Posts Tagged ‘Timbuktu’

New Series Next Tuesday on African Civilisations

May 23, 2018

Next Tuesday, 29th May 2018, at 10.00 pm there’s a new series beginning on BBC4 entitled Africa’s Great Civilisations. It’s a six part series, with the first part on ‘origins’. The blurb for it on page 77 of the Radio Times reads

Henry Louis Gates jnr. takes a new look at the history of Africa, from the birth of humankind to the dawn of the 20th century. he takes in the city of Great Zimbabwe, the pyramids of Meroe and the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia.

The little piece about it on page 75 by Gill Crawford also gives the following description of the show:

Celebrated African-American literary scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr presents this wide-ranging, grand-scale six-part history of the African continent, originally shown by the PBS network in the US.

In this first episode, we start in the heart of Ethiopia, where the story of humanity began. And while we now that many African peoples migrated away from the continent to create other societies, others stayed to form great civilisations in Egypt, Sudan and Nigeria, culminating in the Queen of Meroe who stood up to the might of the Roman Empire.

It’s a fest of splendours, and Gates is an eloquent guide.

There have been a number of series on African history over the years. Back in the 1980s the Black African historian, Dr. Ali Mazrui, and the White Afro-centrist historian, Basil Davidson, both presented series on Africa. Eight years ago in 2010 the Black art historian, Gus Casely-Hayford also presented a splendid four-part series on BBC 4, The Lost Kingdoms of Africa, on the continent’s pre-colonial civilisations. I also seem to recall a BBC4 programme, which I thought was presented by Aminatta Forna, but I might be wrong, on the great Islamic civilisation of medieval Timbuktu.

Africa has been the centre of some very advanced civilisations, such as Benin and its superb bronzes, Nubia and the Swahili of what is now Tanganyika. The Swahilis built their cities from coral, and covered them with a limewash made by burning the same material.

Ancient Meroe, however, remains a mystery. It was a literate civilisation, using Egyptian hieroglyphs, and they left inscriptions on their monuments, like their pyramids. However, their language is unrelated to any spoken today, and no parallel texts in known languages, like the Rosetta Stone for ancient Egyptian, have been found. So although we can read their tests, we’ve no idea what they mean. Who knows what wealth of information is in there? It’s all very frustrating. Grrr!

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Best Hopes and Prayers for the Victims of Daesh Attack in Manchester

May 23, 2017

Like everyone else, I’ve been stunned and horrified by the suicide bombing last night of a concert by Arianna Grande in Manchester. From what I gather from the news, it’s left 22 people dead and 59 injured.

Jo, one of the great commenters here, posted this on one of my other posts earlier today, which expresses my own feelings and, I’m sure, those of all the other people who read and comment on this blog. She said

I would like to offer my condolences, Hopes and Prayers to all those touched by this tragic and cowardly attack! My heart goes out to all who are suffering!

Mike over at Vox Political has also expressed his disgust at this atrocity in a piece supporting a post by the Angry Yorkshireman. Both Mike and Tom Clarke are afraid that the extreme Right will start using this attack to spread racist and Islamophic bile. From reading the great people, who have commented on Mike’s blog, it appears that the Scum’s resident troll, Katie Hopkins, and Stephen Lennon, AKA Tommy Robinson, formerly of the English Defence League and Pegida UK, have already done so. As has Alt-Right ideologue and hate monger, Stefan Molyneux. Mike also mentions a Twitter thread in which one bigot recommends setting up concentration camps.

Mike states

This Site – This Writer – is horrified by the incident in Manchester and my thoughts and sympathies are with the families and friends of those who have died or who have been injured.

But the way to answer it is to share important messages that provide support, like this one:

[Here he includes a Home Office message and link to a page that will provide help for people who have been affected by this attack.]

Nobody should answer hate with hate. That is what terrorists want.

And we should not shut down our political discourse either – they want that too.

Defy them. Drown their hate-filled messages. Offer hope instead.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/23/terror-attack-in-manchester-lays-political-debate-open-to-extremists/

Terrorists commit their atrocities not just to spread fear amongst their enemies, but also to provoke the government and authorities into retaliating harshly. They hope that the government and people of Britain will attack and persecute other Muslims, as they believe that this will radicalise Britain’s Muslims in turn in a vicious cycle of hate and violence.

