The advance of French and Malian troops on to Timbuktu earlier this week has spurred fleeing Islamist militants to burn irreplaceable and priceless documents and heritage dating back to the turn of the first millennium.
Sadly, their acts of wanton vandalism are based on ignorance of the rich heritage of Islam down through the centuries, failing to understand or appreciate the vast contributions of Muslim scholars in the fields of early mathematics, algebra, science, natural history and medicine. The ancient universities at Timbuktu were a model for the rest of the world as it struggled with the dark ages, while Islamic scholars were enlightened in their fields of study.
Unesco has designated the ancient town as a world heritage site. Sadly, too many such sites have been damaged by violence and acts of ignorance. If there is any good news, it lies in the fact that these ancient manuscripts drew the interest of academics from around the world and a South African project managed to copy the documents lest they be lost to future generations.