In the modern West, an iconoclast is someone who criticizes cherished beliefs. The people we call iconoclasts deal in nothing more dangerous than opinion. But in regions dominated by Islamists that term becomes painfully literal.
It means breaking icons — destroying sculpture and desecrating tombs for the purpose of religious purity. It means gangs of thugs with axes and dynamite and the need to impose their beliefs on others.
This week the world learned that iconoclasm has found a new home in the wretched African state of Mali. A landlocked, geographically misshapen nation of 14.5 million, Mali has borders with seven other countries. At the moment, Malian refugees are crossing three of those borders (Mauritania’s, Niger’s and Burkina Faso’s) to escape the results of the Islamist rebellion that overturned their national government in March.
The dominant rebels belong to Ansar Dine, which means “Defenders of the Faith.” They are Sunnis allied with al-Qaeda. They now control northern Mali and they have put the destruction of graves and monuments at the top of their agenda.