The Islamic State has whipped 5 teachers for secretly teaching private lessons in the city of Mia’dan in the eastern periphery of Ar-Raqqah province. This is part of the Islamic State's cultural cleansing campaign that it is inflicting on historical, cultural treasures of Iraq and Syria.
Local source Syria Direct quoted a relative of one of the parents of the children, saying: “ISIS men burst into an apartment in which lessons were held on physics, French language, English language and mathematics. They arrested all of the students and teachers.”
The teachers were sentenced to 50 lashes each in addition to a penalty of cleaning the main road in the city.
ISIS has closed schools across Iraq and Syria, pending curriculum changes to erase teaching "non-Islamic" subjects.
The UN estimates that as a result, 670,000 children are being deprived of an education.
The attack is not limited to learning, but is a wholesale assault on all forms of culture. In February the Islamic State in Libya released pictures showing militants burning musical instruments in Libya, enforcing the group’s ban on music.
This is not unique to the Islamic State but is a central pillar of Islamist ideology. All such groups aim to destroy any culture or learning that they deem ‘un-Islamic’.
For example, last week a Kuwaiti Islamist preacher called on Muslims to blow up the Sphinx and the Pyramids, claiming that “The fact that early Muslims who were among prophet Mohammed's followers did not destroy the pharaohs' monuments upon entering the Egyptian soil, does not mean that we shouldn't do it now.”
In Egypt, the Mufti of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya Abdel Achar Hamad said that listening to music is forbidden and that parents are not allowed to play music to their children - even if the intention is to teach them the language of the Qu’ran. He added in an official fatwa there are other , non-musical means to learn the language, like listening to poems.
In Somalia, Al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab has banned music in the areas in controls, along with smoking, soccer, films and bras. In January 2014 Al-Shabaab even attempted to ban the internet.
Islamic State affiliate Boko Haram’s very name means “Western education is forbidden” and they have demonstrated their commitment to that ideology by kidnapping schoolgirls into sex slavery.
The Pakistani Taliban targets schools on a regular basis, notably killing 145 people in an attack on an army school in Peshawar in December 2014. They also attempted to murder (among other people) women’s education activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousufzai due to her campaigns for the right of girls and women to education.
The Taliban in Afghanistan also banned music and prohibited women and girls from attending school in one of its first edicts after gaining power. Yet in terms of cultural destruction it is best remembered for blowing up two of the world’s oldest and largest stone buddhas in 2001.
The 1,700 year old Buddhas of Bamiyan were carved into the mountains in the Hindu Kush, central Afghanistan and were over 150ft tall.
Yet the Islamic State has perpetrated the most egregious cultural destruction, not least because the area it has conquered is some of the most archaeologically rich in the world.
The land now under the control of the Islamic State is the heart of what is called the Fertile Crescent.
Between the two rivers of the Tigris and the Euphrates is where urbanization first developed (along with concurrent developments along the Yangtze and Ganges rivers) some 7,500 years ago. Its pivotal role in world history led to its being dubbed ‘the cradle of civilization.’
Yet the Islamic State seeks to eradicate that heritage, as it views all "non-Islamic" culture to be shirk or idolatry.
The group’s fighters in Mosul destroyed ancient artifacts from the Mosul museum, including many irreplaceable pieces from the Assyrian period, some 3,000 old. They also torched the library, which contained many antique and rare books.
Although initial reports suggested that some 8,000 books were burned by the Islamic State, The Independent found from local sources that "112,709 manuscripts and books, some of which were registered on a UNESCO rarities list" were destroyed.
They have bulldozed the ruins of the ancient city of Nimrod, capital of the late Assyrian King Assurnasirpal II (883-859 BC).
Hatra, the remains of a unique city over 2,000 years old and a UNESCO world heritage site, was also demolished. The city was the capital of the first Arab kingdom and survived two Roman invasions.
The Assyrian capital of Khorsarabad, several 3,000 year old stone winged lions, a 10th century Assyrian monastery near Mosul and Sufi shrines across Iraq have also been damaged or destroyed as part of the Islamic State’s war on Iraq’s past.
Last year the Islamic State destroyed the tomb of the biblical prophet Jonah as well as those attributed to the prophet Daniel and Seth, the third son of Adam.
All three prophets are revered in Islam, Christianity and Judaism. This is but a fraction of the cultural devastation wrought by the Islamic State and other Islamist groups on the territories they control.
Nor should it be thought that Islamist groups which are non-violent now would refrain from such destruction in the future. Already in the UK in Islamist controlled schools boys and girls are segregated and ‘non-Islamic’ subjects either forced into subordinate positions or erased from the curriculum altogether (such as the biology of human reproduction).
The Muslim Brotherhood and related groups share the same ultimate goals as the Islamic State such as the implementation of sharia governance and the establishment of a Caliphate
. We see that not only does the Islamist ideology strive to control the present, by banning music and other ‘un-Islamic’ activities, as well as any dissent, but also to control the past, by destroying all the evidence that there ever was any other way of thinking.
This in turn, they hope, will enable them to control the future, which they attempt to do by indoctrinating the young as early as possible and tightly controlling the curriculum to include only the Islamist way of thinking.