In 2012, United States troops in Afghanistan carelessly disposed of old Korans by burning them. This action sparked retaliatory riots in which over twenty people died and hundreds were injured. The troops’ deeds drew widespread international condemnation and prompted President Obama to issue a grovelling apology to his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai. [Ref 1-3]
As a self-professed book-lover, you can imagine what the thought of burning any book does to me. The mummified remains of my old books, too battered to even be accepted by Oxfam, are held together with sellotape bandaging. But destroying a holy book! I’m an atheist, and even I’m not okay with that.
But if burning a copy of a holy book, of which there are millions of other copies, is a sacrilegious and profane act — and I think as a general rule that it is –, then what do we call the destruction of ancient statues and cities, of which only one copy exists and which can never be reproduced? “Profane” and “Sacrilege” don’t seem to be strong enough words.
I am of course talking about the ignoramuses of Islamic State who have now destroyed the ancient city of Nimrud. [Ref 4] This city was a world treasure, now it’s trash. But now IS have announced that they will soon destroy Hatra — the 2300 year old city, featured in the film The Exorcist, heralded as “one of the most impressive of Iraq’s archaeological sites”. [Ref 5] It’s so impressive, in fact, that Saddam Hussein zestily began restoration work. [Ref 6] Saddam Hussein: genocidal dictator, and connoisseur of fine art, apparently. The irony of this situation, IS taking filling the vacuum left by Saddam Hussein who we toppled, can be lost on no one.
If the names Nimrud and Hatra don’t quite stir you up, imagine instead The Great Pyramids of Giza being bulldozed. That is the exact kind of sacrilege and profaneness we are talking about here. This is an affront to the very dignity of mankind. In the words of UNESCO, “With this latest act of barbarism against Hatra, (the IS group) shows the contempt in which it holds the history and heritage of Arab people”. And I would add, “and of all people”.
Islamic State’s cultural barbarity surely now far exceeds that of the Taliban and their infamous 2001 destruction of the 1500 year old, 180 and 121 foot high Buddhas of Bamiyan.
Islamic State are causing untold suffering, not just through the brutal treatment, torture and killing of innocents, not just through the vile regime they are presiding over, and through the instability and damage they are doing to world order and the untold increase in misery and suffering that they bring. But more than that, they are busily destroying mankind’s heritage, wiping out man’s history. This is the very definition of profane, the very definition of sacrilege.
Any tinpot group of idiots can kill or torture a few hostages, but it takes a special brand of evil and demented idiocy to commit such acts of sacrilege. UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova has accurately condemned the destruction, saying, “The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime.” [Ref 7] There can be no doubt of this: it is every bit a war crime as their savage executions. Islamic State surely is the most flagrant case of false advertising ever; the very name suggests piety and holiness, yet IS show themselves to be the most profane and sacrilegious group in recent history.
The question is, what do we do about it? The destruction of these sites is not merely a mild aggravation, the demolition of a bunch of decayed old stuff, interesting only to a motley bunch of university lecturers. These Islamic State acts of cultural vandalism are nothing short of a savage attack on mankind’s dignity, an attempt to make real Orwell’s nightmare scenario: total enslavement of mankind’s future by destruction of mankind’s past.
Hard decisions need to be made. The region must be re-stabilised. Therefore, Kurdish independence or deposing Assad in Syria are both off the menu for the foreseeable future. And surely a strong Iraqi state must form the centrepiece of any solution. But how to achieve that? I was 100% against the War in Iraq. Yet that mistake of a war cannot now be undone. Therefore, I’m dragged to an upsetting conclusion: it may be time to face facts and realise that only sending the troops back into Iraq will restore 0rder. We’ve been left militarily, ideologically, and emotionally exhausted by the Iraq War, yes. The last intervention in Iraq caused the mess we’re in now, undoubtedly. But we either intervene militarily right now, or we wait until Iraq falls into chaos and we are forced to send the troops in then — not to depose an enfeebled leader, Saddam Hussein, but a vigorous and fanatical IS regime. Better to cut this cancer of Islamic State out now before it metastasises.
image of Hatra from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hatra_ruins.jpg
image of larger Bamiyan Buddha from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhas_of_Bamiyan#mediaviewer/File:Taller_Buddha_of_Bamiyan_before_and_after_destruction.jpg
featured image from http://www.ccwa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/islamic-state-flag-sm.jpg
© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry