IS brags about destroying Assyrian artifacts in this video it posted online:
At least the Nazis just tried to steal Europe's art. So do we now have to worry about some IS fanatic running through the Louvre and knocking over statues?
Professor David Penault penned these thoughts on the destruction in the Wall Street Journal yesterday:
On Thursday the Islamic State assault on Iraq’s cultural heritage continued, with jihadists using trucks to wreck large statues in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, according to government officials. The rampage followed the recent release of a propaganda video showing the destruction of priceless artifacts in the Mosul Museum. In the video, one of the jihadists takes a sledgehammer to an ancient Mesopotamian statue. Another applies a power drill to the face of a winged man-bull of Nineveh. Three thousand years of history smashed, while the perpetrators celebrate with a mix of smug piety and aggressive malice.
I am a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, and my first reaction to news of this cultural vandalism was a sense of personal loss. These artifacts didn’t belong only to the people of today’s Iraq. They belonged to anyone who has ever spent a childhood reading “The How & Why Wonder Book of Lost Cities” or visited the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute and gazed up into the blank stone eyes of its bearded animal-human genii (cousins of the gate-guardians that shattered on the Mosul Museum floor).
In the video, the destruction—repulsive to watch—is accompanied by the haunting, elegant sound of a jihadist chanting from the Quran. As a longtime student of Islamic culture, I know that such recitation is a demanding discipline, requiring finely timed breath control and mastery of the intricacies of seventh-century pronunciation and grammar. The fusha (“eloquent Arabic”) of Islamic scripture is revered by Muslims as a language nobler and purer than any Arabic dialect spoken today.
Listening to good Quran chanting (and the chanter on this video was very good indeed) is a pleasure akin to hearing a fine performance of Shakespeare — Patrick Stewart, say, reciting Prospero’s lines in “The Tempest.”
Yes, I can conjure all this—until I translate the particular Quranic verses chosen for the video by Islamic State. These are from Chapter 21, and involve the figure of Abraham. The Quran depicts him as having been reared in a family of idol worshipers. He condemns his own father’s paganism
—“What are these statues, to which you’re so devoted?”—and then smashes the family’s idols to bits.
Immediately after the recitation of these verses, a militant is shown reminding viewers that the Prophet Muhammad “removed and destroyed the idols with his own exalted and noble hands when he conquered Mecca.” Historic accounts say that a circle of idols once surrounded the Meccan shrine of the Kaaba. But with the prophet’s conquest in 630, the Kaaba was “purified” and the idolatrous traces of Mecca’s pre-Islamic past were expunged.
Thus Islamic State marshals both Quranic scripture and the actions of Muhammad himself as precedents to justify the group’s attack on these ancient treasures. So much for President Obama ’s claim that Islamic State’s actions have nothing to do with Islam.
No question, we’re watching a recruitment video here. Think what it offers for young extremists: a chance to re-enact actions from the life of the prophet, to imitate Abraham, imitate Muhammad himself.
Tempting, such an offer, for anyone confused by our disorderly 21st century, with its imperative that we come to terms with individualism, that we each find and test our own world views, with all their attendant doubts, in the modern world’s pluralistic societies. How tempting, then, to take a hammer to diversity, to strive to put an end to doubt—with a power drill.
Mr. Pinault is the director of Santa Clara University’s program in Arabic, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. His books include the novel “Museum of Seraphs in Torment” (CreateSpace, 2013). Rest of essay.