The best way to respond to this attack is not to let them lure or provoke any of us, whatever our religious beliefs or lack of them, into hatred. Their actions and beliefs are not supported or representative of the majority of Muslims, both in Britain and throughout the world. One of the contributors to Counterpunch, an Arab, pointed out in an article there that cleric after cleric in Muslim nations and communities across the world have issued fatwas condemning ISIS. A few years ago the biggest Muslim organisation in India issued a denunciation, supported by something like 200 members of the Islamic clergy.

As well as killing non-Muslims, Daesh have also murdered ordinary Muslims. They constitute the majority of their victims. Daesh has also done its level best to destroy Muslim shrines and erase centuries of Muslim scholarship, culture and learning, when they decide it’s not ‘Muslim’ enough for them. So we’ve seen mosques and shrines desecrated and destroyed along with Christian churches in Iraq. And a few years ago Islamist militants tried to burn down the medieval library of the west African city of Timbuktu. As well as being a fabled centre of the west African gold trade, Timbuktu was also a site of Islamic learning, and its library contained a wealth of ancient texts, including scientific books.

And it would not surprise me even remotely if many of the victims of last night’s attack were also Muslims, just gone, like the other people there, to have a good time.

I also have the deepest sympathy for Grande herself. She has stated that she feels deeply sorry for what happened. This must be a very hard blow for her, as every entertainer or performer goes out on stage hoping to give people a good time. The last thing they want is for the people who appreciate and support their music to be murdered by some fanatic.

I also have the utmost respect and praise for the doctors, nurses and emergency services, who responded so quickly and promptly to this emergency. According to the news, many people came back from their leave or days off in order to help, to the point where one hospital was turning them away.

We are so lucky to have such dedicated professionals in Britain, and it is a scandal that May and the Tories are treating them with such derision, that there are now nurses forced to use food banks.

Hope Not Hate are also compiling a message of hope, peace and tolerance on their site, which they hope people will sign. If you wish to do so, and add your own personal message to it, you can find it at

http://hopenothate.org.uk/?source=170420_welcome&subsource=HOPEnothate_email&utm_medium=email&utm_source=HOPEnothate&utm_campaign=170420_welcome&utm_content=1+-+the+new+HOPE+not+hate+website

Go there and then follow the link.

Manchester’s a great city with a great people. I wish them the very best, and have every confidence that they won’t give in to the bigots and preachers of hate, whether from the British xenophobic Right or the Islamists.

We will never be divided!

Tariq Nasheed Corrects Alt-Right Fascist Lies about Black Civilisations

November 24, 2016

Yesterday I posted several pieces about Richard Spencer’s Nazi speech at the weekend, in which he celebrated Whites as a race of ‘strivers, explorers and conquerors’ whose civilisation and achievements keep improving. Spencer’s one of the founders and leaders of the Fascist Alt-Right, the Nazi nature of which was made chillingly explicit with the cries of ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race! Hail victory!’ with which he opened his vile little rant.

Spencer and his Nazi storm troopers, including another racist polemicist, Jared Tailor, claim that Blacks are inferior. Tariq Nasheed is a black blogger, who is clearly active attacking racism and pernicious claims against people of colour. In this video, he refutes Jared Taylor’s claims that Black people have invented nothing, and have a lower IQ than Whites. Taylor makes the claim that Blacks didn’t invent the wheel, and didn’t invent agriculture or domesticate animals. He also claims that Africans didn’t even have a calendar. This means that they are less intelligent than Whites. The White supremacists of the Alt-Right also maintain that Whites do not exploit Blacks and other ethnic minorities, and that they have benefited from contact with superior White civilisation.

Nasheed comprehensively trashes Taylor’s and his fellow Nazis’ claims that Blacks had no proper civilisation or achievements. He refuses to talk about the ancient Egyptian civilisation, which he feels strongly was Black, as this would be too easy. Instead, he talks about the lesser-known civilisations of West Africa. He mentions the work of Clyde Winters in documenting indigenous writing systems in the peoples of that part of Africa. Black people also very definitely had the wheel. Nasheed points to the rock pictures in the Sahara desert, which show Blacks driving chariots. The Black cultures in Africa also had agriculture and domesticated animals. They kept oxen, and their kings even had pet lions. As for buildings, they had houses and other structures that were two to three storeys tall. The Songhay empire had castles, and he rightly mentions, and ridicules, how the great fortress of Zimbabwe was so impressive, that its colonial discoverers tried to explain it as the work of space aliens. He also talks about the great university at Timbuktu, which was a centre of learning before Europe had universities. As for Black Africans lacking a calendar, he talks about how there is one monumental such device in Namibia.

