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GWU Hosts Forum on Timbuktu’s Key to Peaceful Islam



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The whole world is watching to see if the only thing that burns in Sochi is the Olympic torch.

The suicide bomb that blasted a Volgograd train station on December 29 was deadly and foreboding. This attack’s 16 fatalities and 50 injuries presaged the device that ripped apart a Volgograd bus the next day, killing 14 and wounding 28. Meanwhile, Islamofascist bombs contributed powerfully to Iraq’s roughly 1,000-person sectarian death toll in January alone. Seven more explosions Monday and four more today also are making February a bloody month in Baghdad. And last Friday in Anaheim, Calif., cab driver Ahmed Nasiri Taalil Mohamud was sentenced to six years in prison for raising and transferring $11,000 to al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda franchise in his native Somalia.

It can be easy to forget amid such blood-soaked headlines that peaceful Muslims do exist. Some of them figure prominently in a documentary called 333. Its producer, Michael Covitt, will discuss his film and its encouraging message this evening in Washington, D.C. George Washington University’s Capitol Archeological Institute and the Africa Working Group for Global & International Studies will host Covitt at 1957 E Street, NW — Room 113. A reception begins at 6:30 PM with discussion at 7:00.

Covitt founded the Malian Manuscript Foundation. His colorful, compelling, and very well-photographed film revolves around some 80,000 scrolls that are kept under lock and key in Timbuktu, a key city in the landlocked northwest-African nation of Mali. A total of some 1 million of these fragile documents were hand-written on parchment by Sufi Muslim scholars in Mali mainly between the 12th and 16th centuries A.D. Hundreds of years later, their progeny still use these wood- and leather-bound volumes in daily, pre-dawn teaching sessions called “Circles of Knowledge.”

These works represent that area’s thinking on everything from astronomy to mysticism to women’s rights. Most important, many of these ancient writings concern peaceful conflict resolution. Much like the Peace and Reconciliation Commission that kept South Africa from devolving into a killing field after apartheid, Covitt’s film features Malian Muslims who try to talk out their differences, with these texts as their guide.

Alas, Islamic militants arose in Mali in January 2012, a coup ensued that March, and a French military intervention followed in January 2013, (ironically, under the decisive leadership of France’s ultra-socialist president Francois Hollande). While 333 was produced before these unfortunate events, it features local Muslims who would rather jaw-jaw than war-war, as Winston Churchill once put it. Amid the endless carnage of radical Islam, it’s good to know that there is a strain of Muslim thought that would rather negotiate than detonate.

“Much as the Dead Sea Scrolls were heralded as the great manuscript find of the 20th Century, the manuscripts of Timbuktu may well prove to be the most important revelation of the 21st Century,” 333’s promotional website states. “Just as the Dead Sea Scrolls have illuminated the puzzle pieces of Christianity and Judaism, the manuscripts brought to light by our documentary will unlock significant insights into Islam and its roots, which are shared in common with Christianity and Judaism.”

“Tonight’s audience will learn that the war being waged today is not between people of different nations, or even different faiths, but between moderates and radicals,” Covitt tells me. “We are confronted with extinction, and preparations are underway to spread this curse across the globe. Civilization and, indeed, our planet are at risk. But a roadmap to peace exists, which derives from Mali’s centuries old tenets for the peaceful resolution of conflict through dialogue.”

Michael Covitt’s 333 (the title refers to the 333 Sufi saints buried in Timbuktu) showcases ancient Muslim views that offer a more tranquil interpretation of Islam than that which is on chilling display, every day, worldwide. These Malian voices deserve a wider audience through the Islamic world. For now, they echo through the words of Mali’s former ambassador to America. As Abdoulaye Diop says in 333: “We will live for a long time, together.”

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News Contributor and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.



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