The tombs of Timbuktu in pictures

Reuters reported today that fighters from Malian extremist group Ansar Dine, which recently took control of the north of the country, have been destroying historical Islamic sites.

"A local Malian journalist, Yeya Tandina, said Saturday that the Ansar Dine fighters had already destroyed the mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud, one of the 16 shrines in Timbuktu, and had declared that they would demolish all the others. Later, residents said at least two other mausoleums and seven tombs had also been destroyed," the Reuters story re-printed in the NYT stated.

Londonstani is not an expert on the politics of the Sahel (unlike Andrew Lebovich, who you can follow at @tweetsintheME), but has visited and reported from Timbuktu in his old journalism days. Reading about the rampaging extremist gunmen, Londonstani can't help thinking back to what he saw and heard in Timbuktu and the capital Bamako, which had seemed at the time like havens of Islamic tolerance after Pakistan.

"In countries, where the austere Takfiri ideology has grown, Sufis – who practice a spiritual and inclusive understanding of Islam – have been targeted. In Pakistan earlier this month, extremists blew up the shrine of a 17th century Sufi poet,"Londonstani wrote for the Sunday Telegraph.

"Back in Bamako's main market, a shopkeeper who spoke Arabic because of his education in one of the capital's Islamic schools, and sold traditional carved wooden statues of nude women said he could not comprehend an Islam that attacked the tombs of revered figures.

"If they did that here, there would be civil war," he said."

When it happened, the civil war came first; then the desecration.