Fleeing from the advance of French and allied African forces, militant jihadists in Mali have left for now, burning parts of historical Timbuktu in their wake. The torching of its library–a grave loss–brings to mind the at times systematic destruction of Sufi and Christian funerary sites in Libya, by its rebels. I suppose my fundamental reflection concerns the irony of these situations: armed men fighting in the name of a religious tradition they claim to protect but consistently destroy.
This is to say nothing about the fact that public opinion among North African neighbors remains too distracted (or apathetic?) to affect real change concerning the problem of militant jihadism in the region. The sad reality is that after traumatic colonial memories and decades of dictatorship public opinion in the region can–and sometimes does–sway in favor the ideological propaganda preached by such militant groups, i.e. defending the faith against Crusaders. And so the long term solution can never be further violence in the form of drone strikes, aerial raids, foreign invasions or any other masterful escalation of warfare. Such is what we have now in Mali, Syria, Iraq, etc producing societies that shatter their own cultural, national and holy sites–a cycle most vicious. True change is slow and will likely come about somewhere between socio-economic opportunity and education–which means we have lots of work ahead of us.