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timbuktu renaissance
In 2012, Jihadist forces invaded and occupied Northern Mali, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians into exile. Among these individuals were musicians, artists and scholars.

Timbuktu is a city in the country of Mali, a western African country. Timbuktu is historically important as a trading post on the trans-Saharan caravan route. It was also the center of Islamic culture from 1400-1600. In 1988, the city was designated as a World Heritage Site.

Extremists invaded and immediately targeted Mali’s culture, notably music, including the world-renowned Festival Au Desert, as well as historic manuscripts that document Timbuktu’s position as the center of Islamic civilization in Africa during the Renaissance period.

The established culture is especially crucial in Mali, as it provides a guard against fundamentalism and the rigid Sharia law that outsiders have attempted to impose on the Mali people.

In an attempt to snuff out Mali’s culture, Islamic Jihadists sought to gain increasing levels of control. The extremist’s work to break down Mali’s culture was a strategic move, as culture is necessary for collective identity. When the collective body breaks down, a culture loses its cohesive nature — which is exactly what the extremists were trying to achieve. Due to the strength and perseverance of the Mali people, however, they were unsuccessful.

Invaders sought to silence the musical Internet for much of Mali, destroyed unique mud-brick shrines and tore down UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Despite Jihadist efforts, the Malians continued to blend music in hiding and in exile in neighboring countries. Under the leadership of Abdel Kader Haidara, a scholar and member of the Timbuktu Renaissance Action Group, individuals saved thousands of precious historical manuscripts, risking their lives to transport hundreds of cases on donkey-back.

Luckily, French forces worked to assist Mali in expelling the Jihadist takeover in the North. Now, as the country is working to re-unify the North and South, the current course of action comes in the revival of the Mali culture.

Mali’s President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, speaks openly about the crucial role culture plays in reunifying the country. The president spoke of Timbuktu’s symbolic importance as a major center of Islamic history during the concert of Malian music held during the UN General Assembly last September.

President Keita leads distinguished members of the Timbuktu Renaissance Action Group to revive and strengthen Mali’s rich cultural environment. This effort is for more than historical preservation, but works toward harvesting the potential for unity. Mali culture has the capability to promote peace, spur economic growth and attract tourists back to the region.

The Timbuktu Renaissance is alive and in full swing — and as the movement continues to grow, so does the potential for peace.

— Caroline Logan

Sources: Britannica, Brookings 1, Brookings 2
Photo: Flickr