He states that he’s offered to debate Taylor many times, but has never received an answer. His worry, however, is that now the Nazi Alt-Right have Donald Trump’s ear, Taylor, or an ignorant bigot like him, will get in charge of the educational system, and try to stop Black people learning about the achievements of their people in Africa.

Nasheed is also very much aware that many Whites also despise the Alt Right Fascists. He’s seen a group of White guys beat one of ’em up, and gives a shout out to Whites combating the Alt-Right.

I don’t condone unprovoked violence against the Nazis. They should have the same right not to be attacked as anybody else. But I’m well aware that they themselves are extremely violent, and have beaten and murdered people. I’m very aware that some people may have had to defend themselves, just as I’m also aware that their grotesque, vile opinions and racial insults may provoke others into violence against them, especially Blacks, Jews and others, who have been on the receiving end of their race hate and physical assault.

Nasheed is absolutely right about what he says, though I have some qualifications and additions to make. Black people certainly had the wheel. The rock paintings he mentioned are, I think, at Tassili N’Ajjer in the Sahara. They were painted when that part of the desert was green, many thousands of years ago. They show Whites from North Africa and Blacks from the south crossing and crisscrossing the desert, including people driving chariots. That said, convention historians believe that the wheel was probably invented somewhere in central Asia. So, not invented by Blacks, but arguably not invented by Whites either, or at least, not by Europeans. And yes, many Black nations and cultures certainly possessed agriculture, though again, the conventional explanation is that it spread to sub-Saharan Africa from ancient Egypt. As for the ancient Egyptians being a Black civilisation, they portrayed themselves as being lighter skinned than the peoples to their south, such as the Nubians, who are portrayed in ancient Egyptian papyri as being definitely Black. However, they were darker than their Greek and Roman conquerors. A few years ago New Scientist carried an article, which suggested that the seeds of ancient Egyptian civilisation was in a Black people from the south, whose religion centred around the worship of the cow. This was the ancestral version of Hathor, the Egyptian cow-goddess. These Black race migrated north, to what is now Egypt, as the Saharan desert dried out at the end of the last Ice Age, where they encountered and intermarried with White peoples.

The Songhay and Malinka peoples, who founded the great Muslim empire of Mali, were rich and powerful, and the university of Timbuktu was one of the major centres of Islamic learning and civilisation in West Africa. There have been documentaries exploring the priceless intellectual heritage preserved in the books from its library. Unfortunately, this has been threatened by Islamism. You may recall that a few years ago, Islamist barbarians allied to Daesh tried to set the university on fire in order to destroy its vast repository of the area’s indigenous Muslim culture. The Songhay did indeed have castles. They also had cavalry troops, who have been described in European textbooks as ‘knights of the Sahara’. And yes, in this part of Africa there are multi-storey buildings and extensive palaces. These are of mud brick, but then, so were ziggurats of ancient Babylon. The great Swahili civilisation of East Africa, however, built cities made from coral, which were coated with a lime wash made from burning the same substance. Their cities are as impressive and as richly carved as any others in Islam. The great fortress of Zimbabwe, which is also in east Africa, is also spectacular. It seemed such a contrast to the architecture of the indigenous peoples, who now live in wooden huts, that the Europeans who discovered it tried to explain it as the work of the Chinese, Arabs, or indeed, anyone other than indigenous Africans, including space aliens. In actual fact, its method of construction is very much the same type of building techniques as the mud huts of the local peoples. It seems it was built by the Razwe people, but then during some disruption in the 19th century, it was abandoned.

As for his statement that Black Africans didn’t have the calendar, he is most definitely, monumentally wrong. They definitely had the calendar, and from a very early period. There’s a piece of notched bone, found in a cave in South Africa by archaeologists, which appears to have been a counting device of some kind. The bone dates from 70,000 years ago, and it has been suggested that it may have been a portable calendar. This is about 40,000 years before modern men, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, moved out of Africa to colonise Europe. If it is true that this is a calendar, then clearly Taylor in this regard couldn’t possibly be more wrong.

