It is notable that the Islamic State released this propaganda, to assert their religious purity through their commitment to cultural destruction, immediately after the were exposed for making a deal with Turkey and not destroying Suleyman Shah’s tomb.
Last June, it was rumoured and mistakenly reported that the Islamic State had ‘destroyed ancient masterpieces, including the rare Assyrian winged bull’ at Nineveh Museum. This time, they’ve done it – at Mosul Museum and the Nergal Gate to Nineveh [the Nergal Gate Museum at Nineveh]. You can stream or download the mp4 (or watch it on YouTube/YouTube archive).
But if, like other sensible people, you don’t want to boost the web traffic to their pornography of violence – which they try to advertise as Islamic although they also preserve “heretical”, “idolatrous” things as long as they profit from them – I’ve taken screenshots from the video for verification and analysis. Christopher Jones, at the Gates of Nineveh, has ongoing, historically-informed coverage of this and other destruction, including Assessing the Damage at the Mosul Museum, Part 1: the Assyrian Artifacts.
I heard the news via Hassan Hassan (@hxhassan), Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) and Erika Solomon (@ErikaSolomon). I thought the video itself looked genuine and Eleanor Robson (@Eleanor_Robson) agreed and affirmed that it was Mosul Museum. Since then, Sinan Salaheddin (@sinansm) has reported the event more fully. Lynda Albertson found photos from before the desecration and confirmed the identity of the gallery.
As Salaheddin has translated, one of the criminals declares,
Oh Muslims, these artifacts that are behind me were idols and gods worshipped by people who lived centuries ago instead of Allah…. The so-called Assyrians and Akkadians and others looked to gods for war, agriculture and rain to whom they offered sacrifices…. Our prophet ordered us to remove all these statues as his followers did when they conquered nations.
Erika Solomon (@ErikaSolomon) has translated another key statement from the video: ‘The time has come, and we do not care if we could have made billions of dollars.’ But clearly they do somewhat.
There is no doubt that the Islamic State is profiting from the illicit trade in antiquities. Although the criminals have destroyed some ancient artefacts (whether complete objects or fragmentary reconstructions), they have also destroyed
a lot of [some] modern reproductions – as is visible, for example, around 00h03m58s. [The reinforcing steel (“rebar”) is the “skeleton” that strengthens reproductions and that connects fragments in reconstructions.] All this video really shows is that they are willing to destroy things that they can’t ship out and sell off.
[Jean Marc Mojon was kind enough to quote that line and summarise that ‘jihadists are only destroying the bulky pieces that cannot be smuggled out of the country’. Obviously, they are destroying some things that they could sell; but they are also selling some things that, according to their perversion of Islamic law, they “should” destroy. The key point is that, as they demonstrated again with their deal with Turkey over Suleyman Shah’s tomb, their “law” is a convenience. They destroy things when they want to terrorise communities and wreck shared lives; they sell things when they want to fund their reign and genocide.]
[Hamo mocked the implicit (il)logic of the Islamic State’s programme of destruction: ‘We do not believe that God is almighty, a couple of statues can defeat Him hence we must save the weak God.’]
[By checking the crowdsourced records of claims about Endangered Heritage Sites in Iraq on Facebook (which include information from the parallel group on Monuments of Mosul in Danger), Simone Mühl may have identified the two events in the video collage – on the 2nd of December 2014 (via Karel Nováček) and around the 25th of January 2015 (via Milad Walid Kattan).
There have been mistaken claims before, so it’s not certain, but it’s a good analysis of good sources. Regardless, shooting and editing the videos would have taken a long time, so we can be fairly sure that the Islamic State held back the release of the video and carefully chose to advertise it immediately after the exposure of their hypocritical deal with Turkey.]
[Brian Daniels emphasised to Bible History Daily that the Islamic State was committed to ideological aims as well as mindful of political strategies. ‘We should not confuse archaeological site looting with ISIS’s commitment to destroy artifacts in such a way that it can realize its millennial beliefs and score a propaganda victory…. We have seen that ISIS is willing to destroy portable objects, like valuable antique books, for example, that could otherwise be sold to collectors.’ I agree. I’ve examined the Islamic State‘s campaign of genocidal and urbicidal violence (and the connection between illicit trade and genocidal violence).
But, since the Islamic State may have withheld some of this video footage for nearly three months, then released it complete with clichéd “ramping” (where action shots slow down then speed up) (1), it seems to have been more concerned with propaganda than principles. And that seems to be corroborated by the apparent reports of the events, both of which testified to ‘transfer… [of] movable object[s]‘ and ‘stealing‘ as well as destruction (which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has affirmed), in the same way that eyewitnesses testified that the Islamic State burned “normal” books but removed valuable ones, presumably to be smuggled and sold.
Having talked to the museum manager, Mosul governor Asil Nujaifi relayed: ‘ISIS took at least seven items before destroying the museum. They also destroyed the items that they were not able to take with them.’]
One of the
artefacts [objects] was [a reproduction of] a statue of the seventh-century-B.C.E. Assyrian king Sargon. [The Assyrian reliefs (carved panels) were plaster cast replicas of pieces that are in the British Museum. The British Museum has ‘confirm[ed] that none of the objects featured in this video are copies of originals at the British Museum’, though Christopher Jones has found at least one object (around 00h01m42s) that appears to have been either a copy or a replica.]
One genuine artefact was a human-headed, winged
lion [bull] (šēdu/shedu/lamassu). The Islamic State highlighted that it was dedicated to Nergal, the Sumerian god of plague and the lower world. But what the video highlighted was that it was too massive for them to sneak it out of the country to an unscrupulous private collector in the West.
Amongst many pieces, UNESCO has counted seven statues from the World Heritage site of Hatra and other artefacts from the World Heritage site of Nineveh (which includes the Palace of Sennacherib).
Eleanor Robson and colleagues ‘watched & rewatched‘ the video and resigned themselves to the destruction of more originals than… first thought’. Lamia al-Gailani told Al Jazeera that ‘most of these statues… are quite unique…. for the artistry of the period and to the history of Iraq’; ‘very few‘ of the objects were modern reproductions.
I appreciate that the question has to be asked but, when asked what should be done, Lamia al-Gailani wisely asked back, ‘what can you do when ISIS is in these areas?’
The burning objects around 00h00m18s are not books or manuscripts but cigarettes, because they are considered to be a slow form of suicide.
1: Next, their videos will have an orange-and-blue colour scheme.