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ISIS and the West

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ISIS and the West
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  HEADLINE = Islamic State and the cult of copycat iconoclasm STRAP = The jihadists are doing exactly what the Christian West did to ancient Greece. Archaeological terrorism, a thing of the past and only briefly revisited in 2001 by the Afghan Taliban when they dynamited the Bamiyan Buddhas, is back like a rash. Ancient  –  and irreplaceable  – archaeological remains, along with more recently built shrines and mosques, are being reduced to rubble as the jihadist Islamic State rampages through Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State does not for a second believe it’s doing anything wrong. It is quite literally going by the book. Its jihadist members are echoing what the Taliban said after they blew up the massive 1700 year old Buddha statues  –  we are merely carrying out Islamic religious iconoclasm. The destruction of these ancient sites  –  such as Nineveh which are part of Biblical folklore  –  has caused alarm in the West. In an article titled, ISIS Is About to Destroy Biblical History in Iraq , The Daily Beast laments (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/07/isis-is-about-to-destroy-biblical-history-in-iraq.html) how the Islamic State has amassed $2 billion, partly from the sale of looted ancient artifacts from Iraqi museums. Let’s g o back to the title of the above article  –   ISIS Is About to Destroy Biblical History in Iraq . Had the looting been of Hindu, Greek or Roman temples, would the Daily Beast’s writer call it “Greek History   Destroyed” or “Ancient Hindu History Defaced”? You can safely bet your last rupee that he wouldn’t.   The headlines would most likely have the word “mythology” instead of “history”. For, grounded in their Judeo- Christian world view, the western commentators only care about “Biblical history” . The irony is that what the Islamic State is doing in Iraq and Syria, the Christian West accomplished a thousand years ago. Take the Acropolis of Greece. This magnificent complex comprises the Parthenon, the 2500 year old temple of goddess Athena. When the Christian Byzantines conquered Greece they first outlawed the ancient Greek religion and ceremonies. Then the Christians converted the Parthenon into the church of the Virgin Mary and Child, in the process defacing statues, cutting windows through sculptured friezes and destroying structures that had stood for an entire millennium. In 1801, the British, the champion s of colonial loot, descended on Greece. Britain’s envoy in Constantinople, Thomas Bruce (the Earl of Elgin) stripped the temple of its last remaining sculptures, including its famous friezes, and shipped them to England. Worse, to lighten the load during transportation, Elgin ordered the back halves of the sculptures to be sawed off. The ‘Elgin Marbles’ are now on permanent display at the British Museum, despite repeated demands from Greece for their return. While Europeans usurped the territories, artifacts and more importantly the laws of Greece and Rome, they cared a rat’s tail for the essence of those pagan civilisations. Cyril Mango, professor of Byzantine  history, said: “The Byzantines did not evince the slightest interest in what we understand by cla ssical Greece.”  Contrary to the western portrayal of the meeting of Christianity and Hellenism as a peaceful amalgamation, Evaggelos G. Vallianatos writes in the book The Passion of the Greeks  that the encounter was bloody and brutal. If today the Yezidis and Christians of Iraq and Syria are facing the brunt of the Islamic State ’s iconoclasm and macabre beliefs, back then the ancient Greeks and Romans encountered equally fanatic missionaries. “ The Christians made the whole country a cemetery, which quite unintentionally preserved the aftermath of their plunder and genocide of the Greeks and Hellenic civilization ,” writes Vallianatos. “ The products of Christian culture  –  the Bible, the liturgy, the miracles of Jesus and the saints, the dogmas of sin, paradise and hell, the icons of the religious hierarchy  –  come from a world that has nothing to do with the Parthenon and the philosophy and piety of the Greeks, who built this greatest masterpiece of Greek and western culture in order to honor the Greek virgin goddess Athena. ”  Greek professors Apostolos Athanassakis and Phillip Mitsis in their review of Vallianatos' book agree: Violence, political conspiracy, and downright destruction of the great religious centers of antiquity were much more the order of the day.”  What happened to the great Roman Empire? According to Vallianatos, “Emperor Constantine inflicted a nearly mortal wound on the civilisation of Rome. He was the first Roman emperor who, by his actions, became no longer the chief magistrate of the Roman people, but a despot armed with troops and his own state religion, Christianity. He wrecked the ancient Roman tradition that the emperor, the princeps, was the legal representative of the senate and the Roman people. ”  One of the greatest Greek tragedies was the end of the Olympics. “ Here was a millennial tradition of athletic competition for arete (courage, virtue, equality before the law, goodness, manliness, nobility and excellence) started by Herakles, son of Zeus and the Greeks’ greatest hero, an d Emperor Theodosios, thinking like a barbarian, brought it to an end,” writes Vallianatos. Together with the pagan Greeks, the Jews were targeted too. Long before Hitler arrived on the scene, the archbishop of Constantinople, St John Chysostom, considered Jews a “disease that  had to be eradicated”.  In Alexandria, the bishop Cyril launched a vicious attack against the Jews and expelled them from the city. These precedents were used by later Europeans to launch pogroms against an essentially peaceful, prosperous and vibrant community. What else but the Holocaust would come out of this? Last woman philosopher One of the most fascinating characters in ancient history was Hypatia, the head of the Platonist school at Alexandria, Egypt. Born in 350 CE, the Greek woman philosopher taught philosophy, mathematics and astronomy in that legendary city of learning. But as the Christians gained power in the city, they declared people like Hypatia were heretics and devil worshipers.  With encouragement from Cyril, a bunch of Christians waylaid Hypatia and took her to their church. At the church they completely stripped her and attacked her with tiles, tearing her body in pieces.Kathleen Wider writes in Women Philosophers in the Ancient Greek World: Donning the Mantle  that Hypatia ’s murder marked the end of European classical antiquity, which begins with the age of Homer in the 8 th  century BCE. The rise of Christianity and the decline of classical Greece and Rome resulted in the dark Middle Ages in Europe. The scientific age of Euclid and Aristotle was replaced by the era of witch hunt and Inquisitions. Similarly, if the Islamic State expands unchecked it will ensure a dark age in the Middle East. And you can take that to the bank.
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