The occupation of Palmyra by 'Islamic State' is a disaster both for the local population and the city's unique cultural heritage. Its foreseeable destruction has a clear aim, writes Anne Allmeling from Cairo.
The pattern always seems to be the same. Supporters of the self-proclaimed 'Islamic State' (IS) take control of a historical site, terrorize the local population, drive tens of thousands of people from their homes. The cultural heritage is tackled next: statues, excavation sites, ancient cities - the terrorists pillage and demolish them with a determination which shocks not just antiquity experts.
The extremists' motivation is clear: Nothing is to remain of a culture of pre-Islamic days, of an age when the people of Mesopotamia did not worship one God but many - or, as the extremists suggest - the wrong one. Of everything that existed prior to Muhammad, nothing is sacred to the terrorists. They annihilate everything which runs afoul of their narrow interpretation of Islam.
The whole world as witness to cultural impiety
Systematic annihilation of cultural assets has occurred throughout history. A new dimension, however, is added by the fact that today the whole world is watching. 'IS' supporters capture their approach - and the resulting destruction - on film. On the Internet, everyone can watch their videos, showing how they blow up Nimrud, an ancient Iraqi city dating back to the 13th century B.C., or how they demolish artifacts dating from the Assyrian empire in Iraq's Mosul museum.
The extremists calculate that they manage to destroy national identity in Syria and in Iraq with every statue and every stone that is pulverized by the hands of the self-proclaimed jihadists. That is exactly what 'IS' wants: setting up a caliphate, instead of nation states. Establishing Sharia law, instead of secular jurisdiction. One single ideology, instead of cultural diversity. Delusions of grandeur, instead of creativity.
'IS' does not create anything new
Wherever they go, the extremists leave behind devastation and scorched earth. In the process, the people in Iraq and Syria are deprived of their livelihoods, and the little freedom they may have had. New ideas, innovations - the extremists reject all of it. Only when it comes to terror and destruction, every means justifies their ends. Significantly, they take advantage of means of the modern age as well - they are essential even for 'IS.'
The horror, the outrage and also the perplexity which their barbarity has sparked - not just in the West - are translated into 'victory' by 'IS' supporters - a 'victory' which is to distract attention from the occasional setbacks the extremists are suffering on other fronts.
That is, perhaps, the only good news related to their vandalism: in the long term, 'Islamic State' cannot prevail, because it does not leave behind anything that it has built with its own hands.
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