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Monday, February 18, 2013

Launching Africa’s Information Highway


The African Development Bank Embarks on an Ambitious Program to Revolutionize Data Management and Dissemination in Africa

The African Development Bank (AfDB) ( has launched an ambitious program to significantly improve data management and dissemination in Africa. The ultimate goal of the program is to facilitate wider public access to official statistics and to support countries in their efforts to improve data quality and dissemination for better policy formulation, monitoring and evaluation. The program was launched in November 2012 as part of the Bank’s broader statistical capacity building program in Africa. Work has been going on concurrently in several African countries and institutions and has been completed in the following 13 countries and one Pan-African institution: Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and the African Union Commission. The plan is to finalize the development and installation of data portals in all 54 African countries and 16 sub-regional and regional agencies by the end of July 2013.

The program involves the development and installation of common IT platforms in all 54 countries and 16 sub-regional and regional organizations in Africa. The aim is to establish live data links between the Bank and National Statistical Agencies, Central Banks and Line Ministries in African countries, on one hand, and linking the countries with each other and with other external development partners, on the other. This will facilitate easy data exchange, validation, analysis and dissemination using common international standards and guidelines. This approach will not only ease access to statistical data and metadata in African countries, it will also help to improve the quality of the country data by making it more internationally comparable, harmonized, meaningful, and ultimately more usable.

The IT platform being deployed in Africa also features a data submission tool for seamless transfer of country data to the AfDB’s statistical portal. In this context, the AfDB Statistics Department has teamed up with the IMF Statistics Department to help countries prepare National Summary Data Pages, as part of the preparation for subscribing to the enhanced IMF Special Data Dissemination Standards (SDDS-Plus). The Bank has also partnered with the European Union to provide easy access to agricultural data and to tools for simulating various agricultural policy alternatives. The data submission facility will position the AfDB as the key depository for development data in Africa and the hub for data-sharing with other international development partners. This will also significantly reduce the data reporting burden of African countries since data will now only need to be uploaded once into the AfDB system and then shared with various development partners.

This AfDB initiative provides a unique opportunity for African countries to take the lead in implementing statistical standards at a regional level and make their data easily accessible through a common platform. It will also significantly revolutionize data management and dissemination in Africa, and reposition the continent for more effective participation in the global information economy.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Somali Women mark One Billion Rising

By Abdulaziz Billow Ali, Press TV, Mogadishu


Somali women in Mogadishu have joined the world in marking the global campaign dubbed One Billion Rising. The event involves over one billion women and girls across the globe calling for an end to violence against women.

According to UN statistics, one out of every three women which is equivalent to one billion women and girls on the planet will be raped or beaten in their lifetime.

For the first time ever, the event was marked in Somalia and was attended by hundreds of women in Mogadishu, a capital that has been witnessing cases of rape among its female population in the past years.

SB1 Asha Haji Elmi MP, the Women’s Rights Activist

“For the first time in 22 years of civil war and decades of sexual violence, rape and female genital mutilation, Somali women have decided to break the chain of shame and years of anguish. Today you showed the world that Somalia is rejoining the community of nations”.

Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon also congratulated Somali women for participating in “One Billion Rising”.

Hundreds of Somali men and women gathered at the community centre in the district of Warta Nabadda, the only district in Mogadishu which has a female District Commissioner, to show their support for the One Billion Rising.

The female participants and event organizers staged a colorful presentation in front of the huge crowd. They argued that ending violence against women is as important as ending poverty, AIDS and global warming.

SB2 Ilwad Elman, Elman Peace ad Human Rights Center

“This is history in the making. Today its history in the making when women, and girls of all age can come together in front of crowds of hundreds of people and dance their hearts out for something they believe in”.

By taking part in One Billion Rising, the Mogadishu V girls hope to break the cycle of silence and give Somali women a chance to speak out against violence such as rape.

SB3 Amina Ali, Elman Peace and Human Rights Center

“The reason as to why we did this today is to show the other girls who have been in similar situation that have gone through this experience that women can stand up for their own rights”.

International rights groups among the Amnesty International, Human Rights and Press watchdog condemned the latest case in early February where a journalist and an alleged rape victim were sentenced to one year in prison.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed deep disappointment over the sentences and urged the Somali government to ensure that all allegations of sexual violence are investigated fully and perpetrators are brought to justice.

