The burning of one of the world’s great repositories of historic Arabic texts in Timbuktu is a tragic indication of what kind of future the Arab world has if extremists win today’s battle for influence in the Middle East.

In the library, which held books dating from the 11th Century, the historic Qurans and other religious books apparently meant little to the rebels fleeing French and Malian government troops. Rather, they were a target for a malicious mob.

The good news is that many significant manuscripts were saved and hidden, but the losses are still likely to be significant.

“People sometimes talk about the war against radical Salafi jihad groups as a clash of civilizations,” noted Walter Russell Mead of Bard College. “In reality, as the torching of the great library of Timbuktu, a world class repository of Islamic history, religious writing and culture, shows, this is a war against civilization being waged by barbarian know-nothings.”

Let the book-burners win, and the future of the Muslim world will be as fragile and endangered as the pages that went up in smoke in Timbuktu.