Imagine a future with no past. It’s impossible to do so because time doesn’t work that way, and yet this is the great totalitarian dream, manifest most recently in the efforts of fanatical Islamic rebels to destroy the rich manuscripts and artifacts of the Golden Age of Timbuktu. Reminiscent of when the Taliban dynamited the magnificent 6th-century Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan’s central valley 12 years ago, the rebels sought to eradicate the centuries of history and foundation of an ancient culture that live for their people in the sacred books and statuary. While we naturally and rightly save our most empathic horror for the atrocities committed against living people, there is something almost as appalling about the destruction of a people’s cultural past. It is what makes us who we are. It is why we write books and create art in the first place. And totalitarian regimes – Stalin’s purges, Mao’s cultural revolution, the Khmer Rouge’s Year Zero – strive to eradicate all vestiges of it. In fact, it is the goal of most Utopian visions – even the American melting pot: Henry Ford used to have his company’s workers participate in a pageant in which they would march into a huge black pot, dressed in their impossibly backward ethnic costumes, and march out the other side purged of their Old-World idiosyncrasies and looking exactly alike. In Mali, where they have been risking their lives to save their identities for centuries, people know firsthand that the totalitarian’s dream is the human’s nightmare.