On Palmyra and Constantinople
Originally drafted in August 2015
A sense of dread falls over some, like me, when symbols of the past, irreplaceable imprints of humankind’s journey thus far, are destroyed. So, for the propagandist masterminds and deranged religious literalists of the Islamic State (better known as Daesh), the first global battle was won with the decimation of the structures at Palmyra in August 2015. Claiming inspiration from monotheistic dogma, Daesh has cost us an ancient site that gave historians, archaeologists, tourists, and even exploratory religious followers an introspective gaze into the human story, and it is the robbery of this irreproducible opportunity for reflection that is both heart-breaking and completely expository of Daesh and its indignant pointlessness on this planet.
I see a cult of fanatical near-Nihilists who are ironically unable to function without and have appropriated a preexisting and culturally and historically ingrained doctrine.
In 1453 the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered the last bastion of Eastern Christianity, Constantinople, The message was clear; an Islamic empire was ready to challenge European Christendom. The Ottomans asserted their conquest proudly and began their reformation of their new lands. Constantinople itself was given a Turkish name, Istanbul, and its Christian jewel, the monolithic Hagia Sophia cathedral, was converted into a Mosque. Herein lies the genius and the symbolism of the sultan and the Ottomans.
In the Hagia Sophia Sultan Mehmed saw the powerful, significant, meaningful structure of an impending past tense for the region, but he did not destroy it. Like the influential Sufis that permeated in Ottoman courts through the centuries, the Sultan (and Caliph, technically) respected the symbolic worth of the place of foreign worship, and declared it worthy of inclusion into the Islamic tradition. The structure still stands today, in modern Turkey, once again surviving a spiritual (or lack thereof) regime change, as Kemal Ataturk and his 20th century Turkish secularist movement preserved the great structure as a symbol of Turkish pride, no longer one of faith.
When you contrast Daesh in Palmyra with the Ottomans, it comes to light how warped the neuvo-caliphate’s vantage point is of the world around them. In my academically (not spiritually or culturally experientially) educated opinion, Daesh followers are philosophically not Muslims, and certainly by their actions, they are not properly observant. The non-Muslim world unfortunately fails to recognize this often and the just and devout, in turn, suffer.
Last time we saw a comparable level of cultural and human injustice, we called it American Slavery.
Instead of Muslims, I see a cult of fanatical near-Nihilists who are ironically unable to function without and have appropriated a preexisting and culturally and historically ingrained doctrine. The primarily young, male and often Euro-immigrant/1st gen makeup of the group falls in line with this, for as they struggle for significance in the world as most adolescents do, amplified by harsh disenfranchisement and sense of national otherness, they see the world around them as against them. Life is against them through their chemically, financially, and sexually compromised perspectives. That is why it is so easy for them to be encapsulated by ruthlessly greedy and charismatic manipulators, whose knockoff brand of Islam is seen as a path to paradise.
Daesh members’ tendencies for bloodshed and sexual violence are in violation with the Qur’an. Utterly denying history, ethnic symbolism and cultural preservation, respect, and dignity also justified by false repurposing of Quranic verse and Haddith, Daesh’s blind insistence on absolute rule shows that they live only the existence in which they manufacture: a utopia for angst and, pushed to the brink, the lust for validation and power without dissent. Last time we saw a comparable level of cultural and human injustice, we called it American Slavery.
Nothing is sacred to them except for their current state of being…
When the Ottomans began transforming Constantinople, the jewel of Eastern Christianity and Greco-Roman culture, into what is now Istanbul, they built on top of it. Like layers of sediment create a mountain, cultures grow stronger by building and compacting. It’s evolution in its most basic, natural form.
And so it is clear that in concern with Daesh, nothing is sacred to them except for their current state of being, and that is because the very thing they desire, they cannot control: nature. In attempts to recreate elements of the past that suit them, while discarding the undeniable rest, they are trying to control time and space. This is why they will inevitably fail. Most ironically of their ironies, in many ways Daesh wishes to play G-D, which might just be the most basic and most severe violation of Islamic doctrine.