ISIS has not only been destroying ancient Roman and Assyrian monuments but also the medieval Christian and Muslim heritage of Syria and Iraq. For example, the Mar Elian monastery dated back to the 4th century when the Roman empire converted to Christianity. ISIS bulldozers brought its walls crashing down.
Dura-Europos was described as the Pompeii of the desert yielding amazing remains of Roman armour and many temples. Needless to say that aerial photographs show it to have now been looted and demolished in a mindless display of barbarism.
Mosul saw the infamous attack on the city’s museum but less well reported was the burning of the university library and the central public library. In those flames went thousands of ancient books, manuscripts and scientific instruments developed by medieval Arabic scholars. UNESCO said it was possibly one of the worst destructions of libraries in history.
The Mar Behnam monastery survived centuries of the Islamic caliphate and the Mongol invasion of the Middle Ages. But then ISIS showed up and rigged the 4th century site with explosives pulverising a saint’s tomb and exquisite decoration.
Why to these terrorists do this? And should we care – because don’t human lives come first?
Well, they carry out this wanton vandalism because the aim is to destroy identities as much as lives. ISIS wants to turn history back to a kind of year zero where everything that happened before doesn’t matter or is sinful. It’s a form of theological nihilism.
And of course human lives come first. But every Syrian and Iraqi I know weeps for the lost treasures of their lands. They know that the pillaging and wrecking of their heritage is deliberate and calculated. We should stand by them in defence of these great historical treasures.