Posts Tagged ‘Dan Cruikshank’

Dan Cruikshank on ISIS’ Attack on Ancient Monuments

June 24, 2015

Next Tuesday the Beeb is showing a programme by Dan Cruikshank on the threat posed to the great antiquities and priceless monuments of Middle East by ISIS. It’s entitled Dan Cruikshank’s Civilisation under Attack. The blurbs for it in the Radio Times state

Islamic State have declared war on some of the planet’s most important architectural sites, with jihadi fighters seemingly set on destroying the wonders of the ancient world. Dan Cruikshank charts the likely course of the militant group’s advance, investigating why it is happening. (p. 86)

and

Watching the videos here of Islamic State fighters taking sledgehammers and drills to Assyrian reliefs in Nimrud – then blowing up the whole site – is hard. Similar attacks in Mosul, Nineveh and Hatra have brought global condemnation, and now the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra lies under IS control.

Dan Cruikshank talks to Islamic scholars about the claimed rationale behind the IS actions and what, if anything, can be done to challenge it. ‘Are we prepared to use armed force to protect the cultural heritage of all humanity?’ demands one expert. But it turns out to be not nearly that simple, in a programme that can offer few answers. (p. 83.)

The programme’s on BBC 4 at 9.00 pm, if you can bear to watch the footage of this gratuitous vandalism.

Cruikshank is an architectural historian with a deep appreciation of the glories of the world’s architectural heritage, not just that of Britain. A few years ago he presented a series, in which he toured the globe’s great buildings and monuments, including those of Iraq and Afghanistan. These included either Babylon or Nineveh, where he was horrified to find how botched and tawdry the ‘restoration’ performed by Saddam Hussein had been. The monument had been partly restored using modern brick stamped with the late dictator’s own name. I’ve got a feeling this was slightly before the West’s invasion of Iraq, as he stated his own, real fears about the threat a war in the country posed to the survival of these precious antiquities. He also talked to one of the leaders of the Christian community in Iraq about the deterioration in relationships between them and their Muslim compatriots. The interview was quite strained, with ominous pauses where the bishop appeared to be thinking very carefully indeed about how to explain his people’s embattled situation. He explained that relations between Christians and Muslims had previously been quite harmonious. Tensions had increased, with members of the Christian church physically assaulted, with the threat of invasion from the West.

Alas, Cruikshank’s fears have been borne out. Christian communities throughout Iraq and the Middle East have been attacked and expelled by ISIS as part of their radical Islamisation of the territories they capture. And it’s not just been Christians that have suffered. They’ve also attacked, brutalised and enslaved the Yezidis, and have killed Muslims, whose religious views differ from and are opposed to their own. I’ve blogged before about how many Islamic clergy have been murdered and mosques demolished by ISIS, simply because they dared to have a different conception of Islam.

And in addition to destroying churches, and ancient Assyrian monuments, they’ve also destroyed historic Islamic shrines, again because they are ‘un-Islamic’, according to their twisted ideology.

All this is a deliberate attack on an ancient heritage that belongs to the world and specifically to the peoples of the countries ISIS have conquered and brutalised. These monuments are a threat, as they show just how ancient the history and culture of these peoples are. Archaeologists and historians of the ancient Near East, such as Georges Roux in his Ancient Iraq have noted, for example, that the style of housing used by the ancient Babylonians is very much the same as that traditionally used in Iraq. The forensic scientist and Egyptologist, Dr Jo-Anne Fletcher, made the same point about the type of houses built and used by modern Egyptians. This is also very similar to those built by their ancient predecessors thousands of years previously.

In language, too, there is considerable similarity and some remarkable survivals from the ancient cultures. Akkadian, the language of the Assyrian Empire, was, like Arabic and Hebrew, a Semitic language. And there are still words in modern Arabic, which are clearly derived from, if not exactly the same, as those uttered by the Assyrians. Certain customs and cultural practices have also survived down the centuries from the ancient past. In the programme about Palmyra, Cruikshank pointed to a relief, which showed a group of veiled women riding camels or mules. This, he pointed out, showed how ancient the veiling of women was in the Middle East. It certainly does. Respectable married women were required by law in ancient Assyria to veil themselves in public.

