Islamic State has committed a further cultural outrage, destroying a nearly-intact, two- thousand-year-old temple in Palmyra which according to Syrian officials was blown up with explosives on Sunday, the latest in a wave of wanton destruction of UNESCO world heritage.
For Islamic State, the ancient temple of Baalshamin, in Palmyra, Syria, was a site of blasphemy because it depicted polytheistic images and as such, had to be destroyed. And as Islamic State had promised when it seized control of Palmyra in May 2015, the temple of Baalshamin today no longer exists, after proudly witnessing two thousand years of human history.
Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria's Antiquities Director, confirmed to the press yesterday that a large quantity of explosives had been placed in the temple of Baalshamin and that the building, which was still nearly intact, had been blown up, causing "much damage". Other reports state that the temple had already been the subject of attack up to a month ago. There are reports that inner part of the temple, the cella, was totally destroyed and the columns surrounding it had collapsed.
This is the latest outrage by Islamic State, shortly after the 81-year-old previous Director of Antiquities at Palmyra was beheaded for refusing to tell Islamic State where some ancient treasures had been buried. This wanton act of destruction comes in a sequence of desecration of ancient artefacts and buildings.
In July, artefacts looted from Palmyra were destroyed, including the famous Statue of the Lion (The Lion of Al-Lat) and two Islamic shrines. In March, the ancient city of Nimrud in Iraq (XIII century BCE) was bulldozed and blown up; the ruins at Hatra met with the same fate. The previous month, February, important statues and stonework at the Museum of Mosul were publicly destroyed and in January, the central library in the same Iraqi city was ransacked and thousands of ancient books were burnt.
In fact, between June 2014, when Mosul was taken by Islamic State and February of this year, no less than 28 historical religious buildings were destroyed along with their values, some of which were burnt or smashed, others were sold to finance Islamic State activities.
The Settlement Battalions, or Kata'ib Taswiyya, are responsible for choosing which buildings and artefacts to destroy and since 2014, when the wave of destruction began, dozens of attacks have taken place in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Last year among the important sites desecrated were the Prophet Jonah Mosque, or Mosque of Nabi Yunus, in Mosul, the Al-Qubba Husseiniya Mosque (Mosul), the Jawad Husseiniya Mosque and Saad bin Aqeel Husseiniya shrine, Tal Afar; the Ahmed al-Rifai shrine in Mahlabiya, the Tomb of the Girl (Qabr al-Bint) in Mosul, the shrine of Fathi al-Kaén, the Al-Arbaéen Mosque in Tikrit, the Khudr Mosque in Mosul, the tomb of the Prophet Daniel, Mosul, the tomb and Mosque of the Prophet Jonah, the tomb of the Prophet Jirjis, the shrine of Imam Awn al-Din, Hamou al-Qadu Mosque, Mosul; Sufi shrines near Tripoli in Libya, the tombs of Mohammed bin Ali and Nizar Abu Bahaaeddine in Palmyra, the Virgin Mary Church, Mosul, the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church, Deir ez-Zor, Syria, the Green Church (Saint Ahoadamah Church), of the Assyrian Church of the East, in Tikrit; the Al-Tahera Church in Mosul, the Chaldean Catholic Saint Markourkas Church, also Mosul; the Assyrian Christian Virgin Mary Church in Tel Nasri, Syria; the Mar Elian Monastery near Al-Qaryatayn, Homs, Syria; the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, Nimrud, Iraq, the Nineveh Wall in al-Tahrir, Iraq, the ancient Assyrian gateway at Arslan Tash archaeological site, Ar-Raqqah, Syria (VIII century BCE), the statue of Mulla Uthman al-Mawsili; artefacts from the ancient city of Hatra; the lamassu statue; al the pieces in Mosul Museum except four plaster copies; the ancient site of Dur-Sharrukin, the Bash Tapia Castle, Mosul.
I hope the readers of this piece are sitting in a state of shocked silence and I hope this goads people into taking action. Who or what is behind Islamic State is open to question, the resolve with which those countries that destabilized Iraq, and Syria, creating the void in which Islamic State formed is equally questionable.
World heritage belongs to all of us, not to Islamic State and whatever their religious beliefs, how can buildings and artefacts created before Mohammed was born be blasphemous to Islam?
The award of France's highest decoration today by French President François Hollande to the four persons who attacked the Moroccan terrorist on Friday, foiling an attempt to commit a massacre on a train from Amsterdam to Paris, is a clear message to us all: once a terrorist attack is launched, the onlookers have two choices: sit back and die or try to survive by doing something.
In this way the perpetrators are as isolated as Islamic State has become. Their epitaph will be that of a misguided small clique of gullible misfits who did more harm to Islam than anyone or anything in history.
*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. He is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights.
The strike was defensive in nature and came in response to three attacks on the US military in February