Destroying a people by taking away their history

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Islamic State militants have released a number of videos in recent days which appear to show members of the terrorist group destroying hundreds of artefacts in Iraq’s ancient city of Mosul.

The videos, published on social media and have not been verified, show militants destroying statues of Assyrian deities, and reports from last month suggest some 2000 books were taken from the Central Library of Mosul and burned; leaving only Islamic texts behind.

This story struck me after reading an article, written by Brig Newspaper’s Arts Editor Caroline Malcolm, about the Monuments Men, and their attempts to recover thousands of artefacts seized by the Nazis during the Second World War.

This story is in fact very similar to what the Nazis did to world history and art in the middle of the 20th century. For instance, paintings by Gustav Klimt, Bartolome, and others from Van Gogh, da Vinci, Botticelli, and Monet were seized; books from Einstein, Marx and Engels, H.G. Wells, Freud, and many others were burned.

Many of the arts captured were Jewish, in an attempt to rid the world of any history associated with the Jews, and alienate them.

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For if there is one thing that you can do to destroy a people, as a people, is to take away their history, and their identity. That is what IS/ISIS/ISIL are attempting to do: destroy the identity of the people of Mosul, so as to assert their own identity over them.

It is a battle not fought with weaponry, but which is perhaps just as – if not more – damaging to a nation. Taking away their arts and culture, not only takes away their identity now, but for generations to come. Some of these artefacts dated back to the 7th century BC.

Books from that era in the Middle East are priceless. I recently read Andrew Marr’s History of the World, and was fascinated to find that much of the Muslim world, and those around it, were about as scientifically advanced as the European world was by 1400, but about seven centuries earlier. The knowledge accumulated in those books is irreplaceable.

It is essential that the Western countries – before going in, and shooting or bombing Islamic State – should co-operate to their fullest extent with the leaders of the Middle Eastern nations. It is inevitable that the West will have to make concessions on Bashar Al-Assad. He is one of IS’s biggest opponents in the Middle East, and refusing multi-lateral co-operation with Syria is a fruitless endeavour.

Look at Libya. Following a NATO operation in 2011, Libya is now in chaos. It has entered the Second Civil War, has two opposing governments, and the Western countries were the ones who liberated Libya into that situation. A similar thing happened after WW2, where the Allies gave a chunk of Palestine to the Jews, and since then there has never been peace. If you need another, look at the rivalry there was between Pakistan and India, following the creation of Pakistan.

Working with countries in order to defeat IS on the inside is far more effective than combating them with external forces. Uniting a region, that is so stricken by war, is crucial in ending extremism. We have seen people’s identities being destroyed, let us help to rebuild them.

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