The tragedy of these transitory insignificant conflicts born of ignorance is that one night can be the loss of something wonderful that’s survived hundreds or thousands of years. Timbuktu is the repository of written heritage not just for Mali but for the whole of Africa and the whole of Islam for over 1000 years. 1000 year old Sufi tombs were destroyed immediately on the pretext that they encourage muslims to worship saints but the library was left alone until the last night. What could illiterate mercenaries want with C14th manuscripts that even scholars have trouble reading? On the last night, as they withdrew they torched the place just because they knew it would upset the French when they retook the town. Rumours abound and no-one knows the extent of the loss yet but every page of every manuscript, some not even read yet let alone transcribed or photographed, is a loss of monumental proportions.
One can only guess how much civilisation was put, and held, back by the loss of the great ancient libraries. Only now are we beginning to get glimpses and hints of the level of advancement of mathematics, medicine, architecture and science in the ancient worlds, all of which had to be rediscovered over many following centuries. The Renaissance/Enlightenment was wonderful and all that but it shouldn’t have been necessary.
Right now, Africa, a whole continent desperately in need of a narrative is losing the few links it has to its past and its future is being written by juvenile illiterate religious extremists and power-hungry gangsters, local and international, who only care about what they can grab for themselves. Yet another cultural holocaust to add to the many human ones in a continent that must surely have had its fair share of both by now.