Islamist extremists' destruction of Islamic shrines in the ancient desert city of Timbuktu in Mali is a crime against the heritage of all mankind. It must stop.
One of the most lamentable by-products of political violence with a religious basis is the destruction of opponents' holy shrines. If civilized warfare exists, one mark of it is protection by all sides of religious shrines, recognizing their sanctity or historical importance.
One means of trying to preserve such places is their designation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization as world heritage sites. Timbuktu is such a site.
So what is taking place in that city, the ancient trading and intellectual center where the Sahara Desert meets the West African coast, is an abomination. A Salafist Sunni sect, which is in military control of Timbuktu, is destroying mausoleums of saints and mosques of the Sufi Sunni sect built centuries ago.
Northern Mali fell into the hands of the aggressor sect, the Ansar Dine, when a military coup d'etat overthrew the democratically elected president of Mali in March. The government's authority fell apart. Competing militias took over most of the country, including Timbuktu.
It isn't clear what can be done to keep Ansar Dine from destroying more religious sites. But the intervention of Saudi Arabia, whose king is protector of several Islamic holy sites, should be invoked urgently.
Otherwise, part of the human heritage will be destroyed in Timbuktu, for no valid or comprehensible reason.