The destruction of tombs and shrines by terrorists in war zones threatens the loss of ancient heritage sites that are thousands of years old and can never be replaced. A Sufi saint’s tomb in Timbuktu, Mali, is the most recent example of destruction in a conflict area.
Islamist extremists destroyed the tomb of Almirou Mahamane Assidiki in Goundam within months of a number of other shrines in the UNESCO-listed city of Timbuktu. The shrines were reduced to rubble emphasizing the threat to ancient heritage sites being destroyed around the world by rebellious extremists.
"Last night they arrived in several vehicles and told the elders that the tomb of Saint Almirou would be destroyed," Aliou Ahmadou Toure, a resident in Goundam, told Reuters.
Local people tried to protest but were powerless to protect the shrine from men wielding shovels and pick-axes, Toure said.
"Some armed men surrounded the cemetery while a second group, chanting "God is Great", destroyed the tomb inside."
It was not immediately clear which of the Islamist groups controlling Mali's north was involved in the incident but they have previously said they are protecting Islam from idol worship.
Sufi Islam reveres saints and sages with shrines across much of northern Mali.
Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered similar attacks and destruction of ancient heritage sites during the long wars, and Afghanistan has been one of the primary areas for plunder of artifacts which are sold on the thriving black market for antiquities.
What cannot be carried and sold is destroyed by demolishing with explosives. In 2001, ignoring an international outcry, Afghanistan's puritanical Taliban Islamic militia began demolishing statues across the country including two towering ancient stone Buddhas.
Taliban Minister of Information and Culture Qudratullah Jamal told AFP the destruction of scores of pre-Islamic figures, designed to stop the worshipping of "false idols," had begun throughout the country, according to Common Dreams.
The Buddha statues can never be replaced. Afghanistan is home to an array of pre-Islamic historic treasures from its days as a key stop on the ancient Silk Road and a strategic battleground for conquerers dating back to Alexander the Great and the Aryans before him.
The two massive Bamiyan Buddhas, carved into a sandstone cliff near the provincial capital in central Afghanistan, stand 50 meters (165 feet) and 34.5 meters (114 feet) tall and were built around the second century.
Guarding against stereotyping Muslims
Perpetrators of these acts of violence are religious extremists, and a common mistake is to stereotype all persons of the Muslim faith as extremists. Professor Charles A. Kimball of Louisiana State University in an online interview noted that the prevailing notion in most Muslim countries is to view extremist organizations, like the Taliban, with suspicion, not acceptance. Consequently, it is imperative that we first appreciate that the term “Islamic faith” is not synonymous with the term “religious extremism.” The term religious extremism refers to the violent acts, such as suicide bombing and terrorist attacks, that groups or individuals use to enforce their religious beliefs. Extremism exists in nearly every religion; it just happens that most of the violence exerted has been committed in the name of Islam.