Debauchery in Timbuktu

When you travel to a place, you develop a connection with that place and the people who call that place home. Regardless of whether or not one’s personal experiences in a place are positive or negative, a connection is still made, and its often the case that the more random the place and the more unique the experience, the more powerful the connection. Personally, I feel all of these connections are positive, even the negative ones, because they are all learning experiences; it might just take a while for the dust to settle in order for one to find the good in something that was bad. As one continues to travel and continues to make more and more connections, it can become difficult to watch or read the news. The news is often focused on the negative; wars, natural disasters, politics, etc., so when a headline flashes across the television or scrolls across the computer screen and the location of that headline is a place with which you have made a connection, it can be emotional and frustrating and depending on how far away you are from that place you have connected with, can make you feel quite helpless.

I have a connection with Timbuktu and Timbuktu has been in the news a lot lately. For a more detailed description of some of the events unfolding in the West African nation of Mali and in Timbuktu, you can check out this post about the Tuareg people. The Tuareg were successful in recapturing what they claim as their rightful land, but almost as quickly as they did, they too were driven out by an extreme faction of fighters belonging to a group called Ansar Dine, an offshoot of al Qaeda. With the business of driving the Mali military, and most of the local population as well, out of northern Mali out of the way, Ansar Dine, translated as “Protectors of the Faith,” is now in a position to complete their mission of destroying every last mausoleum and holy site in Timbuktu. According to Ansar Dine spokesperson Sanda Ould Boumam, the destruction of historic sites throughout Timbuktu is a divine order and because the group does not recognize the United Nations or the world court, they don’t care that Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia were recently placed on the UN’s list of World Heritage in Danger. As a result, pleas from the international community and UNESCO have fallen on deaf ears and last week, Ansar Dine soldiers raided tombs and toppled the gate of a 600 year old mosque that has been closed for as long as anyone living in Timbuktu can remember and which, according to local Islamic scholars, is only supposed to open at the end of time.

Whether it is indeed the end of time, or just the end of the historical sites in Timbuktu, chances are, the place will never be the same and that is sad. Ten years ago if someone would have told me that I would develop a connection with Ansar Dine and with Timbuktu, I would have thought they were crazy, but because of traveling, I did. Timbuktu has always been a place that adventurous travelers and determined backpackers have put on their bucket list of places to see, and its often synonymous with somewhere out of the way, out of the ordinary and completely unique. The name Timbuktu itself is enough to ignite visions of wanderlust in many people, not to mention its historical and cultural significance. When questioned about the impact of their destructive mission on tourism, Sanda Ould Boumam replied that Ansar Dine is “… against tourism. They foster debauchery.”

Merriam Webster defines debauchery as extreme indulgence in sensuality. Certainly, debauchery can take place while traveling, but it can take place in everyday life as well. It’s pretty ridiculous to think that traveling and tourism in and of itself are the catalysts for orgies and overindulgence, but then again, we are talking about the views of extremists and there’s a reason they’re called that. Ansar Dine’s statement about tourism got me thinking though about my own memorable experience as a traveler and a tourist in Timbuktu. Personally, I think getting a straight edge shave from the famous Mohammed, the coiffur de Timbuktu extraordinaire, is pretty far from debaucherous, but to Ansar Dine, this is apparently X-rated shit, so viewer discretion is advised.


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