Middle East vandalism is destroying centuries of cultural heritage

Not only are lives being lost on a daily basis in the Middle East, so are large portions of cultural heritage. Photo: The Great Sphinx of Egypt (dijatours.com)

CHARLOTTEAugust 26, 2013 – One of the residual effects of conflicts in the Middle East is the vandalism of ancient artifacts representing thousands of years of civilization.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for example, shows no regard for either Christian or Islamic heritage.

Since violence erupted across Egypt over the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi, looting and destruction of historical relics have been commonplace. In the city of Minya more than 1,000 artifacts were stolen from the Malawi Museum, including a priceless 3,500 year old statue, pottery and coins.

Similar destruction has also been taking place elsewhere. After Islamists moved into Northern Mali, the great cultural city of Timbuktu was seized by an Islamic faction called the Ansar Dine. Referring to the ongoing demolition of property in Timbuktu, an Ansar Dine spokesman said, “The destruction is a divine order. It’s our Prophet who said that each time that someone builds something on top of a grave, it needs to be pulled back to the ground.”

Such events are not without precedent in Egypt. The Ancient Library of Alexandria which contained irreplaceable scrolls and manuscripts dating as far back as 300 BC. was forever lost in a devastating fire. Even today the library is regarded as a symbol of “knowledge and culture destroyed.”

Though four theories exist about the cause of the library fire, most Western scholars do not believe the blaze was the result of the Muslim invasion and conquest of Egypt in 641. Early Muslim writers, however, claim the conflagration was ordered by Caliph Umar.

SEE RELATED: Syria and the Middle East: Too little, too late

As Robert Spencer notes in his book Not Peace but a Sword, when Umar was asked why the library should be burned, he replied, “If the books in it agree with the Qur’an, they are superfluous. If they disagree with the Qur’an, they are heretical. Only one book was needed.”

Even if the theory about the Alexandria library is not true, there are other examples that of similar destruction. Less than two years ago, nearly 200,000 books were destroyed in the Egyptian Scientific Institute in Cairo.

Religious icons, statues, paintings and the like are regarded as apostasy by Islamic purists. That is why representations and cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad are so inflammatory to the true believers.

Mosques in Saudi Arabia are completely devoid of any ornamentation for that reason.

After Mohamed Morsi became president of Egypt in the summer of 2012,  some followers called for the destruction of the Great Pyramids. The idea had been proposed in the past, but the lack of technology served as a preventative.

The most popular story about the Sphinx at Giza losing its nose is that it happened during the Napoleonic Wars. Other sources attribute the de-nosing to an incident in the 14th century when local peasants were found making offerings at the base of the Sphinx with the hope that Nile floods would improve their harvest. When a Sufi Muslim learned of the offerings, he became so angry that he destroyed the nose.

As so frequently happens in the chasm between Islam and the West, such concepts are completely alien to our way of thinking. Why would Muslims want to destroy Islamic culture?

Much of the reason relates to ancient tribal traditions of the desert which are still very much in evidence in the Middle East today. Because of that tribal heritage, Islamists have no true national identity. They only relate the “culture” of Islam which is contained within the pages of the Koran. Nothing more is necessary.

Robert Spencer explains, “You can pretty much correlate in Islamic history the strength and aggression and rise of the great Islamic empires of the past with the size of the Jewish and Christian communities that were subjugated within those empires and were paying for that imperial expansion. When those communities were exhausted economically, then the Islamic empires went into decline. This is an absolute correlation.”

One need only look at Detroit and it neighbors here in the United States for validation. Once the fourth largest city in the country, it has become so heavily influenced by Muslims that some have nicknamed it “Dearbornistan.”

As long as Islam remains a one way street, there can be no compromise with the West. As Spencer points out, “In Islam, any moral law can be set aside for the good of the Muslims. This is Islam’s only functional moral absolute.”

Such an idea is difficult to accept when a solution seems so simple by our own Western standards. When destruction is the gateway to survival and victory, however, be it human lives or the antiquities of civilization or both, there are no simple solutions.

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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com) and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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