Islamic State’s War on Antiquities Targets Ancient City of Palmyra
By Kathryn Chaney
BBC reports that the Islamic State group has recently been deemed responsible for the destruction of numerous antiquities. In light of the mass destruction, media outlets have raised the question as to the motives behind the Islamic State’s actions. One possible explanation lies in the group’s ultimate goal: forming a caliphate that represents their interpretation of the Islamic State.
The global community has seen the formation of other caliphates by extremist groups within the Middle East. For example, caliphates were created by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, respectively, in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, the Islamic State has taken the ideals of their caliphate one step further by facilitating the obliteration of past ancient societies whose social characteristics clash with the group’s stringent interpretation of Islamic belief.
Newsweek reports that the Islamic State and its followers wish to destroy the antiquities to combat the “shirk.” Shirk is defined as the “sin of practicing idolatry or polytheism,” which disrupts Muslim reverence to Allah. However, the Islamic State’s interpretation of “the roots of Islam” lean toward brutality against non-Muslim states and an affront to the Western world. The Islamic State has even gone to praise the Taliban’s actions in 2001 and Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks for preventing shirk and protecting the true Islamic faith.
According to BBC, the Islamic State’s most recent demolition targeted Palmyra’s ancient Temple of Bel in Syria. The attack on the temple was facilitated through an explosion on its perimeter. Although only partial information could be gathered, Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of Syria’s Department of Antiquities and Museums, stated, “Any damage done was partial, and the basic structure is still standing.”
Palmyra houses structures and artifacts that blend ancient Greek, Roman, and Persian cultures. The city as a whole represents one of the few remaining junctions of ancient culture in Syria and the Middle East, holding insurmountable insight into the foundations of modern civilization.