By An Editorial in Pioneer
27 May, 2015
Since the 2011 Arab uprising, Islamist terror groups in West Asia have not only destablised entire nations but have also threatened to snap mankind's civilisational linkages with its ancient past. Not satisfied with having laid waste to modern-day Iraq and Syria, the savages of the Islamic State are steadily obliterating the historical remnants of the ancient empires of Mesopotamia, Rome and Greece — one museum, statue, temple and tomb at a time. The Syrian city of Palmyria, which was recently run over by the Islamic State, is only the latest casualty in this civilisational clash. The oasis town to the north of Damascus has a history that goes back to 7500 BC. It reached the zenith of its glory during the Roman era when it became an important thoroughfare for caravans on the southern branch of the Silk Road.
Autonomous since 129 AD, the city grew into a mini-empire in its own right and boasted of a unique amalgamation of Greek, Roman and Persian cultures. This was best displayed in Palmyrian architecture, which the jihadis now seek to destroy — much as they have demolished the ruins of other ancient Syrian and even Iraqi cities and archaeological sites. In Syria, World Heritage Sites such as the Saint Simeon Church and the Aleppo Citadel have become battlefields and suffered irreversible damage. In Iraq, sites that may have survived the civil war have been deliberately destroyed by the extremists looking to impose their puritanical (read, warped) vision of Islam. In March, the Islamic State attacked the ruins in Hatra in northern Iraq.
Hatra, which lies about 110km south of the group's stronghold in Mosul, dates back 2,000 years to the Seleucid empire and is famous for its pillared temple which blends Greco-Roman and West Asian architectures. The Islamic State also ransacked the Mosul museum, after having burnt thousands of Ottoman-era books and rare manuscripts from the Mosul Library. The 3,000-year old city of Nimrud, the first capital of the Assyrian empire, was also not spared: Islamic State terrorists attacked the ruins with sledgehammers, before to blow it up. Khorsabad, another Assyrian capital, has also been destroyed. This list can go on, especially if one includes the numerous churches and temples that have been attacked, including the tomb of St Jonah's, revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.
Much of what the Islamic State is razing to the ground today in the name of Islam was built before the time of Prophet Mohammed. But perhaps that is the point: To destroy the region's heterogeneous civilisational identity, which predates Islam and includes other religions. This is precisely what the world had seen more than two decades when the Taliban bombed the sixth century Buddha caves and statues in Bamiyan. They too had the same aim: To disfigure Afghanistan's civilisational identity and impose a monolithic view of Islam that excludes indigenous traditions, cultures and beliefs.