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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 November 2018

Mosul attacks are an outrage

The destruction of ancient artefacts shows that the extremists are warped philosophically
Militants take sledgehammers to an ancient artifact in the Ninevah Museum in Mosul. AP Photo via militant social media account
Militants take sledgehammers to an ancient artifact in the Ninevah Museum in Mosul. AP Photo via militant social media account

Every time a bunch of barbarians destroy artefacts of cultural significance, there are calls to remember the human destruction as well. That is as it should be. The worst destruction to come out of the cancer of ISIL has been in human terms.

Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes, have lost family members and live in daily fear. That sort of suffering cannot be conveyed in the mass media.

Yet the destruction of artefacts is also a destruction of a people, a wiping out of their cultural heritage and memory. Whether with the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, the destruction of Syria’s great architecture and art during the civil war, the burning of old manuscripts in Timbuktu or ISIL’s rampages across Iraq, wiping out the traces of past civilisation diminishes those who live in the present.

It is right, then, to be outraged by ISIL’s destruction of the glories of Iraq’s past. And outraged not merely that the group committed such destruction, but outraged at why they claim to have done so. For the ISIL vision of the world and their understanding of theology that they claim justifies such acts, are profoundly warped.

They are warped philosophically – there is a tragic nihilism behind ISIL’s destruction, a belief that nothing can truly matter except their limited worldview, neither human life, nor cultural production. But their views are also warped theologically and historically. The narrow, austere beliefs about Islam that ISIL subscribes to are unsupported by the teachings of the faith nor by history. After the early Muslims conquered the Sassanian Empire (in what is now Iran), they neither destroyed places of worship nor forced the Persians to convert.

Indeed, the most damning evidence against ISIL’s belief is the most obvious: that these artefacts have been preserved, promoted and studied in Mosul for years. Mosul has been governed by Muslims since sometime in the mid-7th century. For 14 centuries, scholars have studied the Quran and none has come to the conclusion that these artefacts should be harmed. The truth is that the thugs of ISIL have brought no new theological understandings, just the oldest method of brutes with brute strength.