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Smuggling knowledge past jihadis: An audacious African adventure

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  2 Jun 2017 12:00 AM GMT

Title: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu; Author: Joshua Hammer

After ture, what some sections of humans get most satisfaction in seeking to destroy is knowledge, in its physical manifestations, irrespective of whether it opposes their view of “truth” or merely presents an altertive. Fortutely, offering hope to us are those who devote all their lives in safeguarding this heritage — despite daunting risks.

Say, a man who devoted virtually all his adult life to painstakingly collect hundreds of thousands of ancient manuscripts, persistently arranged funds for their preservation and protected them from rabid fundamentalists when they overran the ancient African city of Timbuktu where they were located in 2012.

Behind the successful translocation of this invaluable cache of human experience and wisdom was Abdel Kader Haidara, the son of a renowned scholar and a reluctant archivist initially till he not only grew into the role, but flourished in it. “In a low-tech operation that seemed quaintly anomalous in the second decade of the twentieth century, he (Haidara) and his team had transported to safety, by river and by road, past hostile jihadi guards and suspicious Malian soldiers, past bandits, attack helicopters and other potentially lethal obstacles, almost all of Timbuktu’s 377,000 manuscripts. Not one had been lost en route,” jourlist and author Joshua Hammer tells us in this thrilling — and inspiring — book.

And these Islamic manuscripts did not only comprise elaborate copies for the Koran or its exegeses, works on religious jurisprudence or biographies of the Prophet, but also works on astronomy, history, health (including sexual advice — for both men and women), ethics, fortune-telling, poetry and even on conflict resolution, anti-slavery polemics and on religious tolerance. In his audacious enterprise, Haidara was aided by his nephew who made several hair-raising trips with trunks of the manuscripts, many of Timbuktu’s residents who were ready to hide them in their house, and thousands of “smugglers” pressed into service on this high-risk task — made more dangerous when the French sent their troops in. (IANS)

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