Source: Press TV

Somali photo exhibition celebrates 150 years of humanitarian action

Farmers in Somalia with goats

A new photography exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society kicks off celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The exhibition profiles the extraordinary courage and resistance of people in Somalia through decades of conflict.

For more than 30 years, ordinary Somalis and humanitarian organisations have worked together to tackle the effects of civil war, vicious clan rivalry, warlords, drought and hunger. They have provided emergency food and medical care, and supported local agriculture to make communities more resilient to crises.

‘Generosity of spirit’

Geoff Loane, is head of mission for the ICRC in the UK, and worked in Somalia during the early 1990s.

“The Somali people are unique in the combination of conflict, disaster, governmental collapse and international isolation that they have endured,” he said.

“This is an opportunity to recognise the generosity of spirit that Somalis have shown in coping with their country’s woes.”

‘Somalia: A Humanitarian Story’ starts with the ICRC’s work to monitor the repatriation of defeated Italians during the Second World War. The ICRC has maintained a permanent presence in Somalia since 1982. In 1991 it mounted its largest ever relief operation to tackle the devastating famine that struck the country.

150 years of humanitarian action

The exhibition is a joint effort between the ICRC, the British Red Cross and the Somali Red Crescent. It is also part of a series of events commemorating 150 years of the ICRC, which first met on 17 February 1863. For more information, visit the 150 years of humanitarian action website.

Entry and opening times

The exhibition runs from 11 February 2013 to 15 March 2013. The Royal Geographical Society is open between Monday and Friday, 10.00am to 5.00pm. Entry is free.

Source: British Red Cross

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Writer Ahmed Ismail Yusuf tells the story of Minnesota, Somali-style

 By Amy Goetzman

Ahmed Ismail Yusuf did not speak English when he came to the U.S. from Somalia in the late 1980s. He was a high-school dropout. He did not know his age. But today, he has two degrees and is one of the Somali community’s most eloquent writers and representatives.

“I did not know that I was a writer,” said Yusuf, whose book, “Somalis in Minnesota,” has been published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press as part of “The People of Minnesota” series.

“When I arrived in this country, I loved English but had no ability in it at all. I settled on the East Coast, where my nephew was attending graduate school. And one day he gave me some books and said, ‘It seems like you have time on your hands. Why don’t you do some reading?’ And I had never had a book!

“So from the pile I picked up Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.’ I think it took me two weeks to read the book, looking at the [Somali-English] dictionary, back to the book, then back to the dictionary to look up the next word. But I was utterly moved. It was an absolute revolution to me.”

Angelou’s book inspired him to keep reading and to continue his education. He received a creative writing degree from Trinity College in Connecticut and found his voice writing essays and short stories about Somali people.

But on the East Coast, Somalis were few and far between.

“I said, ‘The people you are trying to write about? You don’t know them anymore. Where are they?’ And I was shocked to find out they were in Minnesota.

“So when I first came here [in 1997], one day I was stopped at red light around Franklin and Bloomington Avenue, and I realized that the car in front of me was a Somali driver. And the car behind me, too, was blasting Somali music. And then I saw a sign in Somali that said, ‘Welcome.’ And another. I just could not believe it! I felt like I was in Mogadishu — in Minnesota, of all places.”

As Yusuf built a new life here as a translator and writer, he was impressed by the way the state welcomed new immigrants, and how immigrant communities quickly moved from receiving help to creating their own support networks to help newcomers become successful.

In “Somalis in Minnesota,” he chronicles the history of the Somali people in Africa, from their Arab-African roots to the devastating war that led thousands of Somalis to flee their homes. And then the book turns to the ways the Somali have successfully integrated themselves into Minnesotan culture and become a normal part of the state's landscape of diverse populations.

“Minnesota is unique, because we have successful concentrations of so many immigrant groups, the Oromo, Hmong, Liberians, the southern Sudanese Arawak. Part of that comes from Minnesota’s political traditions,” he says.

“All Somalis are political animals. We want to be informed, and be included. We pay attention to politicians. In particular, Paul Wellstone was a member of Somali community. I have never seen anyone who was paying that much attention to immigrants. He took it to be his responsibility to welcome people and show them they were not from nowhere.”

