Wednesday, August 19, 2015

When the past is a threat

Who's afraid of the big bad antiquities scholar?

Apparently ISIS is. As this morning's news informs us, they beheaded 81-year-old Khaled al-Asaad and hung his body from a Roman column outside Palmyra, Syria.

I can understand why a fundamentalist group would consider journalists threatening--they uncover news that might counter the group's master narrative. But Khaled al-Asaad was an expert on 2000-year-old ruins, so any news he unearthed would be severely out of date. Who finds an antiquities scholar threatening?

The answer is simple; according to the AP, "The Sunni extremist group, which has imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah, believes ancient relics promote idolatry. IS militants claim they are destroying ancient artifacts and archaeological treasures as part of their purge of paganism." So they're going to purge the past along with the present? Where will it end?

Furthermore, "IS had tried to extract information from him about where some of the town's treasures had been hidden to save them from the militants."

How horrible would it be to spend your entire adult life unearthing ancient artifacts and spreading knowledge of the ancient world and then finally turn to hiding the artifacts and burying the knowledge from those who find them threatening? And then to lose your life in an attempt to protect antiquities from people determined to wipe out any knowledge that contradicts their own narrow master narrative?

Knowledge is power, I tell myself, but then I think of that 81-year-old scholar's beheaded body hanging from a column and I wonder what kind of knowledge can disempower the forces of know-nothingism now rampant in the world. Learn about the past or the terrorists win! (Who knew history was so subversive?)

1 comment:

Bardiac said...

Thank you, Bev. I needed to think about that beheading in more useful ways than I had been.