ISIS’ destruction of these monuments is a deliberate attempt to erase the history and cultural identity of Iraq and Syria. It’s the same totalitarian strategy pursued by Hitler and Stalin, in their brutal campaigns to remodel Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union, so that no trace of their former cultures could survive to challenge the regime. And the cultural vandalism didn’t stop there, but was also imposed on the nations they conquered. Hitler, for example, had the Paris metro destroyed, as he had claimed that Berlin was the only city in the world that had such an underground railway system. This was clearly belied by the existence of the French system, and so it had to be destroyed. And as Orwell stated in 1984, that classic SF dystopia, if you want to control the future, you have to control the past. Hence the Ministry of Truth, which existed to rewrite history in order to satisfy the ideological and propaganda needs of Big Brother’s tyranny.

Orwell based his book on Stalin’s Russia. Since then, Communism has fallen, although Putin seems determined to revive some of Stalin’s reputation and his brutal methods. And ISIS have now succeeded the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as destroyers of culture and history in the pursuit of totalitarian power.

They haven’t always been able to get their own way, however. There has been the odd case where the local people have protested so strongly against their attempts to destroy one of their country’s monuments, that ISIS have been forced to retreat. One of these cases was when the locals gathered round to protect an historic minaret.

Their actions stand in stark contrast to far more enlightened approach of the early caliphs. What made medieval Islam such a powerful cultural and scientific force in global society, was its willingness to seek out, absorb, and assimilate the learning of the peoples they had conquered. This was then synthesized and built on, with the result that Muslim scholars made astonishing advances in astronomy, medicine, physics, mathematics, philosophy, chemistry, historiography – the philosophy of history – and even in areas ISIS utterly detest, such as musical theory.

ISIS, by contrast, are destroyers, and their deliberate and calculated attack on these ancient monuments has left the culture of the world and the Muslim and Arab peoples themselves badly impoverished.

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Netanyahu Scaremongers again about Iran Nuclear Threat

March 3, 2015

Netanyahu has been at it again today. According to the I, he criticised Obama’s attempts to make an agreement with Iran over the country’s nuclear programme. He told a meeting of AIPAC – the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee – yesterday (2nd March) that Iran’s nuclear project threatens Israel’s very existence. He accused Iran of ‘threatening to destroy Israel’ and that it was ‘devouring country after country in the Middle East, that is exporting terror throughout the world and is developing as we speak the capacity to make nuclear weapons.’

This isn’t the first time Netanyahu has raised fears of a nuclear attack on Israel by Iran. Three years ago in 2012 he told the UN that the Iranians were only a year away from developing an atomic bomb, that would be used against Israel. He came complete with a diagram showing Iran’s growing nuclear capability, shaped like the stereotypical bomb from thousands of old cartoons.

He was lying. About a fortnight ago, the Guardian revealed that, according to leaked documents from Israel’s spy service, Mossad, and their internal security agency, Shin Bet, no such threat existed. The head of the Iraeli army, in much more guarded language, actually cautioned Netanyahu against taking any military action against Iran. The Young Turks discuss these revelations in the video below.

Iran’s Nuclear Power for Generating Electricity Only

Others have come to the same conclusion. Shirin Ebadi, a left-wing critic of the Iranian regime, who has its oppression of women and its exploitation country’s ordinary, working people, made the same point. In her book Iran on the Brink, she argues against an invasion of Iran. According to her, the mullahs governing the country aren’t interested in developing atomic weapons. Their claims that they want to develop it simply as a domestic power source are true. The country is indeed an oil producer, but they use it primarily for export. They intend to build nuclear power plants so that less oil is consumed by the country itself. The oil saved can then be exported, boosting the country’s economy and their own profits.

