Ansar Dine and desecrating the shrines of saints | David Aaronovitch

The warriors of the fundamentalist Muslim group Ansar Dine know exactly why it’s necessary for them to destroy the beautiful 15th century tombs in the Malian city of Timbuktu. It has to be done, said a chap called Oumar Ould Hamaha, so that “future generations don’t get confused, and start venerating the saints as if they are God”.

We’ve had our own Ansar Dine in Britain. On May 2, 1643, a group of Puritans pulled down the Cheapside Cross, a richly carved 13th century memorial to the recently dead Queen Eleanor. Apparently the statues of saints might have drawn the impressionable back to papism.

There are no “heritage” or “art” categories in totalitarianism – be it total religion or total politics. The difference between Ansar Dine and us is 300 years of recognition.

Twitter: @DAaronovitch

Read more: Islamists destroy ancient monuments in Timbuktu to defy Unesco

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