The broken can be repaired, the damaged can be fixed, even the destroyed can be rebuilt, but the obliterated is simply no more.
Many of us have seen photos and videos documenting this savagery and barbarity from Palmyra, Nimrud, Mosul and other places in the area, but how much do we really known about the ancient history of the Middle East and its significance for humanity.
All these sites are located in the region known as the Ancient Near East (modern Middle East), the region referred to as the Cradle of Civilizations. It was there that for the first time humans moved from being nomads to settlers, where they invented writing, the wheel, pottery and bureaucracy.
The Ancient Near East was where the first laws were written, the first school class was organized, the first monumental buildings were built and the first kings were crowned. It was the nucleus for the birth and development of humanity – from there it spread its wings and flew away taking with it so much knowledge, culture and experience.
Without the Ancient Near East, without the Sumerians, Egyptians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Elamites, Persians, Hittites and other cultures that inhabited the region and without their incredible achievements, mankind today would have been much different.
But these days, the Cradle of Civilizations has turned into the cradle of obliterations – the source of pride and knowledge has turned into the source of shame and ignorance. The place that was once so innovative, enlightened and prosperous has become the exact opposite.
The issue is not the destruction of these temples, palaces or statues per se. The issue is that we are witnessing the systematic attempt by various Islamic groups to completely obliterate everything they deem unfit, unacceptable and unholy – and when it comes to the Ancient Near East that means pretty much everything and that’s what’s so terrifying and lamentable.
Unfortunately, there is no reason to think that the obliteration will stop any time soon. The archaeological site of Palmyra is a trove of temples, churches and statues, as is the case with countless other sites throughout the Middle East, and all of them are a possible target for ISIS and other Islamist groups.
The Middle East has always been an area of constant change and movement, subjected to various influences and ideologies. However, there has never been a nation, army or culture that systematically tried to obliterate everything that came before. The change that is coming our way this time may be the one from which we never recover.
Dr. Filip Vukosavovic is the chief curator at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem.