Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

People pick through the rubble of the destroyed Mosque of The Prophet Younis, or Jonah, in Mosul, Iraq / AP

ISTANBUL - The blows just keep on coming.

In Mosul, militants who call themselves the Islamic State late last month blew up the Tomb of Jonah - he who the Bible says survived in the belly of a great fish to become a prophet revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

The tomb has survived many invaders. It couldn't survive the Islamic State.

These Sunni militants have destroyed much in the past weeks. They sacked Our Lady of the Tigris - a beloved statue of the Virgin Mary. Christian monasteries, 14th-century Shiite mosques and churches that survived the Mongols are now rubble. Even archaeological digs - including a major site at Nimrud, capital of the Assyrian Empire in the ninth-century B.C. - have not been spared.

As an Iraqi, my heart breaks to see that Islamic militants are systematically destroying the heritage of some of the world's most storied cities - my heritage, my cities - and with it, the identities of these special places fostered over millennia. Because these sacred places are part of our collective Iraqi identity.

It's true that lives are worth more than ancient stones, but the disappearance of these buildings goes hand in hand with the exodus of people. The streets of Mosul, among the earliest Christian centers in the world, no longer ring with church bells on Sunday. Soon, Aramaic - the language of Jesus Christ still spoken in Christian Assyrian towns in northern Iraq - might also go silent as Assyrians flee Islamic State control and the destruction of institutions at the heart of their communities.

We've seen this before. Now that the Islamic State has vanquished the Iraqi army and forced out minorities who don't conform to its vision, the al-Qaeda-inspired group is seeking to dominate on another front. Like the Taliban, the Islamic State is instituting a brutal interpenetration of Islamic law on its conquered territory. Like the Taliban, its laws require believers to destroy idolatrous images.

This approach doesn't end well. The Taliban's destruction of the massive 6th-century Buddhist statues in Afghanistan in March 2001 foreshadowed the scale of the terrorism it unleashed on a population helpless in the face of its onslaught.

Some Islamic State members believe they are iconoclasts simply heeding Islamic prohibitions against bad art. To me, they're waging cultural invasion at its most barbaric, an insistence on disfiguring the collective memory of a region where Muslims, Christians and others have coexisted for centuries. Cultural invasion is arguably the most devastating form - it remakes the occupied society so that the invaders can stay.

We are facing an ideology that doesn't respect the concepts of homeland or nation. It is looking solely for loyalty to its new caliphate. By kicking out Christians and destroying churches, forcing out Shiites and dismantling their mosques, the Islamic state seeks to wipe out the memory of those peoples forever, effectively reshaping the city's identity in their image.

You could call it fostering collective amnesia.

I now understand why the Czech people ran to save the statues on the King Charles Bridge as Nazi forces rolled into Prague decades ago. I empathize with the Egyptians who formed human chains during the Arab Spring to protect the national museum in Cairo from looters. It's the same reason people in Mosul have been guarding The Humped Minaret, which leans like the Tower of Pisa and gives Mosul its nickname, "The Humped." People know they will lose a part of themselves if they lose these treasures.

Gandhi said a nation's culture resides in the hearts and souls of its people. What's in their hearts? For many in Mosul, it's the happy memories set against the silhouette of the Tomb of Jonah that once overlooked the city. What expresses their souls? For some, the call to prayer from the now-wrecked prophet Jirjis mosque. Heritage preserves what's inside people's hearts and souls. Bereft of reminders of who they are, nations without heritages soon forget themselves and disappear.

I hope someday to again see my true homeland, the multicultural, multilayered Iraq that I used to know. I hope that it is not lost forever among the dust and rubble of what was once our shared heritage and our collective memory.

Nabeel is an Iraqi journalist based in Istanbul.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Voices: Don't let militants destroy Iraqi culture

More In

test

Real Deals

Flip, shop and save on specials from your favorite retailers in central Ohio.

GET DEALS | COUPONS

Things To Do

FRI
31
SAT
1
SUN
2
MON
3
TUE
4
WED
5
THU
6

CLASSIFIEDS

Classifieds from across Central Ohio
Lancaster
Chillicothe
Newark
Marion
Bucyrus
Mansfield
Zanesville
Coshocton

Weeklies & Shoppers

10TV Headlines

Dispatch Headlines

METROMIX