In what UNESCO is calling ‘Cultural Cleansing’, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have begun destroying 2000 year old Syrian statues in the ancient city of Palmyra and are claiming to have rigged the ancient ruins with explosives. This follows the systematic destruction of historical sites across the Middle East. So far ISIS has destroyed several sites across Iraq, which includes the destruction and looting of Mosul Museum, the destruction of the 3000 year old Assyrian city of Nimrud and the bulldozing of the 2000 year old fortress city of Hatra. Recently ISIS militants threatened to destroy Egypt’s Sphinx and pyramids.
While the world watches ISIS terrorists destroy the relics of the very birth place of civilization, we must reflect upon the reason why this is happening and how we have reached this point. These crimes against history are portrayed in the mainstream media as nothing more than the result of mindless destruction by ISIS barbarians. However it is in fact part of a US Government plan to balkanise the Syrian and Iraqi nation-states, and by attacking the heart of their nationalist identity, their history.
Systematic destruction of both Islamic and Non-Islamic sites.
The purpose of the focus on destroying historical sites partly stems from ISIS’s adherence to Wahhabi doctrine which is a Puritan interpretation of Islam. Islam forbids idolatry and in the mind set of Wahhabi extremism this translates to ‘all statues are forbidden’. This is how ISIS justifies the destruction of ancient statues, in spite of the fact no one worshiped those statues. The destruction of ancient tombs can also be explained by Wahhabi doctrine which is hostile to burial sites for fear they may become a site for veneration or worship.
But even Wahhabism does not explain the destruction of walls in ancient cities. It is argued that ISIS is destroying non-Islamic sites, to bury any history of pre-Islamic civilisation. It coincides with what has been the gradual ethnic cleansing of Middle East Christians over the last two decades. The Patriarch of Syriac Catholic church in Iraq, Ignatius Joseph III Yonan, described the destruction of Christian sites in Iraq as a conspiracy which the West is complicit. He told the Guardian that he believed it was part of a “Machiavellian strategy” by the West to evict Christians from their ancestral homes across the Middle East.
However, ISIS has also destroyed mosques and Islamic historical sites, revered by both the Shi’ite and Sunni sects. They have even threatened to destroy Mecca, the holiest site in Islam. The Saudi Arabian monarchy share the same Wahhabi ideology as ISIS, and they have been demolishing Saudi Arabian Islamic historical sites to make way for hotels and shopping centres. This has been on going since 1985 but the rate has recently increased in conjunction with the growth of ISIS. The Saudi regime has also destroyed UNESCO heritage listed buildings in the old town of Sanaa,Yemen, through a targeted air strike on the old town of Sanaa. This attack, like the ISIS attacks on old city buildings, cannot be explained by Wahhabism alone. But far from what are seemingly random acts of violence, there is an agenda behind the destruction but it belongs to the United Sates not ISIS.
The Al Qaeda linked JAN follows the same puritanical Wahhabi Islam as ISIS and Saudi Arabia, but they have not received the same coverage as ISIS in the mainstream media. Instead the Qatari interest groups, think tanks and the NATO media attempted to rebrand them as “moderate”.
Iraqi archaeologist and architect Ihsan Fathi stated that :
“Huge amounts of documents representing historical importance that cannot be assigned a monetary value were taken by the US.”
“The Iraqi government was trying to get them back but the American Administration wanted to strike a deal and return only half of the documents,” he explained.
Many of the looted artefacts ended up in New York, London and Israel. In 2008 Baghdad officials charged Christie’s auction house in New York, with trying to sell looted artefacts.
In all cases it was the intervention of the US and its allies that resulted in the destruction and theft of Middle Eastern history. The destruction was caused either directly by the actions of occupation forces or indirectly through the backing of extremist groups. The destruction of Antiquities has been to systematic and purposeful to pretend it was simple the result of a foreign policy mistakes.
An Attack on Nationalism and Identity
The destruction antiquities during invasions and occupation has been common occurrence through out history and is a way for the invading forces to loot a countries resources and demoralize the spirit of nationalism which may unify a country against the invader.
The Roman Empire applied the concept “Damnatio memoriae” (to remove from memory) to those it believed were its greatest enemies. The Romans advocated this against the city of Carthage and “sowed its the ground with salt” to prevent its inhabitants from prospering again. The Nazi plundering of cultural property from the territories it occupied is well documented. Britain, France and Germany also plundered the artefacts of Middle Eastern colonies after the first world war. Many Syrian and Egyptian artefacts remain at the Louvre Museum in Paris. In 2002, on year before the invasion, the Iraqi government appealed to Berlin for the return of the Babylon Gate.
The U.S. seems to have adopted the concept of “Damnation Memoria” against Iraq, Syria and perhaps the wider middle east. The plan to balkanise and redraw the Middle East was laid out by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006 called “The Project For a New middle East”. The US’s policies during the Iraq war, such as the use of death squads and the introduction of federalism, were designed to cause sectarian divisions. Even as early as 2007, think tanks such as the Brookings Institute were suggesting the ‘soft partition of Iraq’. In 2013, at the University of Michigan, Henry Kissinger stated that he would prefer to see the partition of Iraq and Syria. The strategy is becoming more and more openly discussed not only amongst think tanks but in the media.
The neocolonialist powers in the United states have exploited Wahhabism to pave the way towards balkanisation. Saudi Arabia, ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban have all been useful to this end. In the book Confessions of a British Spy and British Enmity Towards Islam it is claimed that Britain founded Wahhabism in order to weaken the ottoman empire. Whether or not the book’s claims are legitimate, it is clear that Wahhabism and specifically ISIS objectives fit seamless with the imperialist agenda of the United States. A declassified Defence Intelligence Agency document stated that creation of the Islamic State, would be useful in order to isolating Syria from Iraq and Iran. Dividing and conquering, these nations into sectarian based state lets in constant antagonism towards each other, will make them perpetually weak and unable to defend themselves. Israel has already set out its designs to claim the Golan heights as its own if Syria disintegrates.
The balkanisation process is expedited by dismantling a nations Identity. Syria and Iraq derive their national identity from there thousands of years of history. By destroying these ancient artifacts ISIS are wiping out any tangible evidence of Syrian and Iraqi ancient civilisations even existed. Looting these artifacts, and selling them to Europe and the US, also detaches these ancient civilisations from modern day Iraq and Syria. ISIS also useful in that it shares the US government’s disdain for middle eastern nationalism. They believe all loyalties should lie in religion rather than the nation state. British citizens of Pakistani origin who have joined ISIS are claiming Syria as land that belongs to them, though they have never stepped foot in Syria, simply because they perceive it to be a ‘Muslim country’.