Thursday, 21 May 2015

Will Palmyra suffer the fate of the Buddha?

It is international news of great distress that in spite of US claims of air strikes killing scores of ISIS terrorists, the group has made great advances into Syrian territory, today even seizing the ancient city of Palmyra, a UN World Heritage site.

History dates the settlement of Palmyra to 7500 BC. That is a hell of a lot back in time than anyone would like to think of. Documents from various parts of the ancient world describe the city in eloquent details and it seems to be as famous as Babylon or Constantinople in ancient trading standards.

Ruins at Palmyra.
Image Courtesy: UNESCO.

In case it isn’t clear, the Buddha referred to in the title are the Bamiyan Buddhas statues in Afghanistan (built in the 6th century AD) which were destroyed by the Taliban when they seized control of the area near Kabul. They were dynamited and horribly defaced because the leaders of the Taliban believed them to be idols and hence, blasphemous.

Bamiyan Buddhas.
Image Courtesy: worldarcheology.com

Now, another heritage site, which predates the Bamiyan Buddhas my millennia, has come under the control of another extremist organization that may or may not decide to disturb the remnants left by ancient humanity by blowing it up in response to airstrikes by coalition forces.

Extremist organizations throughout history have wanted power but have had a distinct lack of respect for culture and heritage. Well, it does make sense that those who cannot value human life will not value history. Julius Caesar’s Roman legions set fire to the Library of Alexandria, which, if it were standing, would be the single most important point of reference for world history. In recent history, Hitler’s Nazi army seized a lot of art from Europe and a lot of it was destroyed or lost when the Third Reich fell.

It is now the duty of international organizations to intervene on behalf of humanity to ensure that these ancient ruins are kept out of this war. It is time the United Nations stop issuing impotent protests and actually galvanizes some real effort into preserving this historical city.


Because what are we, if not the sum of our collective history?