My first piece for Aleteia is up: 12 Treasures of Antiquity Destroyed in the Middle East Since 2001. We began with 2001 because that was the start of the War on Terror and the year the Bamiyan Buddhas were vaporized. Here’s how it begins:
War has always been hard on ancient treasures and sites. In the 14th century Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr destroyed the nose of sphinx because he was outraged that people were making offerings to it. (No, Napoleon didn’t order it shot off by cannon fire.) During World War II, American bombers dropped 1400 tons of bombs on Monte Casino, the place where St. Benedict built a monastery and established the Benedictine Order in the 6th century. It was rebuilt after the war and reconsecrated by Pope Paul VI in 1964.
In the post-9/11 era, the Middle East has seen an accelerating destruction of its vast and precious cultural heritage. Some of this is done by both ordinary people and criminal gangs searching for items to sell. The illegal trade in antiquities is a vast international operation worth millions, although very little of that money trickles down to the poor Syrian digging holes for buried items to help feed his family. Most striking of all is the deliberate cleansing of pre-Islamic history at the hands of ISIS, which looks to emulate Mohammed by striking at idolatry wherever they find it. Their religious fervor does not, however, prevent them from also selling these same idols to help fuel their fight.
This was a hard piece to write, even though I’ve been covering these things for a while. I watched all the available ISIS videos, and grew to loathe the cats-in-heat sound of their “theme music,” which they use in all their productions. The scale of the loss to world culture is staggering. It doesn’t, obviously, compare to the vast human toll taken by ISIS, but it’s still tragic.
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