If they Destroy Our History…Why Defeating ISIL Matters


The Islamic State Destroys the Tomb of the Patriarch Jonah, holy to Moslems, Christians and Jews earlier this year

My friends, I know that I said that I was tired and was just going to re-post an old article about the moral and ethical issues of fighting the Islamic State.I did that, but tonight as I watched my Blu-ray disc of the movie The Monuments Men I was struck by something that was very profound, the necessity of preserving our culture and history, and not just American, European or Christian history, culture, art and literature.

Robert Edsel, the man that wrote the story of the men who worked under enemy fire to save the works of the great artists who so  represent who we are as a civilized people wrote:

“To save the culture of your allies is a small thing. To cherish the culture of your enemy, to risk your life and the life of other men to save it, to give it all back to them as soon as the battle was won… it was unheard of, but that is exactly what Walker Hancock and the other Monuments Men intended to do.”

Wherever ISIL has taken power they have made public displays of destroying the monuments, works of art and religious shrines of those that they oppose. The leaders and spokesmen of the Islamic State have made it clear that theirs is not only a religious war, but a cultural war. A war that they claim to be backed by their religion even as they defy the very basic tenants of it.

For ISIL it does not matter if the works that they destroy are Islamic, Christian, Jewish works, or works that came before any of our current major religions, or even of the people that they murder are fellow Moslems, the fact is that they believe that all that do not believe as them must submit or be destroyed.

For a log time I have wondered just why this was the case. But in the film Monuments Men there was a quote which I think speaks volumes about the real intent of the Islamic State. George Clooney, who plays the American professor Frank Stokes remark to his team members:

“You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting for…”

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as well as the Taliban in Afghanistan are attempting not just to kill and destroy a generation, but to wipe out any sense of their history, culture and tradition. They do not care if what they destroy predates their own religion, because for them all culture, except  what they can use to propagate their faith is profane, heretical or worthy of destruction.

In Afghanistan the Taliban destroyed irreplaceable works, including an irreplaceable,  massive and ancient Buddhist shrine. In Iraq and Syria the Islamic State have destroyed and are destroying the works that people of faith, be they Moslems, Jews or Christians cherish. Tombs of the ancient patriarchs and prophets of our shared faiths, shrines, Mosques, Churches, or Synagogues are not sacred to such people.

The leaders of the Islamic State are perhaps even worse than the Nazis. Many Nazi leaders sought to preserve great works of art, even if it was only for their benefit or profit. However, the leaders of the Islamic State have an allegedly “higher motive” than the Nazis, their motive is to destroy anything that offends their image of God.

If we believe that there is any sense of historical, cultural or religious meaning and value. If we believe that there is any sense of the holy. If we believe that there is any sense that we must preserve the works that countless generations of Christians, Jews and Moslems have sought to preserve for our shared culture, then we must resolve to see that the Islamic State is destroyed.

There are things that are worth fighting and dying for if we are not to lose who were are as people, who we are as humanitarians, who we are as people of faith, just who as people respect and care for the people, cultures, faith and thought of those who came before us and who have contributed to who we are.

Some might say that works of art, history and culture are not wore fighting and dying for, but they are wrong. For if we have any sense of who we are as Christians, Moslems, Jews or any other people of faith or culture, including nonbelievers who see value in such works; we cannot allow the Islamic State to win. There are some things, in our common humanity that must be fought for if we are to survive as human beings who seek to preserve our history, faiths and culture.


The fight against the Islamic State is not just about religion. It is not just about oil,  It is in fact a fight to preserve who we are as human beings and our shared cultural heritage against people who have no regard for culture, religion, faith or humanity.

Sadly, unlike the small team of art experts who worked to save the works of art and culture that the Hitler was bent on destroying at the end of the World War Two, there are no teams working to save the great works of antiquity that the Islamic State is intent on destroying. It is just too dangerous.  The tomb of Jonah who is important to Jews, Moslems and Christians was destroyed earlier this year, as well as  many churches, mosques and synagogues, burial grounds, shrines, icons and works of art which the leaders of the Islamic State have determined to be degenerate, heretical or disrespectful to the Prophet, works that generations of Moslem, Christian and Jewish scholars, leaders and common people in the Middle East fought to preserve for posteretity. Works that even if they differed in their religious beliefs, that all believed were worth preserving.

But to paraphrase the words of what the character that George Clooney played in The Monuments Men in said about the Nazis to the Islamic State:

“They can wipe out an entire generation, they can burn their homes to the ground, somehow people will still find their way back. But if they destroy our collective history, if they destroy our collective achievements, it will be as if we never existed. That’s what the Islamic State wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting against…”


Padre Steve+






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Filed under History, middle east

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