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  • Originally published 01/29/2013

    Timbuktu: ancient seat of Islamic learning

    SEVARE, Mali — Timbuktu, the fabled desert city where retreating Muslim extremists destroyed ancient manuscripts, was a center of Islamic learning hundreds of years before Columbus landed in the Americas.It is not known how many of the priceless documents were destroyed by al Qaida-linked fighters who set ablaze a state-of-the-art library built with South African funding to conserve the brittle, camel-hide bound manuscripts from the harshness of the Sahara Desert climate and preserve them so researchers can study them.News of the destruction came Monday from the mayor of Timbuktu. With its Islamic treasures and centuries-old mud-walled buildings including an iconic mosque, Timbuktu is a U.N.-designated World Heritage Site....

  • Originally published 01/18/2013

    Saving old Rangoon

    AS WE SIT IN YANGON peak-hour traffic, Thant Myint-U is conjuring a golden age. The eminent Burmese historian, academic and former United Nations official has devoted much of the last two years to saving the city's spectacular architecture. Despite the gridlock as we slowly nudge through its colonial heart, we couldn't be better placed to recall the glories of old Rangoon (as Yangon was once known). It's difficult to remember today, thanks to nearly five decades of Myanmar's political isolation under brutal military rule, but there was a time when it was one of the jewels of the British Empire.