2 June 2015

2015, June 2 | Tuesday 3:08 pm

by Peter Samuel

Islamic State has in recent weeks had major victories in Palmyra Syria and Ramadi Iraq and one setback – the killing of their chief financial officer Abu Sayyaf by US Army Delta Force commandos in a raid into Al Amr, Syria. American soldiers flew in Black Hawk choppers and Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. There was a fierce firefight aroundstreetsceneIS the 3 story building housing senior enemy officials. Sayyaf and a dozen of his guard died in the battle on the night May 15-16. Sayyaf’s wife was captured and a Yazidi slave girl was rescued by US forces. There were no American casualties in an operation that nicely demonstrated the skills and bravery of our fighting men – when called upon. In a similar strike just south of Libya in northern Mali a raid by French special forces killed two senior Islamist commanders the night of May 17-18, the Ministry of Defense in Paris announced.

The Islamic State victories however are much greater, both east and west. In the key Anbar province of Iraq the capital Ramadi fell to Islamic State forces. Iraq troops fled the city after most of their command had been taken down in a devastating series of IS vehicle bomb attacks, and assassinations. Islamic State is now positioned to make attacks into Baghdad just 70 miles away.

IntroPicOn its western front Islamic State has taken the central Syrian town of Palmyra from government forces after a week of heavy fighting. It now controls about half that country including most of its oil and gas wells. Palmyra has been a crossroads for the region for thousands of years and was a major city of the Romans. Famous historic structures include a well preserved Roman amphitheater, a long central city Collonade street, a Tetrapylon, and an Agora. There’s a military camp of Diocletian, several important tombs and a Temple of Baal, a regional deity three millennia back. Overlooking it all is a 13th century castle, the al-Maani citadel.

It sounds far-fetched but one account (Daniel Greenfield in Frontpage Magazine) says Palmyra, indirectly helped inspire the dominant neoclassical design popularized in Washington DC: “The great columns and pediments of Washington, DC that give it a Roman and Greek air have their origins in a lost city in the Syrian desert. After Robert Wood and James Dawkins visited the ruins of Palmyra in the eighteenth century, the illustrations of the bare columns and broken arches helped inspire neoclassical architecture.

Greenfield continues: “Now the city that helped inspire Washington is occupied by IS…. If IS has its way, the ruins of the city that helped inspire the rebirth of classical architecture in England and America will be destroyed. Like the old armies of Islam that destroyed the Library of Alexandria because its books were a threat to the totalitarian writ of the Koran, ISIS destroys the remains of the civilizations that predated Islam.”arches&columns

At National Review Tom Rogan says Palmyra is “a wonder of columns, arches and open spaces” and represents “some of the greatest Roman ruins on the planet.” (NATIONAL REVIEW) Others make the point that Palmyra is characterized by extraordinary cultural diversity due to reliable its water supply from oasis springs and on its location at the intersection of ancient roads. It developed as an ‘entrepot’ or trading center well before the Christian or Roman eras, and became something of a transfer point between the Roman and Persian empires. Major items traded here in the days of camel and mule ‘caravans’ were silk, spices and aromatics.

The earliest inscriptions are in Aramaic, the common language of the middle east from 800BC through 600AD.

citadelMany religions and eras have architectural relics in Palmyra.

Largest of the city’s monuments is the Temple of Bel, dating from the first century AD, and built for worship of the Mesopotamian god of the sky. A formal colonnade lined with hundreds of limestone statues appears to be a mausoleum to memorialize the lives of major personalities of Palmyra.

The area has been Syria’s major site for archeologists and historians as well as tourists with about 150,000 visitors a year. I also has a major museum of the smaller pieces found in the city. Most of these were packed up and shipped out to Damascus before Palmyra fell to the IS, Agence France press reports. But the larger items such as statues on columns, plus of course the buildings themselves, could not be moved out before IS took over.

Tom Rogan in National Review: “Palmyra is one of the great treasures of the world, a living museum for multiple MainStreetCitadelSkylineISmedcivilizations, a city embodying everything that the Islamic State is not. It is a place of incredible archaeological diversity — of ancient temples and theaters — an amalgam that testifies to the magnificent complexity of Middle Eastern history. It stands as proof of the power of trade to build great civilizations from nothing. (W)hatever the moral failings of the cultures enshrined in its ruins, Palmyra is remarkable.”

Christian Sahner a British specialist in middle east history in a feature in the Wall Street Journal (May 27) describes Palmyra as “ one of the great gems of world heritage, a sprawling complex of stately ruins 150 miles northeast of Damascus.”

StatuesAtRiskHe’s worried that Palmyra could see the largest destruction yet of historic treasures. Islamic State leaders destroy not for the sake of destruction but because they see it as vital to the fulfillment of Islamic faith (sharia). They cite the Prophet Muhammad’s first action on conquering Mecca in 631AD and visiting the holiest building or Kaba. His first act was to engage in smashing some 360 idols there. Only the famous Black Stone remains. (Sahih Bukhari 3:43:658)

There is a lot more scriptural backing for the practice of destroying all remains of other religions, anything that could distract people from worship of the muslim god Allah.

While destroying idols in the Kaba of Mecca Muhammad is said to have declared in support of the destruction: ShemaInscription“Falsehood is destroyed, truth prevails.”

Shaykh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid (http://islamqa.info/en/20894) cites the Prophet as instructing the faithful:

- ‘Do not leave any image without defacing it or any built-up grave without leveling it.’ (Muslim 969)

- “I was sent to uphold the ties of kinship, to break the idols, and so that Allah would be worshipped alone with no partner or associate.” (Muslim 832)

Muhammad is reported in a well-known hadith or accepted saying of the Prophet to have spoken harshly to a man who made his living as an artist saying: “Whoever makes a picture will be punished by Allah…”

DaeshConvoySunni Islam is far fiercer than Shia Islam in its belief that representations and remains of other religions are idolotrous (‘shirk’) and must be destroyed. The Sunni Muslim Bortherhood in Egypt has called for the destruction of the Great Pyramids, a clerical leader Sheikh al-Badri has said this is “a religious duty, lest they create sedition, and cause people to return to worshiping idols instead of Allah.”

A piece in the Economist magazine: “ Shia Islam is much more open to the depiction of human beings, up to and including Muhammad himself. This difference fuels the zeal of violent Sunni groups like Islamic State who have destroyed Shia shrines and images, claiming in doing so to be purifying their religion of idolatrous accretions. By contrast the leading figure among the Shias of Iraq, Ayatollah Sistani, has said the depiction even of Muhammad is acceptable, as long as it is done with proper reverence.”ABAB2

The voice of America’s preservationists?

Are America’s professional historic preservationists protesting this destruction and threats to the world’s heritage in Palmyra and elsewhere in the middle east? Not a NTHPword on this out of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Their big present cause is stopping some power lines being built across the James River in Virginia.

USAGE: We call these people Islamic State or IS since that’s their self-description. Also their influence is now spread well beyond Iraq and Syria. Many Arabs call them Daesh an acronym for their formal name in Arabic and also a play on Arabic street talk for a bigot or thug.

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/418704/fall-palmyra-strategic-historical-and-human-loss-tom-rogan





- editor 2015-06-02

Your Comments are invited.Please send feedback to petersamuel@mac.com
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