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ISIS Wages Cultural Genocide in Palmyra

They finally did it. The bastards destroyed Palmyra’s Temple of Bel.

We all knew it was coming in May when ISIS conquered the ancient Roman-era city an hour’s drive east of the Syrian city of Homs.

At first nothing happened. They promised they’d leave Palmyra alone, that they wouldn’t lay waste to its offensive pre-Islamicness the way they wrecked the Iraqi cities of Hatra and Nimrud. 

I almost wrote that I was wrong after I predicted Palmyra’s destruction in City Journal, but then I thought, no, this is ISIS we’re talking about. Of course they’re going blow up the city. They’re just waiting for short attention-spanned Westerners to stop paying attention.

The West is not going to ride to the rescue. Neither will anyone else. (Well, maybe the Kurds will. They’re among the very best people in the Middle East. For so many reasons.)

But the impulse is there, isn’t it? At least a little bit? Who can witness this sort of thing and just shrug it off? Human life is more important than buildings, of course, but the Temple of Bel is not “just a building.” It isn’t a gas station. It isn’t a Wal-mart. It belongs to the heritage of mankind. Even Bashar al-Assad’s gangster regime is genuinely shocked and appalled. 

In March of 2001, the Taliban destroyed the ancient Buddha statues at Bamiyan. They used dynamite. They used anti-aircraft guns. It took them weeks of dedicated effort, but they finally got the job done.

They destroyed those statues for one reason only: they were not Islamic.

One of my best friends was so aghast he told me that the United States should invade Afghanistan. I said he was nuts. We’re not going to invade a country on the other side of the planet because some primitive yahoos blew up some statues. And I was right. We did not invade of Afghanistan because some primitive yahoos blew up some statutes.

But I’ll never forget what he said next.

People who commit cultural genocide will mass-murder humans. War is inevitable.

Six months later, the United States invaded Afghanistan after the most devastating attack on American soil in history.

I was right. But so was he. 

The Taliban’s cultural genocide was just a prelude to what would come later.

Three months later, Paul Berman wrote “Terror and Liberalism,” one the most brilliant essays of his career which he later expanded into an even more brilliant book, comparing Al Qaeda’s ideology to Nazism, Communism, and General Franco’s fascism in Spain. The details of the ideologies are all strikingly different, of course, but they’re all just different flavors of modern totalitarianism with identical baseline characteristics.

The shared ideas were these: There exists a people of good who in a just world ought to enjoy a sound and healthy society. But society's health has been undermined by a hideous infestation from within, something diabolical, which is aided by external agents from elsewhere in the world. The diabolical infestation must be rooted out. Rooting it out will require bloody internal struggles, capped by gigantic massacres. It will require an all-out war against the foreign allies of the inner infestation--an apocalyptic war, perhaps even Apocalyptic with a capital A. (The Book of the Apocalypse, as André Glucksmann has pointed out, does seem to have played a remote inspirational role in generating these twentieth-century doctrines.) But when the inner infestation has at last been rooted out and the external foe has been defeated, the people of good shall enjoy a new society purged of alien elements--a healthy society no longer subject to the vibrations of change and evolution, a society with a single, blocklike structure, solid and eternal.

Each of the twentieth-century antiliberal movements expressed this idea in its own idiosyncratic way. The people of good were described as the Aryans, the proletarians, or the people of Christ. The diabolical infestation was described as the Jews, the bourgeoisie, the kulaks, or the Masons. The bloody internal battle to root out the infestation was described as the "final solution," the "final struggle," or the "Crusade." The impending new society was sometimes pictured as a return to the ancient past and sometimes as a leap into the sci-fi future. It was the Third Reich, the New Rome, communism, the Reign of Christ the King. But the blocklike characteristics of that new society were always the same. And with those ideas firmly in place, each of the antiliberal movements marched into battle.

And each of those totalitarian movements started unspeakable wars that killed millions upon millions of people.

Here we are again, a decade and a half later, and ISIS—Al Qaeda 2.0—is doing in Syria what the Taliban did in Afghanistan.

At the moment, the West would likely tolerate ISIS going full Pol Pot and genociding Syria off the map for a while, but these people are inevitably going to screw with us.

We’re not going to invade Syria to save some old buildings even if they are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but just like in 2001, at some point down the line, war is inevitable.

 

 

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