Rev­o­lu­tion will not be tele­vised

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

A HAND­SOME doe-eyed in­di­vid­ual, it’s easy to imag­ine Ah­mad al-Faqi al-Mahdi as a poster boy for Ber­ber cul­ture, per­haps pos­ing on a sand dune with a camel.

But here was the Malian scamp this week, in The Hague, be­ing sent down for nine years by the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court for war crimes – namely for di­rect­ing at­tacks on his­tor­i­cal mau­soleums and the al­most 600-year-old Sidi Yahya mosque in Tim­buktu dur­ing the brief oc­cu­pa­tion of the city in 2012 by An­sar Dine ji­hadists.

Mahdi’s sen­tence gave us much to re­flect on at the Ma­hogany Ridge. It marked, as Unesco di­rec­tor-gen­eral Irina Bokova put it, “the day im­punity for the de­struc­tion of her­itage fi­nally came to an end”.

Writ­ing in The Guardian, Bokova said: “It is the first in­ter­na­tional trial to fo­cus ex­clu­sively on crimes against his­tor­i­cal and reli­gious mon­u­ments. Fif­teen long years after the blast­ing of the Bamiyan Bud­dhas (by the Tal­iban in Afghanistan), the ICC rul­ing on the de­struc­tion of the mau­soleums of Tim­buktu passed with the world still reel­ing over... acts of dev­as­ta­tion in Iraq, Syria, Ye­men and else­where.”

Mahdi’s sen­tence, she con­tin­ued, con­trib­uted greatly to a com­pre­hen­sive re­sponse to such ex­trem­ism. “The de­lib­er­ate de­struc­tion of her­itage has be­come a weapon of war, part of a broader strat­egy of cul­tural cleans­ing that in­cludes mur­der and per­se­cu­tion of peo­ple in the short term and the an­ni­hi­la­tion of iden­ti­ties and de­struc­tion of so­cial fab­ric in the longer term.”

Mahdi was per­haps lucky in get­ting nine years. Had he not pleaded guilty and ex­pressed re­morse for his crimes, he may well have been put away for 30 years.

The An­sar Dine raiders were both cruel and stupid. The 2014 FrenchMau­ri­ta­nian film Tim­buktu, directed by Ab­der­rah­mane Sis­sako, gives an idea of their bru­tally ab­surd sharia: fe­male fish­mon­gers are forced to wear gloves when sell­ing fish; mu­sic is banned and a woman is sen­tenced to 40 lashes for singing; a cou­ple are stoned to death for adul­tery; and, bizarrely, young men play football with an imag­i­nary ball be­cause all sport had been banned.

It was Mahdi’s task, as head of the An­sar Dine’s “man­ners bri­gade”, to en­force these and other rul­ings. At his trial he begged the court’s for­give­ness for his be­hav­iour. He had been caught on cam­era su­per­vis­ing gangs of men armed with bull­doz­ers and pick­axes as they laid waste to a World Her­itage Site and it was this footage that led to his pros­e­cu­tion.

It’s a les­son Rhodes scholar Ntokozo Qwabe, the great drama queen of the #FeesMustFall protests at the Univer­sity of Cape Town, has per­haps dis­cov­ered to his em­bar­rass­ment.

Along with fel­low row­dies, Qwabe, you will re­call, last week en­gaged in a “shut down” of the “ar­ro­gant” law fac­ulty. He had been armed with a “protest stick” – a sjam­bok, ap­par­ently – and was hav­ing a very good time of it all, pranc­ing on desks, when a stu­dent de­cided to film him with his smart­phone.

This clip, which has since gone vi­ral, ends abruptly when Qwabe seem­ingly lunges to­wards the cam­era with his stick.

He later de­nied he had as­saulted the stu­dent; he’d only wanted to knock the phone out of his hand.

As Qwabe put it on his Face­book page: “He picked it up and con­tin­ued to video‚ at which point I came closer to him and told him to switch it the f*** off… Al­though I wish I’d ac­tu­ally not been a good law abid­ing cit­i­zen & whipped the white apartheid set­tler colo­nial en­ti­tle­ment out of the bas­tard – who con­tin­ued to video record us with­out our con­sent.”

In a sub­se­quent post, he declared that pro­test­ers would not be filmed, which he la­belled “white violence”, ad­ding rather dra­mat­i­cally, “The vi­o­lent an­thro­pol­o­gis­ing of ar­tic­u­la­tions of black pain with­out black peo­ple’s con­sent is as old as set­tler colo­nial dom­i­na­tion it­self. We refuse to con­tinue oper­at­ing un­der the white gaze.”

Stu­dents did not ap­pear to mind this gaze all that much when the white mo­nop­oly cap­i­tal me­dia brought to the coun­try’s at­ten­tion the be­hav­iour of the po­lice in deal­ing with demon­stra­tions on cam­puses in Johannesburg and Gra­ham­stown.

But no mat­ter. Now the de­struc­tion of his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions is an in­ter­na­tional war crime we can well un­der­stand why these young­sters would want no cam­eras present when they next raze a univer­sity li­brary.

The rest of us should re­mem­ber that those who would de­stroy our past have most likely made up their minds about our fu­ture as well.

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