|The destruction of the Tomb of Yunus (Jonah), in Mosul, Iraq.|
Ethics were defined by what Allah said was good or evil in Sharia law. The Islamic State's behaviour is solidly rooted in Islamic ideology, law and practice. It is only when this fundamental fact is grasped that we will be able to address what confronts us.
There are many wise and sensible Muslims who favour a shift to a more updated way of thinking. It is their mosques and shrines that are being crushed; it is their heritage. Today, such Muslims use the freedoms bestowed on them in the West to write, network and debate their opposition to fundamentalist interpretation of Islam by the Islamic State and other supporters of murder and destruction.
We are living through ferocious times. Stories about the self-proclaimed Islamic State [ISIS/ISIL/Da'esh] abound in the media, in what has now become a daily round of beheadings, suicide bombings, and general mayhem from Nigeria to Malaysia. It seems that wherever there is a Muslim country, there is extreme violence. But one part of the Islamic State narrative has received less attention than the gruesome rounds of killings: the continuing onslaughts on cities such as Mosul, Aleppo, Raqqa and Kobani. The Islamic State and related movements have rampaged across parts of Iraq and Syria, destroying the entire heritage of ancient regions, demolishing historic churches, synagogues, mosques, Sufi and Shi'i shrines, and major archaeological sites. All this vandalism is driven by a relentless passion to enforce religious purity on the regions they now control.
Around the world, art historians, antiquities experts, and archaeologists scarcely dare open their e-mails every day, fearing loss of another irreplaceable site. Physical destruction in the Islamic realms has now reached proportions of the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century.
In Mosul, the Islamic State set out on an operation of "cultural and historical cleansing" across the city. The group deploys a unit called the Kata'ib Taswiyya, or settlement battalions, who are ordered to identify sites for culling. The unit razes to the ground any mosques, churches or, invariably, shrines that have been built over tombs; such places may attract devotees to pray in them, thereby creating polytheism -- in Islam one of the crimes most censured. In addition, the painting or sculpting of the human form is anathema; if man was created in God's image, to represent man is to presume to know God and therefore to diminish Him.
Graveyards are flattened, headstones are bulldozed, and statues of cultural significance to the people of Mosul are destroyed.
As we face the Islamic State and all the rapidly expanding jihadist movements in the Middle East and beyond, we are starting to recognize that airstrikes have only limited results. If we are to contain or defeat the adversaries in our midst, we have to understand their motivation, their psychology, and their sense of rootedness.
Politicians who proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace do us a disservice; Islam has never been at peace with the world around it. The Islamic State's behavior is solidly rooted in Islamic ideology, law and practice. Only when this fundamental fact is grasped will we be able to address what confronts us. It is time that not only active jihadists, but their ideological sponsors in Salafi, Wahhabi, Mawdudist, and other classical and modern interpretations of Islam, be discussed openly before they do more harm. They and we do not have the leisure to wait until the oil money runs out and leaves the Saudis or Qataris weak.
We must learn to speak the truth, especially in high places. In the tenth century, Islam abandoned reason and rational pursuits in favor of revelation and revealed law that could not be challenged. Ethics were defined by what Allah said was good or evil in Sharia law. Islam has remained frozen ever since. We cannot go on patronizing this, and nodding acceptance that Muslims know best. Very few grasp the quandary in which non-extremist Muslims, like their ancestors, are captured. Western rationalism, Western ethics, and Western standards of peace and justice need to remain, or the world we know could be trampled underfoot by men and women who prefer death to co-existence, and fundamentalism to tolerance.
There are many wise and sensible Muslims who favour a shift to a more updated way of thinking. Many cannot openly declare their thoughts for fear of reprisals and even execution; others are faithful Muslims who see a desperate need for a valid reinterpretation of their religion.
Today, such Muslims use the freedoms bestowed on them in the West to write, network, and debate their thoughts about the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam by the Islamic State, other Salafis, Wahhabis, Mawdudists, and all other clerics and extremist supporters of murder and destruction. It is their mosques and shrines and ancient monuments that are being crushed; it is their heritage -- as much as that of Jews, Christians, Yazidis and Baha'is -- that is being wiped from the pages of history.
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