Graveyard of great civilisations

Fabled and historic cities and celebrated centres of art and culture stand ruined today all over the Middle East.

By Author Aijaz Zaka Syed   |   Published: 18th Jul 2017   12:01 am Updated: 18th Jul 2017   12:05 am

Mosul is free. It has been liberated at last, just as the rest of Iraq by the same coalition of the willing. So what if the ancient city had to be wrecked, to be liberated and saved from the clutches of Daesh.

A CNN television crew that swept through what looked like a spooky, city of ghosts in the final hours of the battle became emotional enough to note that it looked like an alien landscape, like the set of a war movie. Not a building captured by television cameras stood intact or betrayed human existence. It was indeed a city of ghosts.

Estimates suggest that the long battle to liberate Mosul may have cost thousands of lives, not to mention billions of dollars that are now needed to rebuild the city that has had a ringside view of Islamic history.


Inhuman Tactics

Amnesty International and other rights groups have warned that the tactics used by the Iraqi government and its Western allies in the war violated humanitarian laws and amounted to war crimes. The activists also accused Daesh of “flagrantly violating humanitarian law by deliberately putting civilians in harm’s way.”

But who gives a damn what a bunch of humanitarians think anyway? What matters is victory, no matter what the cost. It matters little if Iraq’s second largest city has been reduced to dust. Mosul’s fabled Al Nuri Mosque, built by the great Nur al-Din Mahmoud Zangi, who mentored Salah ad-Din Ayyubi, the legendary Arab-Islamic hero and victor of the Crusades, has been reduced to rubble.

Apparently, it was because of its historic import that Al Baghdadi, the pretender to the so-called caliphate, chose the great mosque to make his only appearance in 2014 and preach to the faithful. That may be why the 12th century mosque was recently destroyed along with its famous ‘hunchback’ minaret. Everyone blamed Daesh and they blamed a US airstrike.

Method in Madness

Given the eventful history of the terror group as well as the illustrious record of the US-led coalition, you cannot put anything past either of them. But whoever targeted Mosul’s historic mosque had an uncanny sense of history. They chose the night of 27th Ramadan, believed to be Laylatul Qadr (the Night of Power) by the Muslims; the night Quran was first revealed to the Prophet, to destroy it.

It is not just Mosul. There is a long procession of such fabled and historically rich cities and countries, which stand ruined today all over the Middle East. From Baghdad to Aleppo to Mosul and from Palestine and Iraq to Syria to Libya – in the region considered the cradle of civilisation, it is the same story. The Middle East has become a graveyard of great civilisations.

History has been repeating itself across the region, with a pattern and frequency that is both frightening and fascinating. Maybe it is merely a conspiracy of circumstances. However, there is a clear method in the madness being repeatedly unleashed across this ancient land, obliterating its celebrated centres of learning, art and culture. That extremists, by their very nature, support and revel in such mindless destruction is a given. The destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas by Afghanistan’s Taliban was a similar profound tragedy. Likewise, the destruction of priceless heritage and artefacts in cities and historical sites like Palmyra with its Roman ruins under IS was a crime against humanity. It takes ages to build and create heritage like what proudly stood for more than 2,000 years in Palmyra.

Helping or Ruining?

The ‘shock and awe’ that the world powers have visited on countries like Iraq and Afghanistan in the name of freedom and fighting terror have also contributed immensely to this destruction.
Iraq, once one of the Middle East’s richest and most developed nations, lies in ruins, not to mention more than a million lives lost and the monster of sectarian conflict that the invasion unleashed across the region. Does anyone remember the obliteration – ‘culturecide’ in the words of writer Robert Fisk — that Iraq’s priceless treasures of antiquity suffered at the hands of those who came to liberate it?

Next door, Syria has been at the heart of one of the longest running and catastrophic conflicts in history. What started as a legitimate people’s movement against Baathist tyranny soon got hijacked by world powers. As a result, one of the world’s oldest countries has been totally flattened with more than half of its population living as refugees in neighbouring countries. Libya, another oil-rich nation, has been in free fall since Qaddafi was driven from power and lynched.

It is the same story everywhere. I am not a great believer in conspiracy theories. But you have got to be blind as a bat not to see the deliberate destruction of these ancient cities and countries, one after another, under some pretext or the other, only to offer to rebuild them later, with their own hard-earned resources of course. First, they create these monsters to wreak havoc and then they come forward to help get rid of them, for a price of course.

Who created Al-Qaida and its latter more fearsome version, Daesh? Who brainwashed, trained and armed these extremists? The truth is out there, if you have the stomach for it. And when they run amok and turn on their own masters, you know who to blame! Little or no attention is paid to the real drivers of this conflict or ‘terrorism’.

It is a familiar game. Look at the current crisis unfolding in the region. Supporting this side with a lucrative arms deal and rooting for the other side with a defence pact, you keep them guessing which side you are on, successfully playing both sides as you go along. In the end, no matter which side wins, it is good for business.

(The author is an award-winning journalist.