OD kicks off our coverage of Black History Month 2013 by taking a look at the chaos in Northern Mali where the legendary African city of Timbuktu has been writhing under shariah law imposed by al-Qaeda affiliated rebels for the past several months.
If you were ever forced to endure Black History Month in an American public school in February, you will probably remember learning about the University of Timbuktu and the thousands of manuscripts that were stored there while Europe was “still in the Dark Ages.”
The University of Timbuktu’s great claim to fame is that it is supposedly older than its Western European counterparts – like the notion that Ancient Egyptians were black, this is another pernicious Afrocentrist myth, as the University of Paris was established around 1150 and the University of Oxford officially dates back to 1167. The University of Bologna in Italy was founded in 1088.
There were universities in Western Europe, Central Europe, and Eastern Europe during the Late Middle Ages. The “University of Timbuktu,” a complex built around three mosques and madrasas, dates back to the great Trans-Saharan slavetrader Mansa Musa’s reign in the early 14th century.
Sadly, Timbuktu in 2013 is only renowned for the raping, looting, beatings, mutilations and the destruction of the very manuscripts and intellectual activity administered by fellow African Muslims that made it a UNESCO world heritage site, which also happens to be the primary cause of the decline of the fabled city.
At least this story ends on a positive note: in the latest example of carrying out the white man’s burden in Africa, the French arrived to save the day, something that tends to happen often in West Africa.