On July 10, the destruction of two more shrines in the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu was reported. This time, the self-styled Islamic radicals of Ansar Dine went into the compound of the world-famous Djingareyber mosque and tore down two mausoleums of Sufi saints.
Djingareyber is one of the three major mosques in Timbuktu. Together with the other two (Sidi Yahia and Sankoré) it appears prominently on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. If Ansar Dine succeeds in completing their handiwork at Djingareyber, more than half of Timbuktu's holy shrines will have been destroyed.
The radicals have said that they will remove everything that does not comply with what they consider to be strict Islamic rules. In their view, Sufism, a mystical Islamic denomination, violates those rules. Outside Timbuktu are more shrines; these are also under threat.
Reactions have been mixed with a discernible minority claiming that Ansar Dine are right to destroy the shrines and mausoleums. This assertion was made and echoed on the popular Maliweb news site: 'These shrines don't comply with Sharia, they must go.' Others claim that the cultural destruction of Timbuktu actually began with the arrival of Europeans.
Acts of profanity
But the majority of commentators go along with Sheikh Mohamed Diallo, also known as Bilal, the leader of the Sufis in Mali. 'Whosoever attacks Timbuktu, attacks Islam,' he says, qualifying the destruction of the tombs as acts of profanity. The website MuslimsDebate agrees. It calls Ansar Dine's actions, in one word, 'barbaric.'
One commenter takes the longer view, writing this on SlateAfrique: 'The current events are not killing Timbuktu, rather they in themselves are part of the long and tumultuous history that enabled Timbuktu to be itself.'
Reactions to this point of view, however, were swift and irritated. Someone writes (under a pseudonym, like most of the contributors): 'Just blame it on colonialism and then leave it to assorted jihadists to enable Timbuktu "to be itself". Have you got any idea what's going on there?'
The answer to that last question must be: no. But then, hardly anyone has any idea. There are a few rare glimpses of what is supposedly happening there on the Al Jazeera English website. It carries a story from North Mali, which portrays the region as a land preparing for war. But the noise of war can also be picked up on the other side.
Another popular website, Malijet, reports from Sévaré, 600 kilometres east of the capital Bamako and one of the last towns before the 'border' between Mali and the North. There, the army is currently preparing for the re-conquest of the North, to the overwhelming approval of the Malian commentariat.
'We are told to negotiate with those retards,' someone writes, soon after the latest Timbuktu destructions. 'It's clear that we must use war to put an end to the suffering of the people in the North.'
The site also says that Oumar Mariko has been spotted in Sévaré, talking to army officers. Mariko is a firebrand politician and the director of Radio Kayira in Bamako, which has been an enthusiastic supporter of the coup that removed the government of exiled president Amadou Toumani Touré.
Who will fight whom?
Mariko's show in Sévaré intends to demonstrate his support for a military option involving Mali's army alone. He has no faith in collective West African diplomatic efforts. Given all this, it looks like the clamour of war is increasing.
But in spite of Mariko's grandstanding, Mali's army cannot pull this off on its own. Its immediate neighbours Guinea and Senegal have already made it clear that their troops are staying at home. Armed conflict may be likely - but it's far less clear who exactly will be fighting whom, and where.