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.