Civilization: The Biggest Casualty of ISIS

Source: Marc DeVille -Gamma Rapho -GettyImages / NBC News

Source: Marc DeVille -Gamma Rapho -GettyImages / NBC News

Conservative Muslims often lament about the unspeakable destruction and atrocities wrecked by the barbarian hordes of the Mongol warrior Helugu Khan on the Islamic Caliphate. The siege of Baghdad by Helugu led to the destruction of the Grand Library of the city, which arguably kept the most important and valuable knowledge at the time. Apart from slaughtering hundreds of thousands, he went on to invade Syria and cause great cultural damage.

It is only ironic that the political institution that represented civilization then, and suffered at the hands of cultural terrorism, is now at war with civilization itself. Critics may not even consider the Islamic State as a valid Caliphate, and surely you can hardly establish equivalence between the cultured Abbasids and the morally crude ISIS. Yet, this is what the forces claiming to establish a true Islamic State have become. It would not be incorrect to say that surviving centuries of hardship and chaos, the manifold cultural heritage of Mesopotamia and Syria had remained pretty much intact.

Until the modern Syrian civil war, a destructive and unproductive campaign backed by the most civilized nations of the modern age.

From destruction of Nimrod to the fall of Palmyra, Islamic State has been deliberately waging war against the cultural heritage of the land.

The most recent painful occurrence has been the brutal murder of Khaled Al-Asaad, Syrian archeologist and the Head of Antiquities for the ancient ruins of Palmyra, who had served for over 40 years. It is reported that he refused to guide the ISIS warriors to a hidden treasure, on which they beheaded him. A local archeology pioneer leading discovery of several precious artifacts, Khaled Al-Asaad insisted on staying in Palmyra, despite ISIS entering the city, and was blamed to be a supporter of the Assad regime on capture.

It is simply a sad state of affairs that the ISIS has become a largely acceptable face of the Sunni resistance in Iraq and Syria to the central pro-Shia regimes. It is disappointing what the ground forces have come down to in the region, and how their strategy is making it hard to counter them with every passing day.

When you secure sites such as the ancient city of Palmyra, it becomes almost impossible for a liberating force to retake it without damaging the irreplaceable structures. We witnessed that when the Syrian opposition took over the ancient district of Aleppo, which was largely destroyed by shelling from Assad’s forces. Recently, ISIS has even threatened to blow up the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. While the very idea sounds insane due to the sheer size of the Pyramids, it offers some insight into the minds of the Islamic State. It shows you what they are thinking about the ancient heritage of the region.

Source: alarabiya.net

Source: alarabiya.net

The objective of ISIS is clear. To wipe out the ancient history of the Middle East to bring it in accordance with their faith. They do not want to see images carved on walls in the form of bas relief and mosaic art and will have them removed. They do not want to see the images of false gods anywhere on the land that falls under their domain. In the manner of the Taliban destroying the Bamiyan Buddha statues, they would rather blow up these irreplaceable and precious artifacts and buildings.

This is why the entire ISIS campaign has been such a massive loss for civilization and humanity in general. Most of the damage that they are doing, which only compounds the misery of the human tragedy of their atrocities.

We probably cannot help undo the damage done by ISIS, because we were too busy standing by and witnessing the destruction of civilization, and were content by simply reporting the disaster. But this aspect of the war that ISIS is waging on humanity is a race against the clock as well. We only have so much time to prevent them from doing further damage.

Heroes such as Khaled Al-Assad have fallen protecting the ancient heritage of Syria, and of human civilization, but is anyone else willing to offer the sacrifice?

I still recall the horrifying images of the looting at the National Museum when Baghdad fell to the United States troops in 2003. People were running around with artifacts, almost on the watch of the guards from the US Marines, who preferred safeguarding the oil ministry building instead. Already warned about the significance of the museum, it would hardly be an exaggeration to blame the US administration and military commanders of the time for the loss.

The same apathetic indifference of the leaders and the largest military force of the civilized world, deflecting the obvious solutions with direction-less intellectual political analysis, is staggering to those who mourn the loss of a civilization at the hands of Islamic State.

Now that the National Museum of Baghdad has been opened again with some recovered artifacts, the risk from the threat of ISIS has never been greater. UNESCO had actually called for an emergency meeting to discuss how to protect it, and the United Nations called for stopping ISIS from taking Palmyra. But who is listening anyway?

While the world stands by silently and watches one of the most barbaric militant groups in history blast the greatest artifacts of human civilization to dust, you can only wonder about the possible solution.

Unless there is a sizeable allied ground force in Iraq and Syria, which can effectively counter the influence and advance of ISIS, we will never be able to save the heritage of mankind from complete annihilation. But would they be careful enough to leave the delicate heritage sites untouched?

Whether it is just the US troops, or ideally a UN international peacekeeping coalition led by it, we need to make a decision fast.

