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September 5th, 2015
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Defense

Defense

Culture Cleanse: Historical Monastery Destroyed by ISIS

Culture Cleanse: Historical Monastery Destroyed by ISIS

A 5th century Assyrian Christian monastery in Syria has been destroyed as part of the Islamic State's jihad against 'idolatrous' ancient culture

A 5th century Assyrian Christian monastery in Syria has been destroyed as part of the Islamic State's jihad against ancient culture that it believes promotes idolatry and polytheism. It is the same Islamist teaching that led the Taliban to destroy 6th century statues of Buddha in 2001.

The Islamic State (ISIS) bulldozed the gorgeous Saint Elian monastery in Homs, Syria. The site is where a Catholic saint was executed for his faith by his own father who was a member of the Roman army. Saint Elian's remains were even removed from his grave. Islamic State members proudly distributed photos of the desecration online.

The destruction occurred only days after Islamic State militants publicly beheaded Khalid al-Asaad, an 81-year-old antiquities scholar who had dedicated his entire life to the study and preservation of Palmyra’s ancient ruins.  Asaad’s body was strung up from a traffic light by his wrists with his head resting below his hanging corpse.

Islamist doctrine allows churches and non-Islamic historical sites to exist under sharia governance with restrictions. However, when those sites or human beings honored by those sites are worshipped, they become idolatrous and their destruction is mandatory. The Islamic State often sells the artifacts from the sites as a means of fundraising.

"We were ordered by our prophet to take down idols and destroy them… Whenever we take control of a piece of land, we remove the symbols of polytheism and spread monotheism in it," said a member of the Islamic State in a video showcasing its destruction of an ancient palace in Iraq.

The destruction of Saint Elian monastery is part of a larger campaign by the Islamic State. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

(UNESCO) estimates that one-fifth of Iraq's historical sites are now at the mercy of the Islamic State caliphate. The chief of UNESCO describes the "cultural cleansing" as "an industrial scale of destruction."

There are measures that can be taken by the international community to protect this important history, like cracking down on illegal artifact trafficking, digital mapping and, of course, crushing Islamist terrorists. But the core problem is doctrinal.

The Islamic State and other Islamist culture-cleansers are students of an ideology, not the inventors. The Muslim world needs to foster a culture that welcomes reinterpretation of sharia and views modern thinking as part of man's path towards understanding God's will, rather than a threat to the faith.

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio.

 

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