ISIS

The Librarian Who Saved Timbuktu’s Cultural Treasures From al Qaeda

“The Librarian Who Saved Timbuktu’s Cultural Treasures From al Qaeda”

by Joshua Hammer via “Wall Street Journal

Abdel Kader Haidara with ancient family-owned manuscripts, Timbuktu, Mali, 2007.

For custodians of the ancient heritage of the Middle East and North Africa, the recent rise of Islamist extremist groups has posed a dire challenge. Since its seizure of the historic Iraqi city of Mosul in early 2014, Islamic State has pillaged and demolished mosques, shrines, churches and other sacred sites across the region. The group continues to launch “cultural cleansing” operations from Tikrit to Tripoli.

In this grim procession, there have been occasional victories for culture over extremism, like the recapture last month of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, which may now be restored to something of its previous glory. A less familiar case of cultural rescue features an unlikely hero: a 51-year-old book collector and librarian named Abdel Kader Haidarain the fabled city of Timbuktu, in the West African country of Mali.

The story begins in April 2012, when Mr. Haidara returned home from a business trip to learn that the weak Malian army had collapsed and that nearly 1,000 Islamist fighters from one of al Qaeda’s African affiliates, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, had occupied his city. He encountered looters, gunfire and black flags flying from government buildings, and he feared that the city’s dozens of libraries and repositories—home to hundreds of thousands of rare Arabic manuscripts—would be pillaged.

The prizes in Mr. Haidara’s own private collection, housed in his Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library, include a tiny, irregularly shaped Quran from the 12th century, written on parchment made from the dried skin of a fish and glittering with illuminated blue Arabic letters and droplets of gold. His collection also boasts many secular volumes: manuscripts about astronomy, poetry, mathematics, occult sciences and medicine, such as a 254-page volume on surgery and elixirs derived from birds, lizards and plants, written in Timbuktu in 1684. “Many of the manuscripts show that Islam is a religion of tolerance,” he told me.

Mr. Haidara knew that many of the works in the city’s repositories were ancient examples of the reasoned discourse and intellectual inquiry that the jihadists, with their intolerance and rigid views of Islam, wanted to destroy. The manuscripts, he thought, would inevitably become a target.

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Use Force to Stop ISIS’ Destruction of Art and History

“Use Force to Stop ISIS’ Destruction of Art and History”

by Hugh Eakin via “NY Times

Will the world do nothing to stop extremist groups from destroying some of civilization’s most treasured monuments?

The question has confronted Western governments with stark urgency in the weeks since the Islamic State released a video of militants smashing ancient sculptures at the Mosul Museum. In early March, following reports that extremists attacked the ancient Assyrian sites of Nimrud and Hatra, Iraqi officials pleaded for American airstrikes to stop them. But so far the United States and its allies have wrung their hands.

Secretary of State John Kerry described the devastation as “one of the most outrageous assaults on our shared heritage that perhaps any of us have seen in a lifetime.” Irina Bokova, the director general of Unesco, said: “This is not just a cultural tragedy. It’s also a security issue, with terrorists using the destruction of heritage as a weapon of war.” The United Nations Security Council condemned the “targeted destruction of religious sites and objects” by the Islamic State and the Nusra Front.

But the United Nations says it is largely powerless to deal with the threat, and Western governments claim they have more urgent military objectives.

This is dangerously wrong. By loudly deploring this “war crime” and doing nothing, the world may be playing into the extremists’ hands. “ISIS is doing it because they can,” Amr Al-Azm, an Ohio-based Syrian anthropologist, told me. “They are striking at things the international community holds dear, but is impotent to do anything about.”

Since 2011, five of the six Unesco World Heritage sites in Syria have suffered significant damage; four have been requisitioned for military purposes by different groups, in direct violation of international protocols. Tunnel bombs have devastated Aleppo’s old city; thousand-year-old minarets have been detonated; medieval forts have been shelled; Parthian and Hellenistic sites have been pillaged.

Then came the Islamic State, which turned such attacks into an explicit strategy. Taking over archaeological sites near its stronghold, the northern city of Raqqa, the group turned local looting brigades into large-scale businesses. And it has used social media to broadcast the carefully choreographed destruction of mosques, cemeteries, libraries and other monuments belonging to any groups or sects it regards as deviant.