The clock is ticking.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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The Destruction of Ziarat Residency and Rational Criticism

Source: AP/Express Tribune

Source: AP/Express Tribune

It takes the simplest of incidents to illustrate the most obnoxious behaviors and opinions. There could not have been a better one than the destruction of the Ziarat Residency at the hands of the Baluchistan Liberation Army.

I have used the words of rational criticism in the title, because this post would mainly address the otherwise rational critics who think that the loss of Ziarat residency is some kind of a heroic act, or perhaps one that must not be condemned because some people are not condemning worse incidents, such as loss of human lives, since people in our country are always so concerned about who is condemning and not condemning something.

A lot of interesting comments about the destruction of Ziarat Residency have been appearing. The likes of, people are worried about that building and not worried about the deaths of the Balochs. People are worried about a colonial building in which Mr. Jinnah was held under “house arrest”. Why the hell are you upset about a destroyed building. There is no mention of the other terrorist attack killing college going girls in Quetta.

First of all, it is unfortunate that political ideology prevents people from seeing things the way they are. This is why I am sickened by jingoistic ideologues on both sides of the fence as far as the matter of the Ziarat Residency attack is concerned, that is, the Pakistani nationalists and anti-Pakistan nationalists.

To me, this is not a matter of patriotism at all, unlike most Pakistanis. But I must observe that the stance of anti-Pakistan nationalists defending the destruction of the Ziarat Residency is ridiculous when compared to that of their counterparts.

The prime logical fallacy in their arguments is that they think that one wrong act should be ignored just because other greater evils are taking place or, in other words, the appeal to worse problems. This deserves a round of applause.

I personally see the Ziarat Residency as a historical colonial building that stood there way before Mr. Jinnah ever set foot in it and before his belongings were ever placed there. And its destruction is an irreparable and irreversible loss.

The point is that Ziarat Residency is just a building, and that too, a historical one. So what if it is colonial? And so what if Mr. Jinnah stayed here during his last days?

The general secretary, that is the mouthpiece, of the Baluchistan based Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Akram Shah made a statement that the Ziarat Residency is nothing more than a colonial structure and a symbol of slavery.

You know what, I agree with him. But the impression that Mr. Shah is trying to create over here is that the loss of Ziarat Residency does not matter.

Now isn’t that charming? I have a huge list of symbols of slavery all over India and the world to be burned down for that matter. Because such structures are so evil that the world would be a better place without them.

My problem with his statement is not that he rejects the connection of the building with the Pakistani national heritage and Jinnah, unlike most Pakistanis, but that he thinks that the loss of a colonial structure does not matter at all. Instead of apologizing the failure of his coalition government’s failure to save this historical landmark, he is offering excuses for the attack.

So the historical heritage of the building makes it important, whether or not it had anything to do with Mr. Jinnah or anyone else. And even if it was about Jinnah, so what? Have the citizens of Mumbai destroyed Jinnah’s residence, Jinnah House, at Malabar Hill? No. Can’t figure it out? Because they are apparently not stupid.

Historical structures, whether secular or religious, are important because these are not only important landmarks and sources of wonder and inspiration for generations, but also a record of human civilization. Therefore, to me, the destruction of the Bamyan Buddha statues is as painful an incident as the looting of the Baghdad National Museum, or the damage to the heritage structures in Aleppo, Syria, or the rioting inside the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo or even the destruction of the Ziarat Residency.

And destruction of such structures in troubled states where people are dying only adds insult to injury. It would not offer any solace to the mourning.

I detest people justifying these stupid acts in the name of politics, religion and freedom.

Ziarat Residency Before Destruction  Source: Express Tribune

Ziarat Residency Before Destruction
Source: Express Tribune

The Baluchistan Liberation Army destroying this building is certainly a sign of defiance of the state. It’s probably good for them as a statement, but it really proves their stupidity to me, now that they are targeting historic landmarks of Baluchistan instead of focusing attacks on the Pakistani military. So this is what it has come down to? For a neutral observer, this rather unnecessary act of terrorism damages the image of their campaign.

Indeed, I am guilty over here of claiming to have a more superior opinion to my critics in this post, but not a moral or a righteous one please, just objective and common sense. I am prepared to be declared an immoral man for holding this opinion. Because it is the people I am criticizing who bring morality into it, not me.

I am least concerned with the jingoistic political morality surrounding this incident, which is just another case of criminal arson. The loss of a historical structure is the loss of the entire humanity, not a loss of any particular people or state.

The argument over here is not left versus right, Pakistani colonial rule versus liberation fighters and state nationalists versus ethnic nationalists. The argument over here is common sense versus nonsense.

For those considering  the destruction of Ziarat Residency a heroic act, this post is not an apology for ambiguous ideals such as Pakistani nationalism and patriotism. It is just to explain why you are stupid.