Progress Report on the Advance of the Caliphate
The activities described in two news items recently noted by Daily Mail (U.K.) pretty well sum up the progress being made these days by the group which several months ago declared the inauguration of the Caliphate — universal rule of the Godly as proclaimed by Muhammad himself.
“Shock [sic] new video shows ISIS thugs smashing historic Iraqi city of Nimrud with barrel bombs, bulldozers and jackhammers in orgy of destruction slammed as a war crime by the United Nations … ‘God has honored us in the Islamic State to remove all of these idols and statues worshipped instead of Allah in the past days,’ one militant says in the video. Another militant vows that ‘whenever we seize a piece of land, we will remove signs of idolatry and spread monotheism.’ (MailOnLine, April 13, 2015. )
“Nine year old sex slave is made pregnant by ten ISIS militants raping her…. Yazidi activists say many remain in the hands of Islamic State, which has often subjected women to rape or sexual slavery. The United Nations said last month that the Islamic State may have committed genocide against the minority.” MailOnLine, April 13, 2015.
It is important for us to grasp that the methods by which this progress has been achieved and on account of which unlimited future progress is anticipated by these zealots are those mandated in the mission statement of the Prophet Himself: “When you encounter those [infidels] who deny [Islam],” he instructed the faithful, “ then strike off their necks.” [Qur’an 47:4.]
Raymond Ibrahim notes that in the earliest Muslim literature there are exact parallels for the entire range of sadistically-inspired behavior that we have come to expect from ISIS – “beheadings and mutilations … humiliation and gestures of triumph (feet on chest of fallen victim, dragging his body, or head, on the ground), laughter, mockery, and celebration (for the hearts of the believers are now ‘healed.’)” (“Beheading Infidels: How Allah ‘Heals the Hearts of Believers,’ www.frontpagemag.com, September 12, 2014.) Muhammad would surely never begrudge these servants his full marks for clarity of purpose and for candour in regard to the principles and their goals
We do not have to assume that in net terms ISIS is gaining on the ground – that is, that it governs more lives today than it did yesterday. Nobody really knows the answer to this question. Since the formation of the anti-ISIS Alliance spectacular losses of fighting manpower have been suffered by ISIS. Vast territory which was won in a spectacular manner just months ago in Iraq and in Syria has been abandoned by ISIS, apparently without net gain by ISIS in territory or population.
At the same time, it has to be kept in mind, that ISIS does not wholly-own the franchise in the field of Islamic Empire-building at this hour: other equally-bloody-minded organizations – Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, AQAP, al-Shaba, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, etc — all of whom hate each other more than they hate us – are increasingly active in the same cause. Their intramural differences mean nothing to us; and the moment we begin to image that they should, then it is game over. What cannot be denied is that more people every day are being dragged into Islamic slavery.
The World Aroused by ISIS ‘Destruction of “Cultural Heritage”
As this process continues, leaders of opinion among us remain determined to confuse our judgment by spinning out the fantasy that such “Islamist” organizations and activities have “nothing to do with Islam” (as Prime Minister David Cameron and Barack Obama both teach.) This thought allows them to remain in denial about the bottom-line reality.
At the same time, the mainstream (that is, secular) media are working hard to keep our eyes averted from the imminent elimination of Christianity from the Arab world. (For dispatches from this front we are almost entirely dependent on dedicated Christian news-gatherers including Open Doors and the Voice of the Martyrs; and see, “Violence against Christian Copts continues despite fall of Muslim Brotherhood,” Christian Post, March 26, 2014; Raymond Ibrahim, “Largest massacre of Christians in Syria ignored,” www.meforum.org, November 21, 2013; “Syrian Christians facing extinction: ‘A tragedy of historic proportions,’ ” Christian Today, August 15, 2014. But increasing sensitivity to this crisis in secular media is represented (inter alia) by “Christians who use the language of Jesus being uprooted by Islamic state, “ Washington Post, April 15, 2015; “The New Exodus: Christians Flee ISIS in the Middle East,” Newsweek, March 26, 2015. )
But there may be a small victory for clarity to be reported on one front. Substantial news coverage is now suddenly being given to stories about the “barbaric” campaign of destruction of antiquities of all kinds in areas under ISIS rule. At Hatra, Nimrud, Nineveh and Khorsabad and other sites where ruins remain from the days of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911 BC to 609 BC) official ISIS gangs have been systematically destroying everything. These deeds are eliciting alarm about the fate of “Our Cultural Heritage.”
Leadership on this theme is coming from the United Nations – which, it must be said, has not been at the forefront of the fight to save the living Christian people fleeing from Islamic zealotry in Iraq or anywhere else. Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO has condemned the latest IS attack on antiquities in Iraq as a “mad, destructive act that accentuates the horror of the situation… With their hammers and explosives they are also obliterating the site itself [Nimrud], clearly determined to wipe out all traces of the history of Iraq’s people.” This amounts to a “war crime,” she says, and “we will do everything possible to fight against this and document it, to ensure that those responsible are identified and brought to justice …. This is not just a cultural tragedy. It’s also a security issue, with terrorists using the destruction of heritage as a weapon of war.”
