Erasing the Past

Satellite photos have begun to reveal the extent of archaeological devastation, in areas controlled by the Daesh (“ISIL”) – across eastern Syria and north-western Iraq. We can now see how thorough they are.

The destruction of the (pre-Islamic) Monastery of Elijah, near Mosul, went beyond bulldozers. The stone was reduced to gravel, and spread to give the appearance of ash to reconnaissance from above.

Yet there, and at dozens of other world-historical cultural sites, we know that not everything was obliterated. Detachable and movable art objects are first stripped and sold on international black markets. We know that the Daesh, who act as a Caliphate, or traditional Muslim government, have a formal department called the Kata’ib Taswiyya that specializes in this kind of work. More than self-financing, it is a major source of revenue to the movement at large.

Oddly enough, these demolition experts benefit from the long work of such essentially Western agencies as UNESCO, which have compiled the information needed to identify targets, and achieve maximum propaganda effect. Obscure sites, including monasteries at remote locations, would otherwise have been ignored, as they were ignored by many previous Muslim armies, intending to enslave or wipe out settled Christians.

Each Western technological advance serves the enemies of civilization as well as its friends. GPS, for instance, is a devil-send to the proponents of “asymmetrical warfare,” who use it while thinking “outside the box” of old Christian notions of human decency. Even after watching our own planes fly into our own skyscrapers, we failed to grasp this.

Nor have we retained the historical memory of late Romans, or late dynastic Chinese, being defeated by wilderness savages who had mastered their technologies and methods, but cared little for their laws or mores.

Starch and discipline alone had favored the civilized – inspired by faith and purpose. With decadence, the advantage was lost. Liberalism, the malignant cancer that destroys civilization from within, works by undermining the very principles by which it flourished, turning one cell after another against the whole body.

The simplistic, Western, liberal mind assumes that Muslim “terrorists” are crazy. We reveal the degree of our ignorance to them, each time a politician makes a fatuous statement about Islam’s peaceful intentions. The “terrorists” are not really Muslim, our politicians argue, perhaps on the subconscious analogy of so many census Christians in the West, who are not really Christian.

But of course, they don’t believe this themselves. They know they are lying – but imagine they do it for sparkling liberal causes that transcend mere truth.

Before (left) and after
Before (left) and after

When it comes to the annihilation of Assyrian Christianity, they are at a loss. It is “a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.” When a million Muslim “migrants” land on our shores, they take it as a separate crisis. For the “analytical” liberal mind, which produces conclusions consistently false, breaks each “problem” down to its components, rather than patiently seeking a coherent whole.

That roving restless liberal mind also likes to “prioritize,” thus entirely ignoring every aspect of the problem until it presents as a crisis or emergency at its current location.

Although by no means the only Christian community in Syria and Iraq, the Assyrians are or were the largest, and their history as Christians there goes back to the first century AD. Too, their ancient habitations corresponded to areas the Daesh conquered.

Western statesmen assume that this was all bad luck, and shrug when told it was their own poor judgment – by invading, misruling, then abandoning Iraq – that delivered the Assyrians into Satan’s hands. They, or more democratically, we, wash our hands, and shed crocodile tears, for how can we be expected to take responsibility for our own actions?

And now we think the “problem” is the Daesh, when they are only an aspect of the problem. The clue here should have been discerned from the fact that the Daesh replaced al-Qaeda. It is among the agents operating in Libya and elsewhere (also targeting Christians for extermination), and has its feelers to other Salafist groups – thanks curiously enough to having inherited Saddam Hussein’s international “terror” connections.

But ultimately, it is itself as replaceable as al-Qaeda. This is because it is at the vanguard of a militant Sunni Islam, which in turn replaced Arab nationalism as the most potent political force in the Middle East. And while the parallel Shia militants, directed from Iran, clash with the Salafist Sunnis, we can take no comfort. Both are finally dedicated to annihilating us.

This means we face a “problem” much larger than could ever be resolved by the desultory bombing of Daesh camps and oilfields.

Moreover, the destruction of ancient Christian (and other non-Muslim, and more tranquil minority Muslim) communities is among the Daesh’s most popular activities, in the Sunni world. Note that they advertise their savage acts, in recruitment videos; and that these have been successful, not only regionally, but among Muslim young and converts, raised in the West.

The Daesh take pride in killing Christians, and in scouring the Christian heritage; and they derive much of their popularity from doing so. Take this in: their tactics are purposeful and not “crazy,” except in the sense of being radically evil.

We face them, today, almost entirely without the moral, intellectual, and spiritual equipment with which our ancestors faced the Islamic threat, through fourteen centuries. For they perfectly understood that “Church and State” alike stood guard for a Christian civilization, whose very survival required keeping Islam at bay.

So, for that matter, did the monks of Saint Elijah’s, and Assyrians of Nineveh, who had so often endured pogroms. Those monks were often through the centuries confronted with the choice of martyrdom or conversion, in circumstances where they could not possibly fight back. But they and their people had stolidly refused conversion, and still do.

They never asked to be invaded. They never begged for erasure, like us.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: