It’s not often I watch BBC programmes, even less often I watch them where my perceptions put the presenters solidly in the liberal-left camp – Clarkson is more my cup of tea than Bragg.
Last night’s Civilization Under Attack by Dan Cruikshank on BBC4 was excellently produced, but more to the point, it was utterly chilling, reaching right to the heart of a matter that the liberal-left normally try to avoid. It focused on the historic artefacts now being destroyed in Iraq and Libya by Islamic State.
These states now occupy what was once known as Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization. All that we know today, all that we can do, arose from that first civilization which flowered in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates from 6500 BC onwards during the Ubaid period of the Sumerians. The first human writings were here, early science and technological inventions, organised societies, the first empire the world had known in 2400 BC: the Akkadian. Some of the peoples, ideas and knowledge moved west, into North Africa and Southern Europe to seed the later flowering of Greek and Egyptian civilizations that flowed from that – our own civilization can trace its roots back to Mesopotamia.
All of this pre-dated Islam, a recent idea from around 600 AD. Indeed, the Mesopotamians pre-dated modern-day religions, but they still had their Gods, representing them as idols and graven images. Great architectural works were erected in honour of them and their rulers but thanks to the benign climate of that part of the world (to stone, at least) they have survived to today. However, as Dan Cruikshank pointed out in some personal anguish, much of it is being destroyed now by Islamic State, and we were regaled with IS footage of such wanton destruction. It just made me angry.
We were showed footage of his own expeditions to the Middle East to see these great heritage monuments in 2002. He admitted he had feared for them when we were likely to attack Iraq: he visited many of them, fearing for their safety, even speaking to a female museum curator who said she would die to protect them. However, our western forces were somewhat more careful, and we were also shown a US Army Legal Officer conducting an investigation into what had happened to many of them, shortly after invasion. That same lawyer, now Assistant District Attorney for New York, campaigns to protect these artefacts. Indeed, many people campaign to save them: historians, curators, UNESCO officers. There are conferences, summits, resolutions, pledges, pleadings, but all of it falls on deaf IS ears.
Cruikshank tried to reach into the heart of the matter: what is it about Islam that creates this hatred of images? What is it that creates their desire to dominate the world, to jihad? In doing so, he interviewed two Islam “scholars” (although I use the term advisedly to describe Anjem Choudary: his Wikipedia entry describes him primarily as a “British Muslim social and political activist” although he purports to be scholar). Choudary was, naturally, totally behind the actions of Islamic State in destroying the artefacts, and he used the Quran as justification, quite simple. The same Quran that Islamic State use to justify their rape and pillage across the Middle East.
However, is that what the Quran says, asked Cruikshank? So he sought out another scholar, a real one. The problem is that there are two major parts of the Quran: the Surah and the Hadith. The Surah were the original texts, and it is these parts of the Quran that allow people like Cameron to justify their assertions that Islam is “a religion of peace.” The Hadith followed, after the death of Mohammed, at the time of the split that created the Shi’ite and Sunni divisions. As both Wikipedia and the interviewed scholar say, the Hadith are:
“the collections of the reports purporting to quote what the Islamic prophet Muhammad said verbatim on any matter.”
The scholar went further to say that the Hadith “have been disputed since the early days of Islam.” It is from the Hadith that flows the darker side of Islam: IS and their supporters justify this in saying that the later parts of the Quran supersede the earlier parts. But, are the Hadith a valid part of the Quran?
He also highlighted the hypocrisy of IS: it would seem that the destruction videos are a marketing tool for their trade in these artefacts across the world, earning them millions of dollars, if not billions. Ancient seals no bigger than an inch were making $250,000 such is the fear in the civilized world for the “safety” of these artefacts. Cruikshank took it a step further, showing great architectural works in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, although he declined from showing us those in South-East Europe. However, he suggested that our whole western civilization was under threat from Islamic State.
Cruikshank acknowledged the human suffering should concern us more, but as we know the liberal-left will avoid material such as that to avoid “offending sensibilities”. However he saw the destruction of the physical artefacts as a metaphor, and it is certainly awakening the liberal-left to what is happening in the world.
Islam has a problem: can it reform and cleanse itself of sympathies for Islamic State and those who follow the disputed Hadith? The West has a problem – how do we protect our own civilization from people who use Islam as a reason for barbarism? I don’t know the answers, but if Cruikshank’s programme awakened a significant number of liberal-lefties to the problems we face through the architectural metaphor, then it has made a great contribution.