Friday, May 29, 2015

Colossal Inhumanity

There are moments in history, when humanity as a collective takes a gasp. The space shuttle disasters, the assassinations of Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy and John Lennon, the 9/11 attacks, the Asian Tsunamis, the German, Rwandan and Cambodian genocides,  the recent earthquakes in Nepal are but a few that come to mind, that have given us pause. Natural disasters while being overwhelming in their impact do not evoke the same response, as when humans resort to acts of unfathomable horror. One such moment that left an indelible mark on my conscience was when in 2001 the Taliban stuck dynamite to the imposing 6th century statues of the Buddhas of Bamiyan and blew them to smithereens. Watching it on grainy video my heart sank and I was repulsed to my core. Monuments that had stood the test of time for centuries were destroyed in a moment. The loss dealt to humanity as a collective was immeasurable.

Mullah Mohamed Omar, the Taliban leader, is said to have issued the order to remove the statues. They represented to him and his creed something reprehensible. The sanctity of beauty had forsaken the diseased mind. While many Muslim invaders in the past had tried to destroy the statues for this same demented reason and had failed, the Taliban leader succeeded to everyone's horror and dismay.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. It is a mystery why they chose to destroy the statues at the end of their brutal regime. The reasons given were many. They wanted international attention and were protesting against western money being spent on maintaining the statues, while the people of Afghanistan were starving. But the most common and acceptable one was that the statues were deemed un-Islamic as they were symbols of idolatry, and therefore had to be destroyed. The statues had been defaced before by an Afghan monarch as he fought a Shia Hazara rebellion. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb had also tried to destroy the statues of Bamiyan and failed. Many Hindu temples in India and in the region were also destroyed by Muslim invaders over centuries for being idolatry in nature. So it was safe to assume that the Taliban, a vestige of that same archaic ideology would resort to something of this nature.

To read this week that the 2000 year old Roman ruins of Palmyra in Syria could face the same fate as the statues of Bamiyan was truly disturbing. ISIS, the dreaded group that has been wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria has become notorious for destroying antiquities to make a statement of its demented code. ISIS has bulldozed the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in Iraq. It has posted videos on youtube showing its soldiers destroying ancient Assyrian statues at a museum. For all its religious fervor and fundamentalist rhetoric, it has destroyed mosques all across the region, mostly Shiite ones, as they are the enemy for having colluded with the infidels, the US. ISIS a Sunni group considers it's religious brothers, the Shiites, to be heretics over an age old tribal dispute over a religious claim. The extent of what has already been lost will only be realized when the dust settles. The prospects of that happening anytime soon seems more distant than ever.

Their recent victories over the Iraqi and Syrian armies in Ramadi, Mosul and in Tadmur, sent shock waves through the region. As the Shiite militias were activated to take on the task where the Iraqi army had failed, one thing became very clear, ISIS was here to stay. The air campaign launched by the United States over months has done very little to "disrupt and degrade" ISIS. The chaos that President Bush and his henchmen ignited by invading Iraq on a pretense with deception and lies, continues to spread unabated. Five years on, the inability of the world to tackle the despicable Syrian dictator Assad, who continues to exterminate his own people with chemical weapons and barrel bombs, has exposed the impotency of real power. In the absence of oil or any immediate riches to be had, Syria seems to be more or less condemned to its current fate.

What at risk now are the true riches given to humanity. They may not be as precious as oil or any other natural resource, but when parts of our collective history are demolished, the damage done is irreversible. When it was confirmed that ISIS had in fact gained control of Palmyra, the panic within the community that cares was instant. Irini Bukova, the head of UNESCO pleaded all sides to cease fighting in the interest of saving probably the most important antiquity in the Middle East. Whether that will actually happen is a gamble it seems the world has no choice but to take. So far the current reports say the ancient ruins are intact, but 20 people were killed inside the ancient amphitheater in front of an hostage audience.

The nature of war is such, that its long term consequences can never be fully grasped. War causes a chain reaction, that is highly unpredictable as seen in the Middle East today. Rape, murder, plunder and pillage have always been quintessential aspects of war. The beauty humanity creates when it is not at war, loses value the instant the first bullet is fired. History shows us this time and again exposing the schizoid nature of humans. In Syria, the exquisite Umyyad Mosque, a UNESCO world heritage site now lies in ruins. Aleppo's Souk Al Madina, a beautiful ancient market, has been burned to the ground. The all too familiar images of completely bombed out Syrian cities makes one shudder. No one knows how many other ancient sites have been reduced to rubble in the monumental scale of destruction that is taking place. But in the face of millions of refugees on the run and countless children and innocent civilians murdered, the concern for lost antiquities seems rather inane.

When the colossal inhumanity of war is exposed for history to record, there is no question an account of lost archeology will have to be taken. Unlike Dresden, Germany, which was completely rebuilt after it was destroyed during the war, there is little hope that the Buddha's of Bamiyan will be resurrected or the ancient Assyrian statues will be reattached. The rehabilitation of the psyches scarred by war would have to come first. Maybe by reclaiming all that remains and making sure that our collective heritage stays protected for posterity, we could begin to repair the wounds of war. It is what it is.