Netanyahu’s Claims of Iranian Terrorist Threat Exaggerated

Now let’s examine Netanyahu’s claims about Iran exporting terrorism, and ‘devouring country after country’. It’s true that Iran has exported terror around the world. In the 1990s the Iranian secret services were responsible for a massacre of Kurdish separatists meeting in a German restaurant. As for militaristic expansionism, it has been suggested that the Iranians are, or have, given military support to the Shi’ah minority in Iraq. The majority of Iranian Muslims are Shi’ah, and so they wish to support and bolster the power of their co-religionists in Iraq. There have also been claims that they would like to take control of the country. I can also remember reading articles in Private Eye speculating that British forces in Iraq or Afghanistan have also come into contact with Iranian troops there.

Iran has not, however, taken control of Iraq and has absolutely no links to the Taliban or al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. In fact liberal Iranians went to the polls in 2008 to vote out Ahmedinejad as a religious hard-liner who, they feared, would turn their country into a ‘Taliban state’. Afghanistan is a Sunni Muslim nation, a different form of Islam to Shi’ism. As for al-Qaeda and ISIS, they are militant Sunni, and so hostile to Iran and its political ambitions. Given the brutal intolerance of ISIS, the Iranians probably have good reason to fear them.

The mullahs in Iran are deeply hostile to Israel, and much of their rhetoric is poisonously genocidal. However, they aren’t the danger that Netanyahu is presenting them as.

Western Invasion of Iraq Responsible for Increased Persecution of Religious Minorities

If anything, Netanyahu’s rhetoric is also extremely dangerous, and likely to make the tense situation in the Middle East much worse, especially for its ethnic and religious minorities. Twenty years ago the Likud party with the Republicans in America drew up plans for the invasion of Iraq. Likud wished to see Saddam Hussein overthrown as he was supplying arms to the Palestinians. The invasion instead destabilised the region, and made possible ISIS’ emergence. About ten years ago, Dan Cruikshank journeyed to Iraq as part of a BBC TV series looking at the world’s great architectural heritage. He spoke to the patriarch of one of the Eastern Orthodox Christian churches. The interview was strained, with ominous silences where none of them spoke. The patriarch said that previously, relations with Muslim Iraqis had been quite harmonious. They had since become much worse, largely because of the invasion. The Islamic state has butchered the Christian population in the areas they’ve overrun. Iraq’s ancient Christian people, who speak Syriac, a Semitic language descended from Aramaic, have been forced out of their ancient homelands, like Mosul.

And they haven’t been the only people ISIS have persecuted. They’ve also attacked the Yezidis, a faith which contains elements of Sufi Islam and Zoroastrianism.

Iran also has its non-Muslim religious minorities. About 3 per cent of the population are Armenian Christians. Like the Syriac-speaking churches, these are one of the most ancient branches of the Christian faith. There is also an Anglican church in Tehran. These churches have also suffered persecution at the hands of extremists and bigots. Iran was also the ancient home of Zoroastrianism, the state religion of the Persian Empire. Zoroaster was the prophet, who reformed the Iranian religion and instituted the worship of the god Ahura Mazda, the good deity responsible for the creation of the world and its good creatures. I think there are even one or two Jews left in Iran, for all that most of them emigrated when the Ayatollah Khomeini declared they were free to leave after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Netanyahu’s belligerent rhetoric threatens to make the situation worse in Iran for all its religious minorities, and for liberal Muslims wishing to create a more open, tolerant and modern country. It stands to provoke even further suspicion and resentment. And by making such claims, Netanyahu also makes the situation worse for Israel by increasing international tension and the possibility of further violence.

Conclusion: Netanyahu’s Rhetoric Cynical Electioneering

But as The Young Turks point out, Netanyahu really isn’t interested in promoting peace or securing Israel’s safety. He wants to stoke fears of an Iranian nuclear threat in the hope of gaining further domestic votes. It’s a cynical attitude that threatens the safety of everyone in the region. Especially as the leaked documents to the Guardian have shown, it’s based on lies.

Obama reassured AIPAC that he had no intention of allowing the Iranians to build nuclear bombs. He should be believed, as should the Iranians, when they say that it really is all about generating electricity. The real liar is Netanyahu, and his lies threaten everyone.

White Supremacism, Militant Islam, and the Rhetoric of Genocide

December 1, 2014

Last week, Tom over at Pride’s Purge posted a piece on a virulent, genocidal rant against Muslims published on Youtube by an angry White man as a message to David Cameron. As its author in the first few moments of his rant said that UKIP would ‘sort out’ David Cameron, Mr Pride’s post about it took the title, ‘The Party Political Broadcast UKIP Don’t Want You to See’. Some of the commenters on the Proud One’s blog pointed out that there was no obvious connection to UKIP beyond this opening comment, and that it may not have come from Farage’s party at all. That’s correct, but it does show that the poster of the original video nevertheless does see UKIP and its anti-immigration policies as defending White Britons from the threat of foreign, and particular, Muslim immigration.

UKIP and the Anti-Islamic Far Right

And certain UKIP politicians do have close personal connections to the anti-Islam far right. Apart from those with connections to the English Defence League and Britain First, a year or so ago one UKIP councillor in Wiltshire ended up being censured after he made comments supporting the twisted ‘Eurabia’ ideas of the Far Right. ‘Eurabia’ is the name given to the future Europe, which the Far Right believes will arise a few decades from now, when Muslim immigration and their higher birth rate cause the Islamic population to outnumber indigenous White Europeans. There are some very nasty videos on the web by the Far Right predicting a war between Islam and its supporters in the European Left, and White nationalists. In fact, there’s plenty of material by sociologists, demographers and political scientists refuting this whole prediction. A friend of mine looked at the demographic projections behind it and concluded that they were rubbish. Nevertheless, there are videos about it posted with the intention of recruiting people to the White nationalist cause. One of these was the Kipper counsellor, who similarly appeared to believe that a war was coming in the ’20s between Muslim and White non-Muslim.

The video reblogged by Tom was nasty, vile stuff. Its author didn’t just want to ban Muslim immigration, he actively wished to see them expelled. He then ranted about how he wanted to go down to the coast if he could and shoot Muslim immigrants as they came to shore. Now under current legislation, it is an offence to stir up racial hatred, which this video clearly intended to do. I understand that one blogger was so concerned about it, that he alerted the police. He’s right to do so. I’ve Asian and Muslim friends, who have suffered murderous threats from White Nazis. And since 9/11 and 7/7 the danger of racial violence against Muslims simply because of their religion is all too real.

White Racism and Islamic Radicalism

The video is also dangerous for another reason: it actively plays into the hands of the Militant Islamic bigots and fanatics themselves. These people are convinced and actively promote the idea that all Westerners are racists, who wish to beat and kill Muslims. According to these Muslim bigots, the only way Muslims can be safe from White attack is either to retreat into their own communities, or actively engage in violence against them.

I studied Islam as part of the Religious Studies I took as my minor subject when I was at college over two decades ago. After gaining my BA, I tried doing a postgraduate study in British Islam, but had to stop for a variety of reasons. One of these was the radical Islamic polemic that I came across in the controversy surrounding the publication of the Satanic Verses. Some of the material produced by those seeking to defend Islam from what they saw as its blasphemy was frankly racist and religiously bigoted.

Kalim Saddiqui and Predictions of Genocide

Sometime around 1994/5 I believe the BBC broadcast a documentary, The Trouble with Muslims, which looked at the wretched conditions of the British Muslim community. These included poor academic performance and education compared to other demographic groups, unemployment, and so on. The programme included excerpts from a sermon by Kalim Saddiqui at his mosque. Saddiqui declared to his congregation that

British society is a monstrous killing machine, and killing Muslims comes very easily to them.

When the film-makers challenged him about his comments, he ranted that the Satanic Verses were published in order to prepare for a ‘holocaust of Muslims’.

