In 2014 and 2015, the so-called Islamic State terrorist group – or ISIS, or Daesh if you prefer – destroyed priceless historical and cultural artefacts. The reason? To destroy Syrian and Iraqi identity and anything they deemed to be un-Islamic. Even though most Muslims in those countries had no wish to see their ancestors’ history turned to rubble.
Why is this relevant to the Knights Templar? Well, it’s relevant to both the Templars and the Saracens. Because these great ruins from ancient Assyria, Babylon and Rome that ISIS attacked were there for centuries. No Muslim or Christian took hammers to them. They respected those great structures or sometimes reused them for another purpose.
What is absolutely bizarre is that ISIS even blew up ancient Muslim shrines. This was because their particular interpretation of Islam forbids anything resembling idolatry. But it’s also a dislike of being eclipsed by great Muslim figures in the past. If it undermines the ISIS brand, then it has to be rubbed out.
This is an Orwellian attempt to rewrite history. Many of those wielding the sledgehammers or planting bombs weren’t even from Iraq or Syria. They were Chechens or Saudis or from the UK and France. These self-proclaimed jihadis had no emotional or ancestral connection to the things they were defiling.
The British Museum recently held an exhibition on the ancient Assyrian civilisation. It was a timely reminder that ISIS bulldozed archaeological sites at Nineveh, Nimrud and Hatra. They smashed up the museum at Mosul. And now, the much maligned British Museum is training Iraqi archaeologists – many of them women – to repair this damage. Of course, much of it is well beyond repair.
Some people might say – but what does it matter…surely people matter more than museum artefacts or archaeological sites? The answer is simple – the two things are not mutually exclusive. Why does ISIS go to such trouble to damage these things? Because it knows that wiping out traces of previous cultures is also a way of destroying human history, memory, pride, identity, etc. Wipe the slate clean and then ISIS can write the future.
It’s been described as another form of “scorched earth” policy. And it’s deliberately filmed by ISIS militants so that the message gets through to both local populations and the wider world. To local people it says: your past is irrelevant. To the wider world, it’s designed to engender a feeling of helplessness – there is nothing we can do, just let it happen.