Yusuf now works for the University of Minnesota and has a 6-year-old son. In his book, he describes how the first generation of Somali immigrants have changed, and how the youngest generation are absolutely Minnesotan.

“Every ounce of them. They may dress a little different, but yes, they are Minnesotan. Every step my son takes is that of a typical American child. He loves winter. Me, I am a bit apprehensive when I see the snow. I would rather live without it. But he is so excited about snow! He cannot wait for it. I think, ‘Don’t you know your identity?’ But his identity is Minnesotan.”

This, ultimately, has become the Somali story. Earlier this month, when photos of a St. Paul police officer dressed as a female Target employee surfaced, conversation turned to cultural differences. But Yusuf saw mainly cultural acceptance.

“It doesn’t really matter what he was wearing. There was not malice intended at the beginning; he apologized,” says Yusuf.

He is most intrigued not by any gender or religious issues the incident brought up, but by the Target name tag on the outfit. “What could be more Minnesotan than Target? To me that says, ‘Listen, I am part and parcel of this community. I am exactly indigenous to this community. Tag me with a Target logo, yes. I am Minnesota, thank you very much.”


Immigration Service ready to send Somali asylum seekers back


By Christian Wenande

Human aid organisation Dansk Flygtningehjælp argues that sending people back to Somalia is completely irresponsible

Immigration authorities have declared that it is safe enough for Somali asylum seekers to return to Mogadishu.
Immigration officials are contending that the security situation in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, has improved to such an extent that Somali asylum seekers can be sent back.

Immigration Service (Udlændingestyrelsen) made its decision on the basis of a joint Danish-Norwegian delegation that visited Mogadishu in October 2012, and reported that the Somali capital was safe to the point that rejected asylum seekers would not face persecution if sent back.

”The joint fact-finding mission to Somalia gave us new information that indicated that the security has been vastly improved,” Jakob Dam Glynstrup, the head of asylum at Udlændingestyrelsen, said in a press release. ”There is also a new government in place and a rising number of Somalis are returning home.”

Udlændingestyrelsen pointed to Norway, which has already changed its protocol in regards to asylum seekers from Somalia.

But the Danish aid organisation Dansk Flygtningehjælp argued that the delegation's assessment is incorrect and pointed to an evaluation by the UN asylum organisation, UNHCR, which said that security threats in Mogadishu and the rest of Somalia are still very high.

“In our view, it is irresponsible to send people back to Mogadishu as there are no authorities that can provide security,” Dansk Flygtningehjælp's general secretary, Andreas Kamm, told Politiken newspaper. “The city is terrorised by militias who do as they please, and the rate of violence and rape in the city has actually been rising.”

Kamm went on to maintain that Somalia’s fragile government is still fighting to stabilise the country following the war and chaos that have plagued it since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled in 1991.

“It has improved, but it’s far too early to conclude that there is peace,” Kamm said. “If people are willing to risk sailing to Yemen to get away then you know it is serious. It is very risky and many drown on the way over.”

According to Udlændingestyrelsen, the number of Somalis who were granted asylum in Denmark last year shot up to around 900. That is compared to only 18 in 2011 and 35 in 2010.

It is now up to the refugees appeal board, Flygtningenævnet, to make a final decision on whether the current Danish procedure on Somali asylum seekers should be altered.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

‘Asad’ tops Oscar live action short-film list

Short Film (Live Action): Asad
By Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura
Bryan Buckley and Mino JarjouraBryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura

Trailers & Clips


Director: Bryan Buckley

Synopsis: Asad is a member of a Somali village who is faced with the choice of whether to enter into the pirate life or make an honest living out of fishing.

Oscar Potential: “Asad” is a story told so intrinsically it successfully displays a level of hope in a country that has faced a lot of turmoil. It doesn’t shy away from how brutal the realities are for the children of Somalia, where the choice on whether to join pirating isn’t much of a choice at all.

However, the story of Asad, a boy who fishes rather than plunders, imagines a more hopeful future for their country. It is a future where boys will carry “lion fish” home rather than guns.

