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Introducing the Taliban of Timbuktu

But beyond the cultural damages, the political fallout from the widening crisis has seen over 320,000 people flee their homes since the military coup d'etat in March. Now the north of Mali, the size of France, could host a radical Islamic emirate.

Following the disarray of the central government, both Tuareg rebels and Islamic jihadi warriors briefly joined forces. Most Tuareg sought an independent but secular state. Yet the al-Qaida-linked Ansar Dine movement stress radical Islam. This group has imposed Islamic Shariah law and calls ancient Muslim shrines sacrilegious.

Professor Abdelmajid Charfi, a Tunisian scholar, warns that “In Mali, Ansar Dine is under the direct influence of Wahhabism.” In an interview in Jeune Afrique magazine published in Paris, he stated, “I think that Wahhabi influence is the work of Ansar Dine in Mali.” The austere Saudi-inspired group dates to the 18th century and opposes the veneration of saints.

Tuareg rebels seeking a secular state have condemned the attacks on historic sites in Timbuktu. Al-Qaida in the Maghreb and its Ansar Dine allies are striving to put all Mali under Islamic law. France sees the separatist movements as an emerging threat and wants to stop new “international terror bases.”

But this wanton barbarism recalls the Taliban whose vengeance against Buddhist statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan were destroyed in March 2001. The hateful destruction and desecration of the historic Buddhist statues by the emboldened Taliban was condemned by the U.N. and the West but to little avail.

The U.N. Security Council has approved a resolution condemning the separatist Azawad state as well as the cultural desecration inside Timbuktu.

France faces a number of clear and stark choices in its former colony. The Foreign Ministry has called the cultural destruction “an intolerable act.” Yet shall France intervene in its former West African colony? Will the new President Francois Hollande dare to deploy the Foreign Legion to this former outpost to restore order, as many past French presidents would have done in such a situation? Does the world even notice?

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of “Transatlantic Divide; USA/Euroland Rift?” (University Press, 2010). Contact: jjmcolumn@earthlink.net

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