Wednesday, October 24, 2012

From Here to Timbuktu

In the context of ancient empires overrun by colonial conquest—and in context of breaking news, as it were—it may be instructive to contemplate the history of Mali, a landlocked country in north-western Africa. It was once an empire too (1230-1600) and once reached the Atlantic; back then what is now Senegal and part of Mauritania were part of it. It was, of course, also created by conquest—but lived by the Trans-Sahara trade (to and from Ethiopia, Egypt, Tunis, Europe, and Morocco). The empire’s main centers, among them Timbuktu, now a regional Mali capital, were terminal or starting points of this trade.

I note that Mali’s coat of arms bears the words Un peuple, un but, une foi. Those words point back to the early days of the nineteenth century when France began to conquer Senegal and eventually what is Mali now. One people? You wish, one might say. One goal? The answer there is domination over the mineral wealth, gold. One faith? Well, the faith is Islam. Ninety percent of the people are Muslims, 5 percent Christian; and 5 percent still tenaciously cling to the really old-time religions of still undiscovered and unconquered Africa.

What is now proceeding in that region is, in fact, a conflict within the Muslim community, on the one hand. On the other it is a return to traditional ways and the shedding of the alien garments of democratic government imposed by France. Our own still active genius is to form good advertising slogans. Therefore, our elites speak of islamofascism to infuse us with shivering dread.

It’s a long ways from here to Timbuktu—as a trader, staring at his lines of camels setting forth from Egypt, might have said. But here we also see a latter-day parallel to the conquest of Aztec and Inca empires by the first colonists. I noted, a while back, that the one thing always on Columbus’ mind, after making landfall, was gold (link).

1 comment:

  1. As I am reading the last paragraph, I could not help but whistle the old marching song "It's a long way to Tipperary, it's a long way to go", sung by British soldiers going off to WWI. Timbuktu IS a long way from here.

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