Grade: A; There is really nothing to criticize about this short; it had a message, and it delivered it effectively.

Source: The OSCARS 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations for the third time


 Nigeria's Sunday Mba (centre) celebrates after scoring against Burkina Faso

Sunday Mba scored a magnificent winner as Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations for the third time.

The dominant Super Eagles made the breakthrough just before half-time when Mba clipped the ball over Mohamed Koffi and then volleyed into the far corner.
Burkina Faso almost equalised when Wilfried Sanou forced a fingertip save from goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.

Ahmed Musa slipped as he looked set to score and Victor Moses almost poked home as Nigeria eased to victory.

It was a win that was fully deserved as Nigeria comfortably beat a tired-looking Burkina Faso, who struggled to make an impact in their maiden final appearance.

And perhaps it was one game too many for the Burkinabe, who had failed to win a single game on foreign soil in the Nations Cup before this tournament but shocked many by going so far this time.

However, credit must go to Nigeria and their coach Stephen Keshi, who captained the Super Eagles when they last won the title in 1994 and becomes only the second man to lift the trophy as a player and as a coach after Egyptian Mahmoud El Gohary.

It is also the first time for 21 years that a black African coach has won the cup - Ivory Coast's Yeo Martial was the last to do so in 1992.

After Nigeria and Burkina Faso played out a 1-1 draw in their group match early on in the competition, the Super Eagles had grown in stature and went into the game as favourites.

Burkina Faso, though, were buoyed by being able to name an unchanged line-up after Jonathan Pitroipa's red card in the semi-final was rescinded, while Nigeria brought in Ikechukwu Uche for the injured Emmanuel Emenike.

The Super Eagles, playing in their first final since losing to Cameroon on penalties in 2000, made the brighter start and Moses made a couple of bursts down the flanks that eased concerns over a hamstring injury that had made him a doubt for the game.

He was involved in the first good chances of the match, dinking in a free-kick which Efe Ambrose headed over and then winning the corner from which Brown Ideye shot high and wide after keeper Daouda Diakite had spilled the ball at the midfielder's feet.

Nerves were on show from first-time finalists Burkina Faso and they looked even more unsettled by the pace and directness of Chelsea winger Moses.

While Nigeria assumed some measure of control, the Stallions were completely unable to retain possession - despite the fact it was their first match of the tournament away from the shocking pitch in Nelspruit.

And when defender Paul Koulibaly attempted a back-heel, almost handing Nigeria a scoring chance, the Burkinabe were in danger of self-destructing.

Aristide Bance tried to lift his side when he fired over Burkina Faso's first effort on goal and then dragged a free-kick wide but with the likes of Pitroipa anonymous in the first half, there was little threat posed to the Nigerians.

In contrast, Nigeria's Mba produced a moment of sheer brilliance to break the deadlock just before half-time.

When the ball ricocheted to the midfielder on the edge of the box, he used his right foot to delicately flick the ball over Koffi and as the ball dropped on the other side of the defender, Mba volleyed in superbly with his left boot.

Nigeria came close to doubling their lead soon after the restart when Moses, involved in most of his side's best work, played in Ideye who drove a shot across goal from a tight angle.

Ten minutes into the second half there was still no sign of the Burkinabe shaking off their lethargy, which may have been a result of the sapping effect of their penalty shoot-out win over Ghana in the semi-final.

Whatever the reason for Burkina Faso's limp performance, Nigeria sensed an opportunity to drive home their advantage and had Moses played in his team-mate after a 40-yard run on the counter-attack they would have done.

Again Bance tried to respond but could only direct his header into the arms of keeper Enyeama and Nigeria seemed to be easing to their first Nations Cup title for 19 years and add to their successes in 1980 and 1994.

Keshi's side were unfortunate not to give themselves some breathing space when the outstanding Moses broke clear and laid the ball into the path of the unmarked Musa but the substitute lost his footing before the pass reached him.

It could have been a turning point for Burkina Faso but the agility of Enyeama made sure Nigeria did not pay for their misfortune as he stretched out a long arm to tip Sanou's drive round the post.

Instead, Nigeria might have added gloss to the win but failed to take chances that fell to Moses, who could not force the ball in from close range, and Ideye, who narrowly failed to connect with a cross.

