I want to visit Timbuktu, praying that there will be something left to visit after this war is over.


Is the fabled city of Timbuktu about to be rescued? Two weeks after France began bombing Islamic militant positions in northern Mali, columns of French and African armored vehicles snaking northward through the country are closing in on the ancient capital of the old Malian Empire, which has been ruled under harsh Shari‘a by militant Islamists since last spring.

That might seem like good news. But as the troops advance, the anxiety has risen among those who’ve spent years and millions of dollars trying to preserve the city’s centuries-old history. The fear, they say, is that if there is ground combat, once the forces arrive in Timbuktu, it could be as perilous to cultural treasures as the Islamists’ nine-month occupation. “Wherever you see military intervention, things are bound to get destroyed,” says Shamil Jeppie, director of the Timbuktu Manuscripts Project at the University of Cape Town, which has worked…

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