Akhthar’s Claims that Western Intellectuals Despise Islam

Other radical imams also published anti-Western invective in response to the Satanic Verses. One of these was Akhthar’s Be Careful with Mohammed, which was basically one long rant against Christianity and Western society. It ended with a kind of appendix, ‘What Western Intellectuals Think of Islam’. This consisted of a list of quotations from various Western writers and intellectuals criticising or attacking Islam. The whole piece was intended to show that the West was evil and fundamentally hostile to Islam and Muslims.

Moderate Muslims against the Bigots

Now Saddiqui and Akhthar were immensely controversial figures within the Muslim community. Moderate and liberal Muslims despised them, and organised marches and demonstrations against them. One of the complaints by Islamic moderates has been that there has been insufficient media coverage of Muslim demos and protests against the bigots. One of my lecturers at College went up to one of Akhthar’s demonstrations, and quoted Mohammed to show he was wrong. Mohammed himself said that there should ‘be no compulsion in religion’.

Also, not all of the Muslims offended by the Satanic Verses were religious bigots by any means. One of the most interesting of the articles collected in the book, Civility and Sacrilege: Muslim Perspectives on the Satanic Verses published by one of the Muslim presses, took the view that Rushdie’s tome was nasty and offensive to everybody, not just Muslims. This piece argued that the book contained nasty racist caricatures of Blacks and Chinese, while all the White characters were racist.

Bigots like Saddiqui, Akhthar and Anjem Choudhary are controversial minority, but they are there, and will use comments by White supremacists, such as that reblogged and criticised by Tom Pride, to turn others in their community against their non-Muslim fellows.

Anti-Islam Stories from the West and Persecution of Non-Muslim Minorities in Islam

And it won’t just be people in this country that will suffer. News about negative comments and abuse of Islam by Westerners travels to the Islamic world, where it is used to whip up hatred and violence against Christians and non-Muslim minorities. While I was briefly attempting to do my post-grad in British Islam, I came across an anthropological study from the 1970s of the Pakistani Muslim community in Bristol. The book’s author had also looked at the city’s Christian Pakistani community at the same time. She reported that many Christian Pakistanis had said that they decided to emigrate to Britain after a series of anti-Christian riots in Pakistan in 1973. These were caused by a story in one of the Pakistani newspapers about passages from the Qu’ran having been posted up as wallpaper in an Asian restaurant in Britain.

There has been renewed persecution of Christians in the Dar al-Islam as a reaction to Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq. The Syriac Christian community in Mosul, which has been there since the days of the Persian Empire back in the 6th and 7th centuries, has been attacked along with other Christian communities. A few years ago the BBC’s architectural expert, Dan Cruikshank, travelled to Iraq to gaze in wonder at its antiquities, from the great ziggurat of Babylon, to one of the earliest mosques, which itself was influenced architecturally by the ziggurat tradition. He spoke briefly to one of the Christian community’s leading clergy in what was a very strained interview, with the clergyman carefully watching every word. The cleric stated that before the invasion, relations between Christians and Muslims in Iraq had been good and harmonious, but that this had changed after the Western invasion. Christians now suffered from attack and the threat of violence.

Nor are Christians alone. The Yezidis, an ancient religion that contains elements of Islam and Zoroastrianism, are also being attacked by ISIS, who also despise liberal, moderate Muslims along with everyone else, who doesn’t share their very narrow interpretation of Islam.

Videos and material like that Pride’s Purge blogged about and denounced present a very real danger, not just in encouraging the racist and bigoted in Britain to attack innocent Muslims, but also because they play into the equally genocidal, twisted worldview of the Muslim bigots. If racism is to be stamped out in Britain, vicious material intended to inflame racial or religious hatred needs to be attacked and clamped down on and their authors refuted and prosecuted. This needs to be done equally, both to the White supremacists and the Muslim fanatics, who would exploit it to promote their own campaign of hate and violence.