Regarding Nasheed’s fears of the intellectual damage Alt-Right Fascism could do to the American educational system, I think Taylor and his squadristi will have severe problems if they true to impose a White supremacist curriculum at the universities. I think the liberal traditions of many American universities are simply too strong. No reputable historian, anthropologist or archaeologist specialising in researching African culture and heritage is going to stand for the denigration of African civilisation or the attack on their academic disciplines. I also anticipate considerable resistance from Black Studies professors and their students. And this is quite apart from professors, intellectuals and students, who wish to defend American academia as seats of genuine learning and liberal culture.

However, I recognise that there is a real danger that the Nazis will try to undermine this aspect of the American education system, either by depriving it of funding, or demanding that other courses be introduced to ‘balance’ it.

In my opinion, the real danger is much lower down the educational system, at school level. A little while ago one of the left-wing news shows I watch on YouTube reported that the state educational authority in Arizona decided that the existing school curriculum and its textbooks were too left-wing. I think they objected to them, because they didn’t just present American civilisation as absolutely wonderful, with no defects or shameful episodes. It taught students about slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, institutional racism and civil rights, as well as the other, better aspects of American history. So the right-wingers in power got rid of it.

What did they insist school students learn instead of the complexities, shame and achievements of American history? Ronald Reagan’s speeches.

I kid you not. Ronald Reagan’s speeches. Which weren’t even written by him. I think this should count as a crime against education. Mind you, I think the Tories over here would like to inflict something equally stupid and sinister on our youngsters. Remember when Michael Gove was ranting about children being taught the ‘Blackadder’ view of the Great War in history? He and his fellow Tories would like to do the same, presenting a sanitised version of British history consonant with turning our children into earnest Thatcherites. In fact, I’m surprised they aren’t demanding that school pupils aren’t learning her speeches, like the poor souls in Arizona’s classrooms.

The Alt-Right are a threat to Blacks and other people of colour, and a threat to genuine history and learning. They shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near power, or the young minds they want to poison and keep in ignorance.

The Grand Vizier’s Letter Permitting Excavation of the Assyrian Monuments in Iraq

March 18, 2015

I’ve put up several pieces this week commenting on and condemning ISIS’ destruction of archaeological, cultural and religious treasures, including their smashing of the Assyrian museum exhibits at Mosul. I described how Layard himself experienced problems and setbacks when a relief of the winged bull was uncovered, as the local people feared that they had disturbed the remains of Nimrod himself. Layard managed to allay such fears through contacting the local authorities and explaining what the precise situation was and that no remains of any person sacred to Islam was being desecrated.

The British government under prime ministers Canning and Robert Peel, were also keen to gain official support for Layard’s excavations from the Ottoman Turkish authorities. They were successful, and on 5th May 1846, the Grand Vizier of the Turkish Empire sent this letter to the Pasha – governor – of Mosul.

There are, as your Excellency knows, in the vicinity of Mosul quantities of stones and ancient remains. An English gentleman has come to these parts to look for such stones, and has found on the banks of the Tigris, in certain uninhabited places, ancient stones on which there are pictures and inscriptions. The British Ambassador has asked that no obstacles shall be put in the way of the above-mentioned gentleman taking the stones which may be useful to him, including those which he may discover by excavations … nor of his embarking them for transport to England.

The sincere friendship which firmly exists between the two governments makes it desirable that such demands be accepted. Therefore no obstacle should be put in the way of his taking the stones which … are present in desert places, and are not being utilised, or of his undertaking excavations in uninhabited places where this can be done without inconvenience to anyone; or of his taking such stones as he may wish amongst those which he has been able to discover.

(in H.W.F. Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria (Sidgwick and Jackson 1984) 305)

There are serious issues with the conduct of archaeology in many parts of the world, such as imperialism, and the use of archaeology for nationalistic or propagandistic pieces. Saddam Hussein certainly used his restoration of Iraq’s ancient monuments to bolster his Ba’ath regime. Babylon, or at least one of its ziggurats, was ‘restored’ using modern bricks, stamped with his name. Hence, perhaps, the resentment of the Islamist militants for the remains of that ancient civilisation.

Layard and the early excavators, however, were interested only in uncovering the great monuments and remains of what was a lost civilisation. They were not interested in attacking Islam, and were careful to assure the Turkish authorities that they were not.

