Metropolitan Museum of Art Speaks Out on Recent ISIS Atrocities

Richard Friswell
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mosul cropARTES wishes to add its voice to that of the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas P. Campbell, and others, on the destruction of priceless artifacts at Iraq’s Mosul Museum. His statement reads:

Speaking with great sadness on behalf of the Metropolitan, a museum whose collection proudly protects and displays the arts of ancient and Islamic Mesopotamia, we strongly condemn this act of catastrophic destruction to one of the most important museums in the Middle East. The Mosul Museum’s collection covers the entire range of civilization in the region, with outstanding sculptures from royal cities such as Nimrud, Nineveh, and Hatra in northern Iraq. This mindless attack on great art, on history, and on human understanding constitutes a tragic assault not only on the Mosul Museum, but on our universal commitment to use art to unite people and promote human understanding. Such wanton brutality must stop, before all vestiges of the ancient world are obliterated. xxxxxx

The editorial position of ARTES has always been clear on the deleterious impact of civil conflict on one of the most fragile elements of a nation’s identity, apart from its people, and that on its cultural heritage. In the past, we have registered alarm at the destruction of the massive desert Bamiyan Bhudda, northwest of the Afghan capital Kabul, by the Taliban; the looting of artifacts from the National Museum in Baghdad after the US invasion in 2005; the destruction of tombs in17_small Mali’s Timbuktu region; the dynamiting of numerous ancient temples by ISIS forces in the occupied northern region of Iraq; and the public protests in Egypt’s ‘Spring Awakening,’ as angry crowds swirled around the very Cairo museum building where its own priceless treasures are housed.

Once again, reports are being issued from the Middle East of the wanton reduction of ancient sculptures, books, scrolls and other artifacts to rubble and ash. Libraries, mosques and outdoor statuary have often been the target of sectarian violence—all in the name of religious purification. In the latest example of extreme radicalism, ISIS forces have entered the Mosul Museum, in northern Iraq, and taken sledge hammers to 3000 year-old artifacts, methodically destroying them in an act every bit as heinous as their public assassinations of Western aid workers, soldiers and their fellow Muslims. Not to isis-statue-compositedraw false comparisons, because human life does not compare to mere objects, even those we cherish dearly. But, in the case of these treasures, like those of so many other nations, cultural identity is linked to the past; and those cherished objects become emblematic of who we believe ourselves to be today.

Imagine, for example, if an occupying force bombed Mount Rushmore, or toppled the Lincoln Memorial. These are objects, yes, but are essential in helping to shape our self-image as a People. As an example of this, just recently, ISIS took their hammers to Šedu, the familiar human-headed winged bull figure that symbolized the nation of Iraq’s first millennial BCE, Assyrian roots. And like the Lincoln Memorial on our own five-dollar bill, for decades it has been pictured on the back of that country’s printed currency. This flagrant act of destruction was notSedu Assyrian just motivated by warped ideological fanaticism, it was political retribution designed to undermine Iraqis’ sense of their own national identity.

Right: Human-headed winged bull, otherwise known as a Šedu. Neo-Assyrian Period, c. 721-705 BCE. Now destroyed.

There are no word to describe the rage and indignation that we all must feel as we watch the following video. It is difficult to conceive why any individual or group would feel compelled to do these things, particularly in the name of their distorted view of religion. But, as most of the world has come to understand, this is not about faith—or actions against the faithless. This is psychological warfare, a power play designed to intimidate and humiliate an entire class or sect of humanity. We have seen this kind of cruelty before. It has a name. It’s called fanaticism and it will inevitably collapse under its own weight. While the Islamic State is ethnically cleansing the contemporary Assyrian populations of Iraq and Syria, they are also conducting a simultaneous war on their ancient history and the right of future generations of all ethnicities and religions to the material memory of their ancestors.

ISIS is a morally bankrupt force espousing a harsh brand of iconoclasm unseen for centuries. They are acting with evil intent that apparently knows no limits. Paradoxically, their destruction of cultural artifacts is not politically driven. Their actions are theological motivated, aimed at eliminating the false idols of the ‘Age of Ignorance,’ that is, that extended period before the first Muslim caliphate was formed, over 700 years ago. Hopefully, the world will find a way to intervene before the damage inflicted on these rich symbols of civilized human history extends its destructive reach beyond a point of no return. -Editor

View the video released by ISIS today, as they rampage through the Mosul Museum and surrounding area.


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