Destruction of world heritage site justifies military action


27 August 2015 -  From the Sydney Morning Herald. AHRCentre Project Director Dr Lucas Lixinski argues that the Islamic State is copying the Nazis in selling valuable artefacts to fund its atrocities and destroying significant cultural sites, justifying military action.

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When we destroy a people's historical and cultural achievements, we erase them from history.In World War II, Germany knew that all too well, as it attempted to destroy what it considered to be "degenerate art" (mostly Jewish art), as a means to erase Jewish culture from any account of European civilisation. But Germany also went ahead and sold much of that art to finance its war effort. It was a unique and paradoxical combination of ideology and business acumen.IS is now doing the same. It sells artefacts to finance its operations, all the while destroying significant sites. Some people say that destruction is justified by fundamentalist (and largely wrong) readings of Islamic precepts against the worship of other idols. Iconoclasm is a simplistic explanation, as there must be more than religious fanaticism to explain these actions. After all, if these cultural artefacts were so bad, they would not be sold; they would just be destroyed. If the sites were impure, their destruction would not be so widely publicised.Rather, it seems Islamic State's actions are cynical business, on the one hand (selling artefacts), and attention-grabbing on the other (destroying sites). They certainly have our attention – what do we do with it?


Photo credit: Arian Zwegers, 2009, of The ancient Temple of Baalshamin at Palmyra before its destruction.