The National Museum, Damascus
The Muslim religious holiday of Eid al-Fitr, also known as the “Feast of the breaking of the Fast” marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan and is the single day during on which Muslims are not permitted to fast. Muslims celebrate the end of fasting and thank Allah for divine help with their 29 or 30 days long act of self-control.
Depending on cloud covers, time zones, antipathy among competing religious sects, whether a respected religious leader uses binoculars, a telescope, satellite imagining, or his naked eyes ( Da’ish (ISIS), since 5/21/2015 in control of and now destroying parts of Palmyra, credits only naked eyes). Whether the chosen “moon watcher” will be peering skyward from Saudi Arabia or its religious and political nemesis Iran, or from somewhere else, the first sighting of the crescent moon this Ramadan month could fall shortly after sunset on Friday July 16, or 17. Or in North America, on July 18th. Its depends. Sunni and Shia do not always agree on hundreds of Koranic interpretations but sometimes they do agree on the dates for the beginning and end of Ramadan.
The year, the date is unusually important to many for other reasons. According to Da’ish (ISIS) members and even a spokesman, who seem increasingly willing to discuss their seemingly inextricably intertwined religious-political views with confessed heretics like this observer, Ramadan requires a month of accelerated attacks on Islam’s enemies. Hence the urgent need for thousands of new recruits willing to become “martyrs” and join a campaign employing various forms of purification and revenge to be visited upon perceived heretics and non-believers. This years Ramadan plan includes the destruction of pagan relics and burial sites and the blowing up of Shia and Sufi shrines (even if the relics are venerated by fellow Sunni Muslims). Sufi are despised by the Salafis who make up Da’ish (ISIS) , al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda and literally scores of similar groups.
On 6/23/2015, the Da’ish (ISIS) media company Al-Furqan released an audio recording by ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-‘Adnani. In it, Al-‘Adnani congratulates Muslims on the commencement of Ramadan, the “month of conquests”, he adds. He calls upon them to join the jihad and attain martyrdom. He focuses on the Shi’ite’s ill-treatment of Sunnis and the claimed Shi’ite’s danger to Sunnis in other Arab countries. Da’ish has been publishing in Palmyra and elsewhere lists the various alleged crimes committed by Shi’ites against Sunnis, while call on the latter to join ISIS in the face of the enumerated threats.
On 6/20/2015, Da’ish (ISIS), according to a reliable source in the 2000 years old cultural heritage site Palmyra, has sent its militiamen to launch its local cultural heritage cleansing campaign. Dr. Maamoun Abdulkarim, Director-General of Antiquities and Museums in Syria confirmed that it was that date when ISIS jihadists blew up the tombs of Mohammed bin Ali, a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed’s cousin, and scholar Nizar Bahaa Eddine adding that “IS has destroyed at least 50 mausoleums dating between 100-200 years old in the regions under its control in north and east Syria.”
Early 6/24/2015, this observer was able to confirm from a claimed eye-witness via Skype, a report of the destruction of the Bahaa Eddine shrine that was built during the early 14th Century to honor the scholarship of a Sufi religious scholar from Palmyra. Sufis consider themselves to be the original true proponents of this pure form of Islam and trace many of their original precepts from the Prophet Muhammad either through his cousin and son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib, or through his companion and friend Abu Bakr.
Destruction of the tombs of Mohammed bin Ali, a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed’s cousin, and scholar Nizar Abu Bahaaeddine, at Palmyra. Photo: 6/23/2015 Al-Furqan.
There are unconfirmed reports arriving from Palmyra at least daily including that all tombs with marble designs are being destroyed because for Da’ish (ISIS) they should not be visible. The extremists have also repeatedly sworn to destroy Shia Islam and also Sufi orders, the latter being largely Sunni and follow one of the four schools of Sunni Islam. The unforgivable crime of the Sufi, according to an ISIS sympathetic sheik is that over the years various Sufi orders have become too close to various Shite movements including Ismailism which impacted the spread of Twelver Sh’ism throughout parts of the Middle East.
On 6/23/2015, a Da’ish representative advised that all Shia and Sufi shrines in Palmyra will be destroyed during Ramadan or soon after. Just as the extremists have blown up dozens of shrines in Iraq and Syria, many belonging to the Sufi sect.
Da’ish (ISIS) forces were observed by locals this past weekend planting mines in and around Palmyra. It was not clear whether they were preparing to destroy the site for claimed reasons of sacrilege or paganism or perhaps becuase they were seeking to deter government forces from advancing toward their new base. Since 6/22/2015 government forces have been regrouping and approaching Palmyra with orders to retake the UNESCO World Heritage site and surrounding area near key oil and gas fields. This strategic area provides Damascus with electricity.
A reliable source who this observer spent time with during my last visit to Palmyra reported via Skype on 6/23/2015 that Da’ish (ISIS) fighters are moving among Palmyra’s archeological sites over a roughly 10 sq. kilometer area and are conducting a survey of ‘pagan sites’ to be destroyed. A Da’ish official advised my source that a special “sharia court’ appointed by the local Emir will instruct the World Heritage site’s “ Purification Units” which, if any, sites are to be spared. There is currently no information available whether any of the Da’ish officials, or specialized sharia court staff or judges designated to oversee the cultural heritage cleansing project has any academic background in Archeology or even in Koranic studies.
During the coming nearly four weeks it’s anyone’s guess what will remain of Palmyra by the end of Ramadan and Eid al Fitr. Most of us who visit with the staff of the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museum (DGAM) housed at Syria’s National Museum complex, and who follow this subject are not optimistic. Rather some of us tend toward the tentative conclusion that it is likely Da’ish (ISIS) and allies may well do in Palmyra what has been their pattern over the past year in Iraq– from the 3/6/2014 bulldozing in Mosul to the 4/11/2015 cultural heritage destruction at Nimrud.
The author inspecting war damage at Palmyra’s Temple of Bel, May, 2014
Chapter VII of the UN Charter, as well as the Article 5l right of self-defense and Articles 43-44, and Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001) and Security Council Resolutions 1368 (2001) plus a whole body of accepted International Customary Law gives the global community the legal and political tools to confront this terrorism.
And to stop it Now.
Would that we will achieve the political will without further delay.
Franklin Lamb is in Libya and might be reachable c/o email@example.com