Many voices have spoken out on this crisis, from the front ranks of opinion-makers. International Business Times says that “The total destruction of Nimrud is the latest in a series of attacks on ancient artefacts and antiquities in Iraq and Syria in the name of an iconoclastic and strict interpretation of Islamic Law that draws inspiration from early Islamic history.” (April 13, 2015.)
The New York Times has been exceptionally irate about the failure of “the world” to respond to this crisis:
Will the world do nothing to stop extremist groups from destroying some of civilization’s most treasured monuments? The question has confronted Western governments with stark urgency in the weeks since the Islamic State released a video of militants smashing ancient sculptures at the Mosul Museum… But so far the United States and its allies have wrung their hands … Since 2011, five of the six Unesco World Heritage sites in Syria have suffered significant damage; four have been requisitioned for military purposes by different groups, in direct violation of international protocols. Tunnel bombs have devastated Aleppo’s old city; thousand-year-old minarets have been detonated; medieval forts have been shelled; Parthian and Hellenistic sites have been pillaged. Then came the Islamic State, which turned such attacks into an explicit strategy …. [setting loose] looting brigades .. and carefully choreographing destruction of mosques, libraries and other monuments belonging to any groups or sects it regards as deviant. …. Amid overwhelming evidence that the Islamic State’s barbaric campaign against culture amounts to a war crime, the world must be ready to use force to stop it. (“Use Force to stop ISIS’ destruction of art and History,” New York Times April 3, 2015
A Little Background: The Legacy of the Neo-Assyrian Empire
The Neo-Assyrian Empire, at its height, ruled the entire Mesopotamian world, Syria, Phoenicia, and, for a while, even Egypt. For many centuries following its overturn by a league of subject nations it remained legendary for its brutal efficiency. The Israeli Prophet Nahum, who preached near the end of Assyria’s greatness, described that Empire as “a lion …. [which] filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh” (Na 2:12.) Hebrew Scripture gives us quick sketches of several of these monster: Pul (whose dynastic name was Tiglath-Pileser III, 744-727) (2Ki 15:19, 1Ch 5:26); Shalmaneser V, 726-722 (2Ki 17:3), called “Shalman” in Ho 10:14; Sargon II , 721-705 (Is 20:1); Sennacherib, 704-681 (numerous references 2Ki 18 through 19:36 and in Is 37); and Esarhaddon, 680-669 (2Ki 19:37; Is 37:38.) The generalization found in Scripture regarding the ferocity and ruthlessness of these kings is confirmed by these monarchs themselves in the boastful descriptions of their conquests which survive in the annals and the monuments of Assyria and in the records of the many nations which were kept by force within their regime. What remains of these is now being reduced to garbage by ISIS’ committee of deep-thinkers.
A scholar sums up the modus operandi of the Assyrian tyrant:
The king’s throne would be set up before the gates of the city and the prisoners would be paraded before him, led by the monarch of the captured town, who would undergo the most agonizing torture, such as having his eyes put out or confinement in a cage, until the king of Assyria set a term to his long-drawn agony. Sargon had the defeated king of Damascus burned alive before his eyes. The wives and daughters of the captured king were destined for the Assyrian harems and those who were not of noble blood were condemned to slavery. Meanwhile the soldiery had been massacring the population, and brought the heads of their victims into the king’s presence, where they were counted up by the scribes. [Georges Contenau, Everyday Life in Babylon and Assyria. Eng. trans. (London: Edward Arnold, 1954), 148.]
Does any of this ring a bell? Several generations of high school students (right up to the one to which I belong) were required to rehearse this gruesome story as they memorized Lord Byron’s The Destruction of SennacheribThe Destruction of SennacheribThe Destruction of Sennacherib”The Destruction of Sennacherib: ” … The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold….”
The Meeting of Kindred Spirits Across Twenty-five Centuries
If they were not so captive to their theology, the heroes of ISIS would certainly be saluting these kindred spirits – worshippers of the same demon-god.
We should all join in lamenting the loss to the civilized world of the privilege of freely contemplating the records of this civilization, while profiting morally from lessons that this long-gone empire teaches about what cruelty on such a scale can accomplish – and why, we trust and hope, such accomplishments must be short-lived.
Though not the longest-lasting of the Mesopotamian Empires, the Neo-Assyrian Empire left traces in the History books forever. And yet it is far too soon to award the prize for sadism-on-the-grandest-scale to historical Assyria. That prize now surely belongs to ISIS. This consideration, all by itself, shoots down in flames the notion of moral progress in history.