On February 26th, the terrorist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – most media sites now refer to them by an acronym: “ISIS” – released a video of one of their most recent attacks on the people of the Middle East: the reckless destruction of several priceless artifacts in the Mosul museum in Iraq. ISIS has committed worse crimes in their pursuit for power and political dominance: their merciless killing and displacement of thousands of people is obviously heinous (The Economist 7 March 2015). But one of the ways that you destroy a people is not just limited to its populace, but extends to its culture, its history, and it art.
As divided as we might think ourselves from this dilemma – given that we are in North America – this attack on historical artifacts should concern all of us. There is value in these pieces to so many different types of scholars: not just archaeologists and anthropologists, but historians, theologists, and others in a variety of fields, including political science and religious studies. Even artists, writers, journalists, and creative thinkers should see the value in these items: What do these priceless pieces tell us about the history of these people, their beliefs, thoughts and customs? How do these pieces fit within the larger collection of works that are historically important? What does their wanton destruction mean to the Iraqi people right now? Philosophically, how does the destruction of these statues and replicas fit within the overall scheme of the Islamic State? Is there enough left in records, drawings, and photographs for artisans to recreate what was lost?
These are just a few of the many questions that make the careless destruction in Mosul a question of concern for many people. At the same time, and in all parts of the world, humanities scholars are asked to provide positive proofs of the relevancy of their existence … and yet, here is that proof in front of us, ironically delivered by extremists: the way to break the spirit of a people is through the destruction of their identity, right down to their art, their history, and every iota of culture. Disguising their destruction as an act of righteousness in the name of religion (to “destroy idols,” of course), they have discovered that one way to consciously uproot a group of people is to attack the monuments to their culture. Art, history, culture, and literature all inherently have value because of what happens to a civilization when those aspects of life are destroyed, forgotten, or dismissed.
The only true question of our relevance as humanities scholars is this: What can we do to stand in the way of such wanton destruction?
“Destroying History’s Treasures.” The Economist Newspaper. 7 March 2015. Web. 9 March 2015.