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On Point

Why Violent Islamists Assault Antiquity


by Austin Bay
April 12, 2016

Violent political Islamists intentionally target irreplaceable archeological and historical sites for sensational obliteration.

Internet videos record the ISIS's calculated destruction of Syria's city of Palmyra. Prior to Palmyra, Nimrud (northern Iraq) was bulldozed before cameras. Jonah's Tomb (Jonah and the Whale), located in a mosque in the ISIS occupied city of Mosul, was blown to bits. ISIS radicals said Jonah's presence in the mosque was an apostasy.

Like beheading Arab Christians, raping Yazidi women, murdering captured Iraqi soldiers and burning alive a Sunni Muslim Jordanian Air Force officer -- all acts of heinous, premeditated cruelty -- violent Islamists see destroying prized non-Islamic and pre-Islamic cultural sites and art work is a theological-political commandment and a form of apocalyptic propaganda. In a video recording the systematic vandalism of Hatra (Iraq), an ISIS terrorist explains his actions: "We were ordered by our prophet to take down idols and destroy them, and the companions of the Prophet did this after his time, when they conquered countries."

ISIS's destruction of art and architecture does not fall to the evil depth of its mass rape, mass torture and mass murder of human beings. However, obliterating precious sculptures, mosaics and venerated tombs is also a crime against humanity.

Artists, archeologists and historians world-wide were appalled when ISIS commanders announced they would raze Palmyra. Despite the sincere and passionate appeals of said artists, archeologists and historians to spare the city, ISIS commanders proceeded to devastate it. Artists, archeologists, historians? So what. ISIS commanders have no respect for their expertise and opinions, unless, of course, the artist is that very rare sort who also happens to be an air force pilot dropping a smart bomb. Still, it isn't his opinion they respect, it's his appearance on the battlefield aiming a high explosive warhead at their headquarters bunker.

Palmyra and Nimrud were not the first time violent Islamists have targeted pre- and non-Islamic sites and shrines. In March 2001 the Taliban vandalized Afghanistan's 6th Century AD Bamiyan Buddas. The two giant buddhas, composites of stucco and sandstone in a mountain cliff, were a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The UNESCO declaration gave the Taliban and their leader, Mullah Omar, absolutely no pause. The Islamist thugs declared the buddhas idols, then dynamited and machine gunned the figures.

Taliban theologian-vandals were not only destroying idols, they were cleansing their domain of its "pagan" past. Pulverizing the Bamiyan Buddhas was a Taliban twofer, for the figures were both pre- Islamic and non-Islamic.

Violent Islamists are practicing what 19th century anarchists called propaganda by deed. "Civilizational cleansing" and "ethnic cleansing" (mass murder) connect violent Islamism with other totalitarian revolutionary movements, particularly Communist "progressive" movements. The Soviet Union's Josef Stalin, Cambodia's Pol Pot and China's Mao Tse-Tung murdered by the millions in order to start anew so they might create the Communist Man. To secure Workers Paradise, all is justified.

The Islamist version sends this message: relevant history begins with Islam's revelation of God. It may also end there. Destroying the pre-Islamic and non-Islamic past helps clear historical and theological obstructions to securing a radical Islamic present and the Islamic future.

ISIS Islamists, like corrupt Communist apparatchiks, aren't above making a few dinars or dollars or euros. Three art and antiquity preservationists, in a NY Times op-ed (Sept 2, 2014), accused ISIS of profiting from the illegal sale of antiquities.

Apostasy? Nay. The Islamists justified their gain as an "Islamic khums tax, according to which Muslims are required to pay a percentage of the value of any goods or treasure recovered from the ground."

To secure the Caliphate, all is justified.

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