Genocide inevitably involves wiping away the cultural as well as physical existence of the people targeted. No continent has been spared and the examples are too many to enumerate, from Native Peoples of the New World to the Holocaust. No religion/culture has been excluded from victimization and/or being misused to victimize – see the Middle East. And here, ISIS has taken cultural ethnic cleansing to a new level, to wipe away history that they deem to violate their theological codes including before the time of Islam. Iraq and Syria have particularly suffered. Now UNESCO, with Director General Irina Bokova traveling to the region, has launched the #Unite4Heritage initiative to counter the destruction, preserve and restore when possible.
The destruction of culture frequently is intended to eliminate/rewrite the history as to dissolve the links that evidence the ties of a people to their historical land. In Bosnia & Herzegovina, culture was targeted and in particular the heritage of its Slavic Muslim peoples so as to project them as outsiders in their own ancestral lands. Today, Christians, Yezidis, Sufi Muslims and others have been targeted by ISIS even as many predated Islam. However, why does ISIS destroy the historical remnants of such as the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires? Part of it actually may not be destroyed but stolen and sold to finance ISIS’s wars. The overt destruction of “idols” or other pre-Islamic symbols may also be part of propaganda as ISIS seeks to project itself to other Muslims as the most chaste by seeking to destroy that which it deems offensive now or in the future or the past. Undoubtedly, this would also feed into ISIS strategy to rewrite history and remold Islam to suits its own ends. While previous Muslim empires and/or Islamic Caliphates were more tolerant of other religions and cultural/theological diversity within their borders, particularly in the context of such period, ISIS now seeks to sow and justify a completely non-tolerant theology as foundation for its “IS.”
The initiative launched by UNESCO at Baghdad University is intended to send a clear message according to D.G. Bokova: “We do not accept cultural cleansing and we will stand together to do everything we can to stop it.” #Unite4Heritage invites people, especially young people from the Arab region, to send photos and write short stories about heritage sites that are important for them. They can also send ‘selfies’ holding a sign with the campaign hashtag – to illustrate the concept of unity and the importance of cultural heritage to people’s lives. Go to #Unite4Heritage website.