A martyr to knowledge

The deliberate killing of innocent people in the middle of war zones is reprehensible. There may be no rational reason why some deaths arouse stronger feelings of anger and sadness than others since all such deaths are equally tragic to their loved ones. The killing of children is one case where one can hazard a guess as to why it strikes even strangers more deeply. There is something about a life pointlessly snuffed out before it has fully experienced life that makes it especially sad.

But yesterday comes the story of the killing by ISIS of an 82-year old man that also had deep poignancy for me.

Islamic State militants beheaded a renowned antiquities scholar in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra and hung his mutilated body on a column in a main square of the historic site because he apparently refused to reveal where valuable artefacts had been moved for safekeeping.

The brutal murder of Khaled al-Asaad, 82, is the latest atrocity perpetrated by the jihadi group, which has captured a third of Syria and neighbouring Iraq and declared a “caliphate” on the territory it controls. It has also highlighted Isis’s habit of looting and selling antiquities to fund its activities – as well as destroying them.

Syrian state antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said Asaad’s family had informed him that the scholar, who worked for more than 50 years as head of antiquities in Palmyra, was killed by Isis on Tuesday.

Asaad had been held for more than a month before being murdered. Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said he had learned from a Syrian source that the archaeologist had been interrogated by Isis about the location of treasures from Palmyra and had been executed when he refused to cooperate.

The article describes the life of a man who played a huge role in the excavating of relics of an ancient time. ISIS killed a man who was so dedicated to preserving his country’s ancient history that he refused to divulge where those treasures were held even though he must have known that these people would stop at nothing since ISIS takes pride in publicizing its willingness to carry out the brutal and callous murders of perfectly innocent people in order to ‘teach a lesson’.

Truly Asaad was a martyr to scholarship.


  1. Oliver Davies says

    Heartbreaking, even among such huge and sad loss of life. That he kept his secrets in the face of brutality is an inspiring counterpart to the depressing, horrifying cruelty that he faced. Even as an unbeliever I will say, Bless him.

  2. mnb0 says

    Heartbreaking -- but the actual reason IS does this is even worse: to deflect attention. IS loots archeological treasures and sells it illegally; it’s one way to pay their bills. And you just have supported this strategy of IS. As long as enough people do what you just have done chances are small that governments will take measures to cut IS off from its financial sources, which is where they are most vulnerable.
    You have fallen for their trap by not writing about


  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    mnbo @2:

    And you just have supported this strategy of IS

    How exactly has Mano supported this? The quoted article says

    It [the murder of Asaad] has also highlighted Isis’s habit of looting and selling antiquities to fund its activities – as well as destroying them.

  4. Oliver Davies says

    I’d have to agree with Rob. I can’t see how mnb0 could consider Mano’s post as being supportive (either consciously or not) of Daesh’s money raising efforts.
    Perhaps mnb0 considers that Mano’s pangs of horror at this single murder among many -- is a sign of how s/he places value in the shared (or specific) cultural history of the human race -- and that this placing of value (implying a monetary value) on cultural artefacts is that which Daesh is counting on to make some of their money.
    This is not a particularly good argument. Perhaps mnb0 thinks we should consider ALL cultural history worthless and dispensable in order to “fight” Daesh. Or perhaps he didn’t think through her/his comment before posting.

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