No excuse for the destruction of history

  • Farrukh Dhondy
  • Updated: Apr 14, 2015 22:57 IST

The destruction of history anywhere in the world through acts of vandalism is wrong.

There are of course degrees of attempted justification. Mahmud of Ghazni, raiding India for loot and slaves, infused with the idea that Islam demanded the demolition of all places containing the likenesses of deities felt himself justified when he destroyed Somnath.

Alaudin Khalji, ruling by conquest over a predominantly Hindu population, should have had more respect for the beliefs of his subject peoples — but didn’t. He destroyed the rebuilt Somnath under the conviction that he was fulfilling the dictate of God and possibly looking after the interests of his treasury at the same time.

When Henry VIII of England broke with the Pope and declared himself head of the Church of England, he made no pretence of being instructed by the Bible to destroy Catholic monasteries and seize their considerable wealth. He made an excuse of disagreeing with the Pope about the annulment of his marriage and his desire to take a succession of wives, but the loot in the monasteries certainly settled the breakaway from Rome.

The removal of Imperial statues in India or in Africa, the renaming of roads and cities, even the pulling down of statues of Lenin and Stalin in the former nations of the Soviet Union as it crumbled; the dragging down of the statue of Saddam Husain in Baghdad, seem justified and necessary.

They are attempts to demolish the symbols of recent political idolatry and at the same time to wipe out the evidence of an immediate oppressive past.

The attempt by the march led by LK Advani to demand the restoration of the Ram-Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya resulted in mobs attempting to physically demolish the Babri masjid, which arguably stands on the site of a temple which the Mughal conqueror Zahir-ud-din Babur allegedly destroyed.

In a democratic India with a sizeable minority of Muslim citizens with equal rights and status, the march, the attempts at demolition and the repercussions inevitably took political centre stage.

The idea of the restoration of a temple to the birth of Ram, which no one would or should oppose, became confounded with the determination to symbolically demolish the Babri masjid and humiliate a section of the population.

Ram hadn’t instructed the sevaks to attack the mosque or demolish it. The desire to do so was justified as ‘restorative’ but was undoubtedly the politicisation of raw historical stirrings.

This is not the case with the news from Iraq of the destruction of the ancient Assyrian monuments and cities by ISIS. They destroyed one of the world’s most ancient archaeological monuments when they demolished the ruins of the city of Nimrud, which has stood since the 13th century BC.

ISIS controls the city of Mosul, within which are situated the remains of the ancient capital of the empire of Nineveh. ISIS claims that it has destroyed the 8,000 manuscripts in the Mosul library.

The archaeological sites of Dur Sharrukin, north of Mosul, of the ancient Assyrian fort of Hatra and the gateways and statues of Nineveh have also been destroyed.

ISIS has recorded the destruction of these monuments and sites on video and, as it does with the heads of people its executioners have decapitated, they display the videos on the Internet.

The world can witness this orgy of monumental destruction with the Caliphate’s followers wielding sledge-hammers and shattering statues, bas-reliefs and friezes.

Their spokesman claims their motive is to remove all trace of ‘infidelness’ and to prevent anyone from worshipping idols. The imperial statues and fortifications of the Assyrians, the bas-reliefs recoding imperial history have nothing to do with ‘infidelness’. Neither was there any danger of anyone worshipping an ornamental gateway or the statue of a winged lion.

The impulse to destroy arises from the fundamentalist conviction of the Islamicists that all history that precedes Allah’s revelation to Prophet Muhammad must be erased.

The Islamicists disregard the teaching of the Quran itself, which enjoins respect for the preaching of Moses and the prophets of the Old Testament and the gospel of Issah-aleh-Salaam.

Why then do synagogues and churches fall prey to their vandalism?

The tearing down of the statues of Stalin by Hungarian mobs is understandable. He tyrannised their lives. There is no evidence and of course no possibility that King Ashurnasirpal II, who built Nimrud and lived 1,500 years before there were any Muslims, did anything to oppress them.

Part of India’s proud heritage is the preservation, excavation and research into its history from the sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation through the Vedic, Buddhist, Hindu revivalist and Muslim, Mughal and British colonial periods.

No wayward nationalism, no fanciful nonsense about the Taj Mahal actually being the relic of some Hindu monarch called Teju (Yes, some people swore in my presence that Hindu religious relics were concealed in its basement) and no base manipulative or ignorant political motive should ever challenge or disrupt it.

Farrukh Dhondy is an author, screenplay writer and columnist based in London
The views expressed by the author are personal

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