But the Super Eagles had done enough to clinch the trophy and underline their resurgence and spark huge celebrations in Nigeria.

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi: "Winning this is mainly for my nation - when I came on board a year and a half ago my dream was to make all Nigerians happy, and to construct a great Nigerian team, We are not there yet, it's still in process.

"You don't want to know what was going through my head (in the final five minutes)! To represent Africa in Brazil at the Confed Cup is an honour for Nigeria."

Burkina Faso coach Paul Put: "We showed Nigeria a bit too much respect in the first half - in the second half we tried to do everything possible. But you have to be big when you lose and small when you win.

"Possibly, we were a little tired after two matches that went to extra-time, but I'm not going to look for excuses. The whole of Burkina Faso can be proud of their players."


Lineup, Bookings (6) & Substitutions (6)


  • 01 Enyeama
  • 03 Echiejile (Oshaniwa - 67' Booked )
  • 05 Ambrose
  • 14 Obobona
  • 22 Omeruo Booked
  • 08 Brown Booked
  • 10 Mikel Booked
  • 17 Onazi Booked
  • 11 Moses
  • 15 Uche (Musa - 53' )
  • 19 Mba (Yobo - 89' )


  • 16 Ejide
  • 23 Agbim
  • 02 Yobo
  • 06 Egwueke
  • 21 Oshaniwa
  • 04 Obiorah
  • 12 Gabriel
  • 13 Ogude
  • 20 Igiebor
  • 07 Musa
  • 18 Uzoenyi

Burkina Faso

  • 01 Diakite
  • 04 Kone
  • 08 P Koulibaly (Dagano - 84' )
  • 12 Panandetiguiri
  • 05 Koffi
  • 06 Kone (Traore - 90' )
  • 07 Rouamba Booked (Sanou - 65' )
  • 11 Pitroipa
  • 18 Kabore
  • 22 Nakoulma
  • 15 Bance


  • 16 Soulama
  • 23 Sanou
  • 03 H Traore
  • 10 Al Traore
  • 13 Ouattara
  • 14 Balima
  • 17 Rabo
  • 20 Sanou
  • 21 Traore
  • 02 Dah
  • 09 Dagano
  • 19 PP Koulibaly
Ref: Djamel Haimoudi
Att: 85,000

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Mogadishu: Somali women enjoy handball tournament

It was an era of a great pleasure and the return of freedom of women’s sport for the Somali women who have enjoyed a month-long handball tournament in the capital Mogadishu. The Somali women were previously denied access to sport in public for several years by the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-shabab terrorists in Somalia.

On Friday 8th of February the recently rebuilt first July playground hosted the final match of the country’s 4th women’s handball championship with the police club Heegan outsmarting their Horseed rivals by 12-5 goals in what was seen as the most populous women’s sporting exhibition in the country for years.

Both clubs make of the most well known women’s national handball team and as a result their performance attracted thousands of zealous spectators who occupied the stadium hours before the start of the match as they were chanting slogans of support for each of the clubs.

High profile Somali sporting officials including the Somali National Olympic committee secretary General Duran Ahmed Farah and the country’s first ever international basketball referee Hajji Mohamed Ahmed Olow were watching Friday’s final match.


“Today Somali women are freely back to sport the peaceful atmosphere here is encouraging an uncountable number of young Somalis both boys and girls to show up for sport—on behalf of Somali NOC I promise that we will do our utmost to help the promotion of a fully developed sport in the country” secretary General Duran Ahmed Farah told reporters in Mogadishu Friday.

He praised the Somali handball federation for the successive activities, as the country’s men’s handball tournament is also smoothly under way in the capital. The final match is expected here on Friday next week.

Source: RBC Radio

IN PICTURES: Peace run raises hopes in Somali capital

Hopes of peace are arising in Somali capital Mogadishu which witnessed the first ever peace run in more than two decades. The peace run which was mainly intended to encourage calmness in the war-torn city was co-organised by the National Olympic committee of Somalia and the mayor of the capital Mahmoud Ahmed Nur, himself a former basketball player.

Former Somali National team member and former international basketball referee Hussein Mohamed Ali (Tarabi) who returned home decades later was honoured to lead Friday’s Mogadishu peace run.

