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Emily O'Dell

Tires over Tyre: US Ambassador Ruins Ruins

[A screen shot of the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir's website, 6 February 2013.]

Touring Tyre on foot can be tiring, to be sure. But whether US Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly was too tired or too busy to get out of her car to survey these marvelous vestiges of antiquity, nothing excuses her regrettable decision to drive a convoy of vehicles over this ancient site, damaging a stone wall in the process. Ambassador Connelly’s convoy passed near the golden Roman Triumphal Arch through a narrow dirt path that is not designed for cars. Unfortunately, ...

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Slaying Saints and Torching Texts

[In this Oct. 19, 2012 photo, men pray beside the tombs of locally venerated Islamic saints, whose mausoleums were destroyed by Islamist group Ansar Dine, in Timbuktu, Mali. (AP Photo)]

When I first journeyed to Bamako to research Sufism in Mali in 2006, my American students generally asked two questions: Where is Mali and what is Sufism? Today, the answer to both of these questions is found daily in the headline news. Cultural heritage in Mali is under attack. But just as the armed conflict there is not simply a battle between Islamic extremists and a weak Malian army supported by the French, the destruction of Sufi shrines and Islamic manuscripts not ...

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Emily O'Dell


Emily Jane O’Dell is the Whittlesey Chair of History and Archaeology at the American University of Beirut, and previously taught at Columbia, Brown and Harvard. For her expertise on Sufism and politics, she has been an Edward A. Hewett Policy Fellow, an American Councils Research Fellow, a Title VIII Research Scholar, and an IREX Research Fellow.  She is currently finishing her book, Wandering Dervish, which recounts her time with Sufi sheikhs from Mali to Afghanistan—and many places in between.