Centuries of history destroyed in less than a second. No, this is not a nightmare, but rather photographic and video evidence published by the British Broadcasting Corporation capturing the moment in which members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) destroyed the Tomb of Jonah in Mosul, Iraq.
Despite his appearance in Islam, Christianity and Judaism, the Jonah’s shrine joined the list of ancient relics to be destroyed by the Sunni extremist group in Iraq’s second largest city.
Believers thought the site to be the final resting place of the prophet. Locals—many of whom welcomed the arrival of ISIS forces—condemned the destruction of the ancient spot and the religious texts the group failed to remove from within beforehand.
The past couple of weeks have witnessed similar demolitions of a 14th century mosque and shrine to Nabi Jerjis and the “Girl’s Tomb” in Mosul, as well as the Ahmed al-Rifai and Saad bin Aquel Husseiniya shrines in the Tal Afar area.
United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General, Ms. Irina Bokova, issued a statement on July 26, saying, “I am shocked by this violence against the millennial heritage of Iraq – destroying places of religious and cultural significance is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.” The agency worked with Iraqis last week to create the Response Action Plan that “defines priority interventions to mitigate heightened risks.” UNESCO joins the U.N. Secretary-General, the United States and Iran in denouncing the group as a threat to stability in the region.
ISIS also released a statement claiming absolute legitimacy in its actions. The group, which the U.S. has deemed worse than al-Qaeda, believes special emphasis on grave sites and relics contradict the true teachings of Islam. In fact, the extremists have dedicated an entire battalion to choosing which sites to target next. These members are charged with following certain guidelines such as eliminating any mosque standing on a tomb.
Locals who did not already flee the area have begun to demonstrate their frustration with ISIS. The ancient minaret of Mosul – a famous landmark in the city – was the next ISIS target, before citizens confronted and stopped the militants. As of July 31, ISIS has not destroyed the minaret. In another act of defiance, assailants shot and killed two ISIS members in the street on July 27.
The people of Mosul originally celebrated the victory of ISIS in opposition to the government, but the events in July have cost ISIS support from the locals. ISIS has severely limited human rights in its occupied land in an attempt to form a new caliphate with sharia law. Poverty in the province largely weakened opposition to the Sunni group, and according to the World Bank, the poverty rates in the region rose to 32 percent in 2012. This figure exceeds the national average by 12.2 percent, and would help explain why citizens might feel neglected. This, perhaps, would also explain why to a people with so little, these ancient relics would mean so much.
– Erica Lignell