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ISIS and the Decimation of a Culture

“ISIS and the Decimation of a Culture”

by Eileen Toplansky via “American Thinker

In the foreword to Catastrophe: The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past, Gil J. Stein, director of the Oriental Institute, writes that “when we think of the awful consequences of war, the deaths of the soldiers and civilians always remind us that futures have been destroyed[.]  But war in the third millennium AD has brought us an entirely new and different horror – the destruction of an entire past.”

In 2003, the world’s attention was focused on the looting of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad.  The 15,000 stolen artifacts had, for the most part, been “scientifically excavated and carefully recorded and identified by trained professional archaeologists and museum staff.”  Thus, there existed the scientific knowledge of their archaeological context, or a means to reconstruct “how an ancient civilization developed and functioned.”

Archaeological context refers to the “immediate material surrounding an artifact such as gravel, clay, or sand; its provenience or horizontal and vertical position within the material; and its association with other artifacts.”  But once an artifact is ripped from the ground by looters and/or terrorists, context and association with other artifacts is irretrievably lost.  In essence, the wholesale destruction of the artifacts being stolen or totally demolished results in a “creeping annihilation of an entire culture.”

As a result of the looting of the Iraqi National Museum, a web-accessible database was established to document the destruction and theft of the artifacts.  The database is accessible here.  Though “as many as 5,000 objects were reported to have been recovered[,]” other pieces will “remain difficult if not impossible to recover.”

Fast-forward to ISIS, that “JV” organization that Obama so nonchalantly dismissed.  How is it being financed?  What does an Islamic caliphate have to do with the wholesale destruction of historical and cultural artifacts?  And are we seeing an instant replay of Nazi looting of museums less than a hundred years later vis-à-vis Islamic jihadists?

According to the Guardian, in June 2014, the seizure of 160 computer flash sticks that “included names and noms de guerre of all foreign fighters, senior leaders and their code words, initials of sources inside ministries and full accounts of the group’s finances” was a key discovery into the workings of ISIS.”  Amazingly, in a mere three days, “ISIS [had] seized control of Mosul and Tikrit.”  Before Mosul, ISIS cash and assets were $875M.  After ISIS robbed banks and looted military supplies, total cash and assets rose to $1.5B.

ISIS’s massive cash flow comes from the “oilfields of eastern Syria which it had captured in 2012, the smuggling of raw materials pillaged from the crumbling state, as well as priceless antiquities from archaeological digs.”

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Islamic State Raids Biblical City of Ninevah, Sells Ancient Treasures For Millions

Islamic State Raids Biblical City of Ninevah, Sells Ancient Treasures For Millions

by Thomas D. Williams via “Breitbart

The sale of archaeological treasures from the Biblical city of Nineveh and the surrounding territory is becoming one of the main sources of funding of the Islamic State in Kurdistan as well as in Syria, according to reports by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

A USB stick recovered from an Islamic State militant by Iraqi intelligence in August documents the value of revenues on the black market at $32 million. Among the items for sale: hundreds of headstones, inscriptions, mosaics, and adornments.

According to Qais Hussein Rasheed, head of the state-run Museums Department in Iraq, black market dealers are entering areas under Islamic State control to buy these items.

In their zeal to destroy what they consider to be heresy, Islamic State militants have demolished many artifacts but they are cashing in at the same time, extracting valuable relics to sell on the international black market.

Profiting from religious artifacts represents a curious double game. On the one hand, the precepts of Wahhabism, a fundamentalist Islamic sect, require the destruction of every object of worship not directed to Allah. This has justified the demolition of churches, mosques, and tombs, and has been carried out with maximum media exposure.

On the other hand—this time without advertising it—the same IS leaders are now either selling artifacts directly or granting access to occupied archeological zones to teams of professional looters. They then split the revenues from the plunder according to the Islamic law of Khums: a fifth of the spoils must be paid to God, ie, the Islamic state.

The Turkish border is only a few hours away with Western brokers waiting to transfer the artifacts to the major black art markets: London, New York, and Tokyo. . . . .

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