After this post, I received an anonymous tip (THANKS MOM!!!!!) that the priceless ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu have been spared, and that the Al Qaeda soldiers using the city as a military base did not intentionally destroy any of the manuscripts (not so lucky, the ancient sufi shrines in the area). I refuse to give extra credit to anybody simply for not being a vandal, but I will say I am relieved. With every lost bit of ancient culture, a different way of being human is lost to us. It may not seem like it, but the key to the future may just be in some dying language, lost book, or forgotten ruin.
Just imagine how the Italian poet Petrarch must have felt when he came across the last surviving copy of Cicero’s letters moldering away in the basement of a house in central Italy. Because of that discovery, this whole thing called the Renaissance got going. I am sure that to the generations of people in between the ancient Romans and the Renaissance, Cicero’s letters seemed like a bunch of old junk, or worse, something offensive to their religious ideology. Thank God they survived.
There is also the story-loving part of me that loves lost things that can always be rediscovered. I love treasure maps, lost cities, buried treasure, and forgotten lore. Whenever I read about something like the libraries of Timbuktu, I feel some of that boyish excitement stir in me. Whenever I read about vandalism or the unstoppable spread of homogenous global culture (Tibet, Mongolia, the Amazon), some of that excitement dies. This may be a less politically correct reason to care about the libraries of Timbuktu, but it is the reason closest to my heart.