The Mosque of the Prophet Younis, which housed the Tomb of Jonah, was 2800 years old. The terrorist group known as ISIL destroyed it in a day. Across Iraq and Syria, ISIL has destroyed countless other mosques, tombs, holy sites, and cultural treasures.
In remarks on September 22 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Heritage in Peril: Iraq and Syria” event, Secretary of State John Kerry called for united action to safeguard cultural heritage under threat by extremists groups. He noted that culture is “the foundation of life” for many and charged ISIL with not only “stealing lives” but “stealing the soul of millions.” He stressed that these acts of “cultural barbarism” aren’t “just a tragedy for the Syrians and the Iraqi people” but “a tragedy for all civilized people.”
Organizations such as the Iraqi Institute for the Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage, the National Science Foundation, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science are partnering in a global effort to protect and preserve cultural antiquities, including:
- Documenting the condition of cultural heritage sites in Syria and extending this effort in Iraq.
- Funding and training Iraqi conservation experts.
- Using satellites to track the destruction of Syrian historical sites.
According to the Washington Post, ISIL is reportedly the world’s richest terrorist organization. Much of its wealth has been amassed by looting Iraq and Syria and then selling stolen artifacts vital to providing historical knowledge of cultures that pre-date Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
“ISIL is not only beheading individuals; it is tearing at the fabric of whole civilizations. It has no respect for life. It has no respect for religion. And it has no respect for culture, which for millions is actually the foundation of life,” Kerry says.
More than 50 countries have come together in a broad effort to combat ISIL, including five Arab countries that have participated in military action in Syria. “The overall effort is going to take time, there are challenges ahead, but we are going to do what is necessary to take the fight to ISIL, to begin to make it clear that terrorism, extremism does not have a place in the building of civilized society,” Kerry said.