Extremists and history

Last week I caught a snippet of news about a state legislator in Oklahoma who wanted to redo the Advance Placement History syllabus to emphasize the speeches of Ronald Reagan.  I gather he was also not interested in any multicultural aspects of our history.  And he also didn’t understand that changing AP history would keep students from getting college credit for the class – one of the reasons kids take AP classes.  According to CNN, Oklahoma is only one state that doesn’t like the new framework for history under the Common Core.  I don’t think that everyone will ever agree on what should be included in our history class.  For example, the internment of the Japanese Americans into camps during World War II was never taught in my high school history class.  I took care of that by doing a report on my grandparents.  History is such a huge subject and these classes are designed to touch on a few highlights.  And a framework is just that, a framework.  Students and teachers can hang a lot of information within that framework.

What frightens me is that some of the same people who think they know better than historians what should be taught in high school history are the same people who are also religious fundamentalists.  Many in our fundamentalist Christian movement want to make Christianity the state religion.  Forget that the U.S. Constitution prohibits establishment of a state religion. These folks like to carry around pocket-sized copies of the Constitution, but I don’t think they have actually read it.  Will their next fight be to teach only about Christianity and not other religions and cultures?

Destruction

There is sickening news out of Iraq and Syria.  This is the part of the world that we learned about in world history class as the “Cradle of Civilization”.  Yes, it was mostly Western Civ, but the Mesopotamian influence was far-reaching.  I was watching MSNBC when they ran the video of men taking sledge hammers and drills to 7th century B.C. statues destroying them forever.  The New York Times wrote this

The limestone sculptures, statues and reliefs smashed by militants in northern Iraq provided valuable historical insights into kingdoms that flourished thousands of years ago and were crucial in the formation of early Arab identity, experts say. The destruction took place in Mosul, in one of the most important museums in the Middle East.

On Friday, archaeologists and historians in Iraq and around the world studied a video posted by the Islamic State showing millenniums-old artifacts being smashed by sledgehammers, seeking to come to terms with what artistic and historical riches had been lost in an exercise clearly meant to promote the militants’ extreme beliefs and project their power.

As with all news programs and video, the pictures ran again and again.  I could only watch once.

The World Post (from the Huffington Post) quotes one of the destroyers

The region under IS control in Iraq has nearly 1,800 of Iraq’s 12,000 registered archaeological sites and the militants appear to be out to cleanse it of any non-Islamic ideas, including library books, archaeological relics, and even Islamic sites considered idolatrous.

“Oh Muslims, these artifacts that are behind me were idols and gods worshipped by people who lived centuries ago instead of Allah,” a bearded man tells the camera as he stands in front of the partially demolished winged-bull.

“The so-called Assyrians and Akkadians and others looked to gods for war, agriculture and rain to whom they offered sacrifices,” he added, referring to groups that that left their mark on Mesopotamia for more than 5,000 years in what is now Iraq, eastern Syria and southern Turkey.

“Our prophet ordered us to remove all these statues as his followers did when they conquered nations,” the man in the video adds. The video bore the logo of the IS group’s media arm and was posted on a Twitter account used by the group.

But this is only the most recent destruction of history.

In January, Islamic State militants ransacked the Central Library of Mosul, smashing the locks and taking around 2,000 books — leaving only Islamic texts. Days later, militants broke into University of Mosul’s library. They made a bonfire out of hundreds of books on science and culture, destroying them in front of students.

The day after Baghdad fell to U.S. troops in April 2003, looters burst into the Iraqi National Museum in the Iraqi capital, making off with scores of priceless artifacts and leaving the floor littered with shattered pottery. The U.S. was widely criticized at the time for failing to protect the site.

Yes, we are also complicit in failing to protect world heritage.

But it is the ransacking of the library and the burning of the books that leads me to a comparison to the fundamentalist Christians in this country.  They have in common with ISIS a tunnel vision that allow only for one point of view.  One religion.  One way of thinking.  It seems to me that all fundamentalists have a common root:  To destroy that which is other or different.  I am not comparing that Oklahoma legislator to an ISIS terrorist, let me be clear about that.  What I am saying is that while the manifestation of their beliefs may be different, they share a desire to make everyone adhere to what they know is best.  It is done through terror and killing in Syria, Iraq, and Africa and stupid legislation in the United States, but the end goals seem to me to be the same.

Photograph:  AP

One thought on “Extremists and history

  1. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, so they say. It seems to me those that are destroying history are trying to create their own world, whether it be by ignoring relatively recent shameful acts (those camps), denying our own written rules (the constitution), or physically destroying beautiful works of art and words of wisdom. The world seems to be heading in a very, very messed up direction from both sides of the globe.

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