Cultural terrorism in the name of Islam

By Amil Imani

“The real God is only Allah, and all other false gods should be removed.”

This declaration from the one-eyed cleric Mullah Omar on March 2, 2001 created a chill throughout the free world, succeeding another declaration issued by Afghanistan’s Taliban regime stating that all pre-Islamic statues in the country were to be destroyed.  That edict, and the resulting demolition, has been condemned worldwide as “cultural terrorism.”

Much more destruction on a broader range is taking place in Iran under the direction of Iran’s theocrats.  The heinous destruction of the two Buddha statues by Afghanistan’s Taliban pales in comparison to the present barbaric designs of the Islamic Republic.

According to the World Book Encyclopedia, “cultural genocide” is a term used to describe the deliberate destruction of the cultural heritage of a people or nation for political or military reasons.

The intolerant monolithic Islamists have been on the march, lashing out with fury at non-Islamic people and cultures. This ideology of violence and death spares neither the living nor the non-living heritage of humanity: wherever and whenever it can, it commits cultural terrorism – wiping out other people’s precious cultural treasures.

Over its life span, the Islamic Republic zealots have tried innumerable times to cleanse pre-Islamic Persian heritage in the name of Islam. First, they declared war against the Persian New Year or “Nowruz,” and then, they went after other Persian traditions and customs. In 1979, Khomeini’s right-hand man, the Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali, tried to bulldoze Iran’s greatest epical poet Ferdowsi’s tomb and Persepolis palace.  Fortunately, the total bulldozing of the relics of the palace was averted by local Iranian patriots who were determined to preserve their heritage; who literally stood in front of the bulldozers and did not allow the destruction of this heritage of humanity.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, which holds in great contempt any non-Islamic belief or heritage, has embarked on destroying many pre-Islamic archeological sites in Iran such as Pasargadae and Persepolis, some of humanity’s most prized cultural heritage, on the pretext of building a dam.

Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria continue their war on the region’s cultural heritage, attacking archaeological sites with bulldozers and explosives.  The so-called Islamic State (ISIS) released a video that shocked the world by showing the fiery destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin, one of the best preserved ruins at the Syrian site of Palmyra.

The Islamic State continued destroying invaluable architecture and antiquities in northern Iraq.  Libraries that housed priceless manuscripts, detailing the heritage of Mosul and other towns, were burned to the ground.  Even books of Islamic studies were not spared, as they contained a version of Islam that ISIS rejects.

Faced with the growing terrorist threat in the world, the Parliamentary Assembly stressed the need for an overall approach to combating terrorism, combining cultural with political, economic, legal, and social methods.  It is not a matter here of confusing blind terrorism and its innocent victims with what are sometimes acts of resistance to oppression and violation of human rights.

Culture in all its aspects – the arts, heritage, religion, the media, science, education, youth, and sport – can play an important role in preventing the development of a terrorist mentality, in dissuading would-be terrorists, and in cutting them off from wider support.  Its importance in this respect is, however, often underestimated.

The basis for any cultural action against terrorism lies in understanding the complex and delicate relationship between terrorism and its cultural context.

The assembly stands resolutely against attempts to qualify any specific world, national, regional, or local culture as terrorist.  At the same time, under certain conditions, any society is capable of producing terrorism.  Extremist interpretation of elements of a particular culture or religion, such as heroic martyrdom, sacrifice, and holy war, as well as secular ideologies (nationalist and revolutionary), can also be invoked to justify terrorist acts.

Culture is, however, also becoming increasingly an object of terrorism.  Beyond the physical damage and destruction of monuments, temples, and symbols of a given culture and way of life, such terrorist acts target the cultural identity of a people.  They also harm a cultural heritage that is common to all peoples of the world.

Generations of humanity will bemoan the loss of this living testimony to the nobility of mankind.  The destructive hand of any kind of zealot must be stayed.  Stand up, raise your voice, and do what is in your power to preserve what is rightfully yours.

Header image: Juan Llanos via Flickr.

 

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