Destruction of ancient site and brutal murder of its guardian shows IS contempt for humankind

A picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows the external courtyard of the sanctuary of Baal in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID        (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Comprehending the actions of people whose sole agenda seems to be hate for humanity and all its achievements is not an easy – or pleasant – task.

The news that Islamic State militants have destroyed one of the Middle East’s great ancient architectural treasures – a temple which forms part of Syria’s ancient ruins of Palmyra and also brutally murdered a man who spent four decades studying them is distressing on every level.

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The contempt for those who created beauty which endured millenia, along with  the cruelty to a fellow human motivated by a desire to understand and protect our collective heritage, shows a  complete paucity of human spirit .

The remains at the Greco-Roman site  – which also has ancient Phoenician and Arabic design influences – were part of a 2,000 year old city. And quite rightly their destruction was condemned by the United Nations as “brutal and systematic”.

Local reports say the militants – also known as Daesh which is a loose acronym of the Arabic phrases “to trample down” or “to crush underfoot” – used explosives to blow up the Baalshamin Temple.

The blast was so powerful it also damaged some of the Roman columns which surround it, according to witnesses.

IS “placed a large quantity of explosives in the temple of Baalshamin today [Sunday – although some reports say it happened a month ago] and then blew it up causing much damage to the temple,” Syrian antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim told AFP news agency.

“The cella (inner area of the temple) was destroyed and the columns around collapsed.”

The head of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, said the extremists are engaged in the “most brutal, systematic” destruction of ancient sites since World War II.

The Sunni extremists, who have imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law across their self-declared “caliphate” in territory they control in Syria and Iraq, claim ancient relics promote idolatry and say they are destroying them as part of their purge of paganism.

But they are also selling off looted antiquities, to fund their murderous campaigns.

And  then the human tragedy – news of the temple’s destruction came after relatives and witnesses revealed that Khaled al-Asaad, an 82-year-old antiquities scholar who devoted his life to understanding Palmyra, was beheaded by Islamic State militants, his bloodied body hung on a pole.

The man knows as the “Guardian of Palmyra” had spent the last 40 years studying and caring for the remains and had even had named his daughter after Zenobia, the queen who ruled from the city 1,700 years ago.

It is believed the elderly scholar had refused to tell IS where some treasures had been hidden to try and preserve them.

“Al-Asaad was a treasure for Syria and the world,” his son-in-law, Khalil Hariri, told news agency AP. “Why did they kill him? Their systematic campaign seeks to take us back into pre-history. But they will not succeed.”

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