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War on Civilization

Mar 11, 2015, 10:32 AM

Islamic State has turned from beheading hostages to waging war on the world’s cultural heritage. Last week the jihadist would-be caliphate posted a five-minute video of its members destroying statues in the Mosul museum with sledgehammers and power tools. This week its fanatics bulldozed the remains of the 3,000-year-old city of Nimrud.

In response the Iraqi government called for an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, and Irina Bokova, Unesco’s secretary-general, said the “deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime.”

Nimrud was capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in late 9th century B.C. and site of some of the earliest and most accomplished monumental architecture and sculpture. From an archaeological standpoint, Nimrud and the region generally have been a gold mine for understanding the ancient Near East and thus the birth of civilization. The Epic of Gilgamesh, the earliest epic poem and ancestor of “The Iliad,” “The Odyssey,” “Paradise Lost” and much else, was discovered at nearby Nineveh in the 19th century.

In its religiously motivated nihilism, Islamic State’s destruction echoes the Taliban’s desecration of the Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan in 2001. Though nominally about purging “idolatry,” the destruction of non-Islamic cultural heritage aims to eradicate all traces of civilization by pulverizing its artifacts. With the region and its peoples severed from all contact with their history, identity and inherited traditions, Islamic State will have a tabula rasa on which to inscribe its medieval sectarianism.

It may seem idle to bewail the destruction of cultural heritage in the face of Islamic State’s ritualized, public murder of innocents—journalists, aid workers, adherents to different faiths. Human life needs protecting from killers above all. But mankind’s cultural heritage connects us to the past and thus enriches the present and future. Islamic State’s eagerness to broadcast its war on art and history is further proof that it must be urgently confronted and destroyed.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

“ Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.”

Barbara Kingsolver