The Islamic State – also known as ISIS or ISIL – has been making headlines with horrific beheadings and acts of war for several months, but has recently been making waves in another way: the destruction of artwork and historic creations. From the desecration of relics and churches, to the flattening of ancient ruins and the destruction of ancient artwork, ISIS has been on a rampage, leaving a barren path where culturally invaluable work once stood.
Mosul was the focus of some of the extremists’ most horrible work; the Islamic State destroyed ancient artwork housed in the Mosul Museum and burned thousands of books and manuscripts from the Mosul Library. Several Islamic State thugs took sledgehammers to pieces of art created in the ancient times of Assyria, including turning a once mighty human-headed winged bull sculpture, known as a lamassu, into rubble. Artifacts that were thousands of years old and created during the birth of human civilization were destroyed because the Assyrians and Akkadians were polytheists.
Mosul has not been the only victim of the Islamic State’s agenda. Jonah’s tomb, the holy site which was said to be the burial place of the prophet Jonah, was destroyed last year, along with the ruins of the ancient city of Hatra. The extremists have leveled incredibly important sites in cultural history, and recently ISIS has been continuing their cultural cleansing in Iraq with the destruction of Nimrud and Khorsabad.
Khorsabad was the site of King Sargon II’s palace, which was created between 717 and 706 B.C. and served as one of the capitals during the Assyrian empire’s reign. It was abandoned in 705 B.C., after Sargon’s death, but stood until now as one of the prime examples of the land’s heritage.
Nimrud, the site of another Assyrian capital, was leveled as well. The ancient site was large and potentially somewhat undiscovered, and the frescoes and works found there were treasured and invaluable. The Islamic State destroyed what several thousands of years could not, bulldozing the site which was only recently nominated to be placed on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites.
“It’s wrong. It’s disgusting. It is a violation of culture and history in itself,” first-year Sydney Rogalsky said. “I think something should be done by someone […] I don’t know if it is the U.S.’s job or someone else’s, but if no one else is doing anything, maybe we do have a duty to do something.”
“I think it shows that they don’t actually care about the history of their people,” first-year Emma Kervel said. “It illustrates how much they value power instead of traditional values. Any group that would target history obviously doesn’t have respect or understanding for the past.”
“It is obvious that they don’t reflect the majority of Muslims,” Kervel continued. “It is really sad that they have enough clout, and they have enough power to affect things so much when they obviously don’t represent what Islam is about. It is sad that they get conflated with the whole Muslim population when they don’t reflect the values and traditions and culture.”
In Iraq, Syria and Libya the people are facing the imposition of an extremist group that has been terrorizing not only the population, but also the culture. Some of the first creations of human civilization are being destroyed by the Islamic State because – according to them – they were created in an “age of ignorance” before Islam was established. The Islamic State is erasing what remains from a vital part in human history, making it not only an assault on the area’s cultural history, but also the world’s.