Archaeology and ISIS

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CNN featured a news report recently showing images of recent ISIS destruction at the ancient city of Palmyra. This city has a long history reaching back at least as early as the second millennium BC. Sadly, we have seen ISIS destroying priceless cultural artifacts and sites because of religious motivations. This destruction is not a surprise; in fact, it’s quite predictable for several reasons.

  1. Shariah law strictly prohibits the depiction of the human figure, particularly the human face (this is why much of Islamic art avoids depicting people and instead shows verses of the Qur’an). This, coupled with Islam’s self-professed superiority over every other worldview (cf. Surah 48:28), means that images like those at Palmyra should be–must be–destroyed. The museum there has been trashed with statues defaced. Christians do not see these kinds of images as a threat; they are merely artifacts representing nothing more than the human figure or imaginary divine beings (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:4-6).
  2. Second, Islam is a religion with real-world concerns that drive it. Islam is not so much a religion as an all-encompassing social, political, economic, religious worldview. Non-Islamic social structures are forbidden, as are non-Islamic political viewpoints. Culturally, Islam is unapologetically Arabic in nature. Any other culture must be defeated and brought into conformity to standards provided by the Islamic faith. This is quite unlike Christianity, where believers may come from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds but still be Christians (Galatians 3:28-29). Here we could contrast the necessity of reading the Qur’an in the original Arabic in Islam vs. the Christian belief that the Bible can be read as God’s Word in any language.
  3. Islam divides the world into two arenas: the House of Islam and the House of War. The House of Islam consists of areas where Islam is the established religion. The House of War describes everything else. Islamic thinkers are making a clear statement here: everywhere Islam is not celebrated is a theatre of war where it will It seems that destruction has been the tool of choice, even for cultures that exist only in the form of relics from the past.

I find it fascinating that this story actually made the news. There is a widespread attempt by members of the media to paint Islam in as positive a light as possible. There are reasons why this is so. Yet extremism and destruction cannot be tolerated, no matter the perpetrator.

In the end, we can only hope and pray that those guilty of these crimes—and all other atrocities committed in the name of Allah—will realize what they have done and stop this wanton destruction of other cultures and their heritages.