The Mayor of Somali capital Mahmoud Ahmed Nur and leading Somali National Olympic committee officials including secretary General Duran Ahmed Farah, Somali Athletics federation Deputy president Abdullahi Mohamed Saneey and dozens of athletes from schools and districts in Mogadishu took part in the 5 kilometres peace run which came as a surprise to many when the capital’s Mayor and NOC officials were seen running with athletes in the streets of Mogadishu with no more fear on Friday.

“This is the first such peace run we have organised in more than two decades, the capital currently seems more peaceful in comparison with the previous years, so the Somali Olympic committee intends this run to encourage the increasing peace and stability and to show the outside world that Somalia has fully returned” Somali NOC secretary General Duran Ahmed Farah told the media at the end of the peace run on Friday afternoon.

“We have been hopeless for decades for decades, but now big changes are in place and Somalis became hopeful–we want to build good future and heal the past wounds with sports, because sports creates public integration, joyful life and helps people go forward to civilization and development” Secretary General Duran Ahmed Farah told the media at the end of Friday’s peace run.

For his part the Mayor of Somali Capital Mahmoud Ahmed Nur popularly known as Tarsan told the media that Friday’s peace run was a great example for the increasing stability in the capital.

“Today we have all participated in the long peace run, let alone officials but it wasn’t possible for the ordinary people to do such long walk, but we have done today and this shows that there is an increasing stability in Mogadishu” noted the Mayor who praised the Somali National Olympic committee and its affiliated Athletics Federation for the tangible move.

“As a government we are committed to strengthening peace and public integration through sport and in that sector we will closely work with Somali Olympic committee and its member national federations, because we recognize that sport plays a key role in peace building” the former basketball player and mayor of Mogadishu Mahmoud Ahmed Nur emphasized.

Mogadishu gets peace match for more than two decades.

Source: RBC Radio

Human rights in Somalia

Go to home page of La Moncloa

The Government of Spain expresses its concern over the one-year prison sentence, published on 5 February, handed down to both an alleged rape victim in Somalia and the journalist who reported her case, and calls on the Somali authorities to carry out a thorough investigation of the matter.

The Government of Spain supports all the efforts being made by Somalia to establish a strong, stable Rule of Law that respects human rights, and reiterates its commitment to the Somali authorities in this regard.

With that in mind, Spain states that the promotion and protection of human rights is one of the priorities of Spanish foreign policy, and most particularly the efforts to combat all forms of discrimination against women.

Recently, A Somali judge jailed a woman who said she had been raped by soldiers and a journalist who interviewed her, finding them guilty of making up the story to besmirch the government.

The verdict and one-year jail sentences drew condemnation from Somalia's union of journalists. Human rights groups have called the trial politically motivated, aimed at covering up rampant sexual abuse of women by the security forces.

Some of this news contributed by Reuters and other news agencies.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Why extreme Islamists are intent on destroying cultural artifacts

A member of the Taliban stands near the remnants of a Buddha statue in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in March 2001. The militia blew up two ancient Buddhas after a decree from their supreme commander to destroy all of the country's statues.

They have destroyed the iconic Buddhas of Bamiyan, smashed down the fabled “end of the world” gate in the ancient city of Timbuktu and even called for the destruction of Egypt’s ancient pyramids and the Sphinx.

Extreme Islamist movements across the world have developed a reputation for the destruction of historic artifacts, monuments and buildings.

This week, officials confirmed that up to 2,000 manuscripts at Mali's Ahmed Baba Institute had been destroyed or looted during a 10-month occupation of Timbuktu by Islamist fighters. Some experts have compared the texts to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

To many in the West, such actions are simply wanton vandalism. However, experts say the thinking behind it is actually part of a wider tradition of rooting out idol-worship and superstition found in Christianity and Judaism as well as Islam.

Usama Hasan -- an Islamist for about 20 years, who now works to counter extremism at the U.K.’s Quilliam Foundation -- said most Muslims had “a kind of tolerant attitude" and a "live-and-let-live" approach toward such things.

"Mainstream Muslim thinking tends to tolerate these historic artifacts," he said. "Even if they don’t agree with the superstitions, they don’t want to provoke the community and don’t see it as a big deal."

