Palmyra Louai Beshara/Getty Images

The Politics of Historicide

The Islamic State has made a point of destroying cultural artifacts that it deems insufficiently Islamic, but it is hardly the first group or state to take aim at the past. In fact, the eradication of statutes, manuscripts, and paintings occurs with a frequency that is as understandable as the practice is perverse.

NEW YORK – In a world of disarray, the Middle East stands apart. The post-World War I order is unraveling in much of the region. The people of Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya have paid an enormous price.

But it is not just the present and future of the region that has been affected. An additional casualty of today’s violence is the past.

The Islamic State (ISIS) has made a point of destroying things it deems insufficiently Islamic. The most dramatic example was the magnificent Temple of Bal in Palmyra, Syria. As I write this, the city of Mosul in northern Iraq is being liberated, after more than two years of ISIS control. It will not come soon enough to save the many sculptures already destroyed, libraries burned, or tombs pillaged.

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