The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Islam Destroys Its Own Heritage...and Ours

There have been more than a few news stories in recent years describing the destruction of ancient sites and artifacts by so-called fundamentalist Muslim groups such as the Taliban and the Islamic State (ISIL, ISIS, whatever...). I suppose the first to make actual headlines was the Taliban's 2001 destruction of two giant statues of Buddha that had been carved into an Afghan mountainside 1,500 years ago, before the advent of Islam. Taliban soldiers spent an entire day pulverizing the statues with dynamite, rockets, artillery and tank fire. This was, of course just the beginning of a far more widespread destruction ordered by Mullah Mohammed Omar, then the Taliban's spiritual leader. It was recently learned that the good mullah died of TB In Pakistan a couple of years ago. Anyway, while he was still alive he stated that he really didn't want to destroy the Buddhas, but eventually went along with it because the West was more concerned about saving the ancient statues than feeding the starving Afghan people. The fact that he and his followers were largely responsible for that starvation seemed to escape him. Of course he also came to believe he was simply following Islamic teaching that declared all images to be nothing less than idolatry and, therefore, worthy of complete destruction. Presumably, his decision also gave the Taliban troops some needed target practice in the absence of women, children and infidels.
One of the Bamiyan Buddhas - 1963 (left), after destruction (right)

Shortly after the destruction of the Buddhas was confirmed, Unesco's director-general, Koichiro Matsuura, was all aflutter and stated: "Words fail me to describe adequately my feelings of consternation and powerlessness as I see reports of the irreversible damage that is being done to Afghanistan's exceptional cultural heritage." Boy, did he nail it: "consternation and powerlessness" -- the perfect description of the United Nations at work.

The Taliban, who make the Byzantine iconoclasts look like rank amateurs, continued their frantic work of idol destruction until our response to the 9-11 attack forced them to realign their least for a time. Allowed by the Pakistanis -- another of our helpful and loyal Middle Eastern allies -- to operate in Afghanistan from bases across the border, the Taliban are making a comeback of sorts. Should they succeed and once again rule Afghanistan, one can only assume they will pick up where they left off and find other Buddhas to erase.

The Taliban are not unique. Since our departure from Iraq, the Islamic State now controls a large hunk of Iraqi territory, not to mention its expanding presence in Syria. Actually the Islamic State has a presence in much of the Middle East and North Africa. See the map (below) to get a sense of the reach of this growing threat, one that our president labeled the J. V. team. 
Islamic State control and influence
The Islamic State has become infamous largely for its televised beheadings of Christians and others whose beliefs conflict with their own. It's enough to say that the warriors of the Islamic State behead those they consider infidels in direct obedience to Quran 8:12 witch is pretty explicit:
"When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them."
Like the Taliban, the Islamic State doesn't stop with murder and mayhem. It also considers all shrines, monuments, temples and churches -- any relic of infidel idolatry -- to be worthy of only one thing: complete destruction. They even destroy mosques if they happen to reflect religious thinking contrary to their understanding of shariah. In Iraq the Islamic State has been bulldozing or blowing up countless Muslim shrines and tombs. For example, last year in Mosul ISIS destroyed what Muslims believe to be the tomb of the prophet Daniel along with the tomb and mosque of the prophet Jonah. They haven't limited their destruction to Iraq, but have obliterated many ancient Muslim tombs and mosques in Syria, Libya and wherever else the Islamic State exerts control. They have also murdered any Muslims, including even Imams, who might object.
Islamic State destroyed the Mosque of the Prophet Jirjis in 2014
Of course, the Islamic State has focused most of its destructive energy on the Christian churches of Syria and Iraq. Many of these churches date as far back as the 6th and 7th centuries. They are now gone, completely destroyed. In too many instances worshipers were inside these churches and perished when their spiritual homes were blown up or burned.
Islamic State destroying artifacts at the Mosul Museum
The Islamic State has also targeted many of the most ancient sites in the Middle East. Nimrud, a 13th -century B.C. Assyrian city, has been leveled as have a number of other equally ancient cities, virtually all of them World Heritage Sites.
Mosul Christian Church destroyed; four children murdered
As a result of all this, Secretary of State John Kerry has threatened "to comprehensively document the condition of, and threats to, cultural heritage sites in Iraq and Syria to assess their future restoration, preservation, and protection needs." But that's not all. UNESCO has labeled the destruction of Nimrud a war crime and the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the Islamic State's destruction of cultural heritage. Wow! If these actions by the global community don't put a stop to the destruction, nothing will. I wonder if the State Department and the UN will also document the widespread murder of Christians, so widespread it borders on genocide, by the Islamic State wherever it holds sway. After all, there's nothing like a document or two to strike fear in the hearts of barbarians.

Of course, none of this is new in the Islamic world, neither is it limited to destruction carried out by the Taliban and Islamic State. In 2011 Egyptian Muslim mobs attacked the L'Institut de l'Egypte, a truly venerable institution of learning in Cairo. It contained a 200,000 volume library that focused on all aspects of Egyptian history and life. The mob attacked it with Molotov cocktails and burned its entire contents while soldiers of the regime (then strongly affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood) stood by laughing.
The mob outside the Burnded-out Shell of L'Institute de l'Egypte
These same mobs, again abetted by the police and the military, have destroyed Coptic Christian churches regularly throughout Egypt.

Interestingly, Muslims not only object to the shrines and churches, historic and modern, of other faiths, but they also seem to enjoy destroying their own heritage. For example, over the past 30 years the Saudi government has destroyed over 98% of the Kingdom's historic and religious sites -- this according to the UK's Islamic Heritage Research Foundation. This would be similar to the Catholic Church demolishing every Gothic and Romanesque Cathedral in Europe. Even the most secular of atheists would object, if only on aesthetic and historical grounds.

I can recall, back in my high school years (over 50 years ago), reading a book that described the destructive nature of Islam as it spread across the Middle East and North Africa. It would seem very little has changed.

Of course, while we bemoan the loss of so many churches and ancient historic sites, we must focus first on the genocide being carried out throughout the Islamic world. The Christian communities, that have been a vibrant part of the Middle East since the time of Christ, are being systematically destroyed while we sit back and do little or nothing. Oh, yes, we have been doing something: we've been enabling the Iranians, in effect giving them billions which they will happily funnel into any number of terrorist organizations. 

Pray for the brave and faithful Christians of the Middle east.

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