And ISIS have shown that they don’t just smash pre- or non-Islamic works. They have also attacked Muslim shrines and institutions such as the Mosque of the Prophet Sheth/ Seth in Iraq, and the grave of a Sufi saint and the medieval Islamic library in Timbuktu.

They are the enemies of adabiyyat, literature and culture, regardless of whether it is Arab, Islamic or otherwise. And their destruction impoverishes all the world’s culture.

ISIS’ Destruction of Muslim Cultural Treasures in Timbuktu

March 17, 2015

Yesterday I put up a number of pieces on ISIS’ destruction of irreplaceable cultural treasures, seen in the smashing of ancient Assyrian artefacts in a museum in Mosul and the destruction of an Islamic shrine of Adam’s son Seth, revered in Islam as the prophet Sheth. The Islamist terror group hasn’t confined its destruction of items and monuments of immense cultural heritage to Iraq.

This is a report from Euronews from 29th January 2013, reporting how, when they were expelled from Timbuktu, they smashed one of the important local graves, and set fire to the local library, in the hope of destroying the priceless books and manuscripts within.

ISIS’ Attack on the Graves of the Sufi Saints

This was a calculated attempted to destroy Mali’s peculiar Islamic culture, and its rich intellectual heritage that is only just beginning to be discovered and truly appreciated by Western scholars. And it shows clearly what ISIS would like to do to other Muslim nations and their cultures, including those in the West, simply for not following what they consider to be the correct interpretation of Islam.

The desecration of the ancient grave looks to me like an attempt to destroy an aspect of Sufi worship, which is strongly rejected in Wahhabi Islam. Sufism is a form of Islamic mysticism, in which the practitioner attempts to achieve union with the Almighty through a series of spiritual exercises. These can include singing and dancing. There are a number of different Sufi orders, some of whom may differ widely from orthodox Islam. The famous whirling dervishes of Turkey are one Sufi order. These orders are under the guidance of a sheikh, the term given to their spiritual head. The orders’ founders are revered as saints, their graves are frequently the sites of veneration and special ceremonies.

I was taught at College that most Muslims in fact belong to a Sufi order. Sufi mysticism was practised not only in the Near East, but also amongst European Muslim communities in the former Ottoman Empire. Many of these communities were converted to Islam through their preaching, and in particular that of the Bektashi order, who served as the chaplains to the Ottoman forces. Unfortunately, this aspect of the traditional Islamic heritage of the Balkan nations has been under attack, not only from Non-Muslim nationalists, but also from Islamic fundamentalists from elsewhere in the Dar al-Islam. I can remember reading years ago in the Independent how graves in Muslim cemeteries in some of the Balkan countries had been destroyed as part of a fundamentalist attack on monuments and practices they considered non-Muslim.

There are British Muslims, who perform religious rites to venerate the graves of religious leaders in this country. If ISIS had their way, the worshippers and mystics at these shrines, who follow the traditions of their orders, would find their beliefs and practices banned and suppressed. Just as ISIS would kill and maim their non-Muslim friends and fellow citizens.

Timbuktu’s Ancient Heritage of Learning

As for the destruction of the library, Timbuktu was one of the richest towns in West Africa during the Middle Ages because of its position on the major gold trading route. So rich was the country, that when the ruler of Mali went on the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, in the 12th century, he took so much gold with him that it sent Egypt into recession.

Mali was not only rich, but cultured. Timbuktu was a university town, where the Islamic texts and doctrines were studied and copied. Not only that, but its scholars were also interest in the secular sciences that were pursued by Muslim scientists during the Middle Ages. One of the books shown to the Beeb’s Aminatta Forna in her programme on Timbuktu’s lost library was a scientific text arguing for a heliocentric model of the solar system. That’s the same model as proposed independently in Europe by Copernicus, in which the Earth goes round the Sun, rather than the usual medieval notion of the Sun and the planets going round the Earth.

Forna’s programme was a fascinating documentary on the sheer wealth of the city’s and Mali’s medieval culture and learning. It’s also on Youtube. Here it is below. It’s nearly an hour, so not short, but well worth watching.

The modern Arabic word for literature is adabiyyat, which I understand is derived from adab, meaning manners, but also ‘culture’. ISIS in their destruction of the world’s cultural heritage and learning have shown themselves to be its enemies, both those of Muslims and non-Muslims. And if they continue, the world will be a much poorer place.