You can now read 5 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

editorial

Survival of manuscripts is cause for relief amid crisis in Mali

Continue reading below

Amid the crisis in Mali, there was some cause for relief last week when it became clear that historical manuscripts going back to the 13th century had been merely thrown about — and not torched, as was widely feared, by Islamist rebel fighters fleeing Timbuktu. Earlier claims by Timbuktu’s exiled mayor that many thousands of irreplaceable documents had been destroyed seemed credible, since so many centuries-old tombs and shrines had already met a similar fate at rebels’ hands. Yet once French-led soldiers regained control of the city, scholars determined that no more than 2,000 of about 300,000 documents had been destroyed.

Covering the rich intellectual history of North Africa, the manuscripts go back to a time when Timbuktu was a leading center of trade, Islamic culture, and scientific inquiry. The destruction of any of the documents is deeply disturbing on its own terms — and also because radical groups that imperil priceless historical works for ideological reasons rarely stop there. When the Taliban destroyed 1,700-year-old Buddhist statues in Afghanistan in 2001, it was a symptom of its broader depravity. Freeing Timbuktu from such a threat to its cultural heritage is another reason for the ancient city’s residents — and the world — to be thankful for the French intervention.

Loading comments...
Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Already a subscriber?
Your city. Your stories. Your Globe.
Yours FREE for two weeks.
Enjoy free unlimited access to Globe.com for the next two weeks.
Limited time only - No credit card required!
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.
Thanks & Welcome to Globe.com
You now have unlimited access for the next two weeks.
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.