But Hasan said he understood the mindset of those condemned as cultural vandals “very well” as he “used to subscribe to it.”

He said that during his Islamist days he would say things like: “Yes, let’s destroy the pyramids when we take over Egypt.”

"It’s very sad. You lose all that cultural heritage, music, history, art, ancient books. If they (Islamists) don’t agree with what’s in them … they seem to think it’s OK to burn these books," he said. "If you’re not Muslim or don’t subscribe to the same narrow interpretation the militants do, they will oppose everything you do and do so violently if they need to."

Hasan said there were a number of stories explaining how the Sphinx lost its nose, but one account suggests that a religious figure in the 14th century, Saim El-Dahr, tried to get rid of it.

“There was a common belief that the Sphinx had some power over the level of the River Nile … he wanted to smash the locals’ superstitious belief in the power of the Sphinx and tried to destroy it,” he said.

Similar reasoning was likely behind some actions of Islamists in Mali. Breaking down the gate in Timbuktu was probably designed to show any local people who still believed in the fable that it was not actually true, Hasan said.

But while the Taliban justified the 2001 demolition of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by saying they were idols, Hasan said there was more to it.

“The Taliban’s destruction of the statues was a political gesture. The United Nations had sent money to restore these statues at the same time there were sanctions [against Afghanistan],” he said. “The Taliban said children were dying because of this … and the U.N. was more concerned about statues than people.”

Noah Charney, professor of art history at the American University of Rome, said that the destruction of idols dated back to biblical times, when warring factions would destroy monuments of rivals that were thought to have religious power.

The Ten Commandments include a proscription against making “any graven image” of anything in heaven or on Earth, but Charney said this had been “quickly forgotten” or interpreted to mean only images of “false idols” by many Christians.

The reason many Ancient Greek and Roman statues of gods are missing their heads and arms is not faulty construction, Charney said. Instead, it is often the legacy of the 6th-century Pope Gregory the Great.

“He found the classical statuary to be very beautiful, but there was a danger people would revert back to their pagan ways” and start worshiping them, Charney said. By removing the head and arms, which often held items identifying the deity, the statue “lost all its power because you don’t know which god it is.”

In seventh century Byzantium, clashes between Christians over the alleged worship of icons gave rise to the term “iconoclasm,” meaning the destruction of religious images.

The Reformation in the 16th century also saw many statues in churches literally defaced by Protestants in Europe.

The city of Timbuktu has borne the brunt of recent Islamist iconoclasts, with rebel forces in Mali setting fire to its historic library as they retreated in the face of French and Malian government troops this month.

After the militants took the city last year, they destroyed mausoleums and a gate that local superstition said would only open at the end of the world.

In November, an ultraconservative religious figure in Egypt, Murgan Salem al-Gohary, told local television that the Sphinx and pyramids at Giza should be leveled, an idea that sparked headlines but is shared by only a tiny minority of Egyptians.

“All Muslims are charged with applying the teachings of Islam to remove such idols, as we did in Afghanistan when we destroyed the Buddha statues,” he said.

While he celebrated the destruction of the two 6th-century statues -- one 180 feet, the other 125 feet high -- in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley in March 2001, world cultural body UNESCO described it as a “tragic” act that “shook the world.” 

The wrecking ball has also been swung to significant effect in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

According to an estimate in 2005 by Sami Angawi, an expert on Islamic architecture, at least 300 historic buildings were demolished over the previous 50 years. 

The reason, espoused by the Wahhabi movement within Islam, was that people might start idolatrously worshipping structures associated with Muhammad, rather than God.

David Thomas, professor of Christianity and Islam at the U.K.’s Birmingham University, said iconoclasm was “a strain in all religions unfortunately,” but added that was “present at the moment in Islam more than anywhere else.”

In contrast, he said that there were “teachings in the Quran that are actually very open and tolerant. There are teachings that accept other ways than the way given to Muhammad.”

And Thomas said some Islamists were in danger of committing the very sin they despise.

“The Taliban have an attitude that almost shades into idolatry itself. They are saying they know what the truth is, that they have a monopoly on the truth and that they can therefore almost take the place of God in judging who is right and who is wrong.”