ISIS Archeology Porn: Terrorists Destroy History (and Distort Islamic History, Too)

London–(Updates with link to UNESCO statement) The vandals of the Islamic state are rampaging through Iraq’s ancient heritage and it’s not simply because they think the relics are pagan idols. It’s really because, in their mind, Muslims cannot abide the existence of non-Islamic culture.

ISIS at Work: Mosul Museum, March, 2015

The destruction of statues and reliefs in the Mosul museum in March and currently the 2000-year of ruins of Nimrud are reminiscent of the 2001 dynamiting of Buddhist statues in Afghanistan by the Taliban rulers of the time. Even among the Taliban there was disagreement over whether to destroy the imposing statues and Taliban leader Mullah Omar argued against bringing them down because no one around was worshipping them so they didn’t qualify as idols.

But he ordered the demolition anyway after scholars said the giant sculptures affronted Islamic law.

There was no such hesitation for the Islamic State of Iraq and Shams (Shams being Arabic for Greater Syria) as it battered Assyrian antiquities. ISIS concocted a further argument to justify the destruction: pre-Islamic relics undermine the practice of Islam and even encourages Muslims to give up their religion. The group revels in making videos of the destruction. (See the latest here)

The basis for this notion is rooted in the beliefs of two ultraconservative branches of Islam, Salafism and Wahhabism, that informISIS and other radical Islamist groups. Each sect believes that outside influences sully Sunni Islam, the mainstream branch, tempt Muslims away from the their faith and inhibit Islam from reaching its true glory.  The negative influences are not limited to dead cultures and faiths; they encompass Judaism and Christianity, non-Sunni Muslim sects, in particular Shiite Islam, not to mention Buddhism, Hinduism and Western secular culture.

This exclusionary outlook assumes that true Islam grew up in desert isolation in the Seventh Century, when Muhammed began to preach and lead his followers. This is false. The Arabian Peninsula where Islam was born traded and communicated with the outside world and absorbed other religions and cultures.

In the conquests outside of Arabia, Muslim armies took lands that were under the sway of the Byzantine and Persian empires. Each had deep traditions of art, architecture, philosophy, science and literature. Early Islamic rulers by and large welcomed the infusion of these ideas and the mingling of cultures. Muslim scholars translated science, mathematics and music. Poetry flowed into the Middle East from as far away as India. The House of Wisdom in Baghdad, the third capital of the Islamic caliphate, gathered together scholars from all communities and religions to translate and debate classic non-Islamic texts.

Islamic historians describe the fusion of cultures in the early Muslim empires as the flowering of Islamic civilization. “Throughout the first four centuries of Islam, one does not witness the synthesis or homogenization of different cultures but rather their transmittal through, and at times their absorption into, the Islamic framework of values,” wrote M. Cherif Bassiouni, a law professor at De Paul University and an international human rights activist.

ISIS goes against the grain of all this. It has blown up Mosul’s Tomb of Jonah, a pilgrimage site for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. They have torn down the walls of Nineveh, the capital of ancient Assyria, all in the name of Islamic purity. Now they are busily vandalizing Nimrud. Such radicals may talk about reconquering Andalucía, but it’s not about reviving its Medieval Golden Age habits of tolerance and learning. Eventually, Muslims themselves will turn against wanton devastation of their own history. But before then, much will be lost.

Here is Bassiouni’s essay of Islamic civilization.

For further homework, try this treatise on Baghdad during its Golden Age and a book review of “In God’s Path,” about the development of the early Muslim empire.

In July, UNESCO head warns of ‘culture cleansing.

Daniel Williams

Published by Daniel Williams

I am a former correspondent who, for more than 30 years, did time in China, Southeast Asia, Central America, Mexico, the Middle East, Europe and Africa and covered wars that went from episodic to non-stop. My book, "Forsaken," about Christian persecution in the Middle East came out January, 2016. NextWarNotes is a news and analysis blog designed to fill gaps, provide background and think about what’s next. The name of the site comes from a 1935 article by Ernest Hemingway in Esquire Magazine called “Notes on the Next War,” in which he predicted the coming conflagration in Europe, told why it would happen and warned Americans to stay out.

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