In 2001 the Taliban blow up an ancient statue of Buddha in Afghanistan for being un-Islamic. Mere weeks ago, during unrest in Mali, separatists in the north destroyed priceless ruins in Timbuktu, an ancient trading city in the Sahara. Just recently, what was documetned as a hoax, was a call in Egypt for the destruction of the Pyramids. Funny or not, with these precedents, seeing the jewel of Egyptian civilization go up in shower of TNT is suddenly conceivable.
Destroying history is not an Islamic patent, but the latest manifestation of what humanity has done time and again. The Romans leveled Carthage, the Spanish destroyed Mesoamerica; the biggest genocide took place in North America, and Amr bin al-As destroyed the library at Alexandria. Legend goes that there were enough manuscripts to keep the all the city’s baths going for three months.
This is the point – invading civilizations rarely have respect for the older ones that came before them. Yet another example is the looting of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad following the American invasion in 2003, and the destruction of Babylon to make helicopter pads. But then, militaries throughout history have never shown particular intellectual prowess or consideration for the subjugated hosts.
Regardless, we live in the 21stcentury. Arguably, it is a time of enlightened human existence, where we respect and tolerate one another in a post-national, rationalistic world...
Or, so we thought. (Un)fortunately, reality ended that delusion.
Given the precedents, it is indeed a very possible development with the persistent instability of Egypt. They won’t be the first, however. Napoleon’s troops de-nosed the Sphinx for target practice. Only, what these fundamentalist groups are missing is one key fact: nothing humanity has ever created is forever, despite our foolish pursuit of eternity. The Great Wall of China, for an engineering marvel, is a testament to human stupidity. It bisects China and serves no practical purpose. However, this is not a reason to destroy it. It is a part of Chinese and global history and memory – of the same significance as the Pyramids, with the difference that their use is unknown. As with everything humanity has done in the way of politics, society, and religion, Islam has a beginning and it will have an end. Fundamentalists of all colors would do well to show some humility about that fact of our existence.
Islamic, Roman or European civilizations can never equal Egyptian civilization and its legacy, despite their contributions. Egypt is a founding civilization and one of the longest lasting. Its combined influence extends over 5,000 years; only India or China can be comparable. One simple example to demonstrate it: if you go to Rome, you will find Egyptian obelisks in nearly every public square, including at the Vatican. I counted five. Each sits on a pedestal and has a cross on top of it. To me, it looks very stupid for one primary reason – each obelisk is twice the age of Rome itself. The Roman Empire, for all its greatness, came and went. And that’s all that needs to be said.
We should maybe give UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) a set of teeth and create a rapid reaction force to be deployed for the protection of these monuments. While we’re at it, destroying monuments should be a crime against humanity.
Syria is on the watch-list. Damascus is the second oldest city on Earth. Neither Assad and his goons, nor the amateur insurgency have any appreciation of the fact they’re fighting on a land whose civilizational roots go several thousand years deeper than Sumer. Destroying it would be an insufferable loss for humanity.
Everything ends, without exception, but we try to keep it as long as possible. Let’s not be stupid about that and end things prematurely.