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Feature || ISIS & The Art of Culture Cleansing

The destruction at Palmyra

Perhaps the most lasting aspect of factional terrorism is the amount of cultural genocide it inflicts, which not only scar a few generations but has a cumulative effect on the lives of every single future generation too.

It this this deranged desire to rewrite history by eliminating its physical manifestations and/or practitioners that prompts outfits like the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) to execute Khaled al-Asaad, an 82 year old antiquities scholar, who gave up his life to defend the secret of where a major stash of artifacts belonging to the ancient city of Palmyra had been hidden for safekeeping.

The incident does have the ring of a prologue to a grand adventure saga befitting an Indiana Jones film. What it lacks, of course, is that braveheart figure of an individual who has enough of the devil in him to con his way into enemy territory, rescuing the past and in the process, secure revenge for the man who was brutally slaughtered and hung on a pillar of his own beloved city.

It is our misfortune that life does not always imitate¬† popular art – poetic justice is not rendered on a daily basis and the sinners who sin in the name of “God” do not always get to face the divine wrath of the almighty.

A crumbling historical edifice and its oculus in yet another of the destroyed sites

ISIS, in conjunction with the customary beheading caught on camera for the world to witness, mass executions and countless abductions (including Indian professors), has been on a murderous spree of cultural annihilation as well. They expressly wish to erase every trace of pre-Islamic culture, Shi’ite, Sufi and Christian shrines in the region they have forcibly occupied and have already inflicted enough damage to the seat of some of the oldest civilizations in human history. From the ancient Assyrian¬† gateway in Al-Raqqah to laying waste to the Mosul Museum; they razed to the ground the ancient city of Nimrud and desecrated several tombs & shrines including those of Fathi al-Ka’en, phophets Daniel, Jonah and Jijris besides destroying several Sufi shrines in Tripoli, Libya.

Part of their agenda also is to smuggle many of these artifacts which fetch a decent amount in the international dark markets, which would then be utilised in funding their sadistic dreams. A blight in the name of the followers of Islam everywhere, ISIS has joined the leagues of the Taliban, infamous for destroying the historical Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001 & the Nazis, whose hatred of books and incessant attempts at a misguided culture cleansing is a well-known fact!

While the Western nations, including the United States (which, ironically, is the chief crusader of the anti-ISIS coalition), have had the dubious record of being involved in smuggling or forcible acquisition of artifacts bearing great historical and monetary value to either sell them to the highest bidder or put them in their museum displays, the tendency of destroying them with an objective to eradicate history itself must be condemned and put to a stop at all costs.

While the audacity of this group of Godless terrorists occupying pockets in Iraq, Syria, Sinai, Afghanistan and Libya keep escalating, criticisms can easily be directed at those powerful Western nations who have been instrumental in creating the vacuum that the ISIS has risen to occupy.

The slain antiquities scholar Khaled al-Asaad who was 82 years old

The death of Khaled al-Asaad is a tragic truth that can never be undone. What the world needs to do, however, is not let the man’s sacrifice go in vain. The erudite scholar had spent the major part of his life studying and preserving the treasures of Palmyra. It was easier for him to withstand the interrogation of the terrorists for a month and give up on his life than hand over his lives’ work to a band of deranged psychopaths.

Asaad’s story, as mentioned earlier, is all but a prologue and nothing is really ‘safe’ yet. ISIS has already destroyed a large percentage of archaeological treasures in the occupied territories. It is fairly obvious that they will keep doing the same until they are dealt with in a manner befitting their deeds.

The Islamic world and the rest must stand in unison against these terrorists who are growing in strength and number every single minute that is being wasted on discussing the course of action that ought to be adopted against them. Recalling Mr. Dylan it is high time we ask ourselves, ‘How many deaths will it take till he knows… That too many people have died?’ []

First Published: CultureCult Magazine, Issue One: October 2015