History Corner: Cultural Respect

David Madill

Recently in the news, you might have seen reports of the Islamic State destroying priceless artifacts and ancient sites in the Middle East, which is an area rich with history from the Islamic, Christian, and Jewish religions and cultures. The most recent was called The Temple of Baal in Palmyra, Syria, and it was razed as the group made its way through the region.

While political analysts have varying theories as to why ISIS has such a grudge against history, it comes as no surprise when one considers how hostile towards cultural artifacts dictators have been through the years. Not only did the main communist duo, Mao and Stalin, repress much evidence of former culture in their respective domains, Hitler himself famously hated modernist and abstract art, seeing it as a reflection on the corrupt society that pervaded Europe and burning or hoarding much of it as he looted conquered Europe.

The common aspect between all these states’ battles against the past is a desire to control the present by destroying their peoples’ connection to their culture. In the case of ISIS, the target of their destruction has been places that are important to other religions, be those pagan, Jewish or even other sects of Islam. Not only are they concerned with spreading terror in The United States; they also use it to control their own people. But what does this have to do with us? A couple old temples here or there won’t change my life at all. Should we care if ISIS knocks down a couple old arches and walls as long as it keeps them occupied from hurting people?

Of course we should. Not only because we as humans like old stuff and find it fascinating (ie. museums, antiques, collectibles, retro editions, etc.), but also because of how much these places mean to the people who live around them and involve them in their religion. Just as the Twin Towers symbolized business and the American Spirit (or in other words money, the thing Americans worship above all) to us, to these people the temples and holy grounds being desecrated by ISIS are just as important. The only difference between the national tragedy that was 9/11 and these smaller acts of terrorism is the amount of people they affect. But to those affected, the destruction of a temple I’d never heard of is just as potent as 9/11.

So what can we do? Nothing, really. Obviously the Middle East is a political firecracker right now, and the US is in no position to interfere for anything less than human life. In other words, a lot worse would happen if we tried to tell ISIS what to do.

What we can do is make sure the same types of things don’t happen in our own lives. This is a much smaller scale than 9/11 or even these attacks on Middle Eastern culture, but there are still things around us that others hold dear, even if we could care less. Everyone has things in their life that mean more to them than is logically reasonable. It’s part of who we are as sentimental, emotional human beings.

The main issue here is respect, and with it the presence of mind to understand what other people care about. Maybe it’s a nerdy obsession with comic books. Maybe it’s a devotion to a family tradition that is inconvenient, but treasured. Once we begin to ask what others are passionate about without asking why, we are well on our way to being a society that interacts as a cohesive unit even if it is a melting pot.

I’m not an idiot. I know a little respect here or there isn’t going to stop ISIS. But the truth, especially in America, is that it is the little things done by lots of people that have an impact on the rest of the world. As with any societal change, it starts with us.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/20/opinion/sunday/life-among-the-ruins.html?_r=1


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