings are bulldozed in the name of modernity (with perhaps a dose of unthinking dogma thrown in) and the commonality between that and what’s happening in Mali is that we hear little, and care even less about it. At least, not as long as those lighting the dynamite and driving the bulldozers call themselves Muslims, that is. Had they been Christian, Hindu or Buddhist, we would have burned down every single damn cinema and KFC in Pakistan.


Leave A Comment:

Powered by Blogger.
Design by webbilgi.org