“The Venice of the Sands in Peril by G.W. Bowersock” | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

Sowing a path of death and destruction, ISIS has taken another ancient city. The world looks on helplessly as they continue to slaughter all who do not meet their ideological standards, including women and children. And it is not enough for them to destroy the present, they feel that they must destroy the past as well. While there is no evidence of damage yet, it is likely that the magnificent ancient city of Palmyra will meet the same fate as Nimrud and Hatra.

In contemplating this possibility, G.W. Bowersock acknowledges the extensive archeological excavations of the site, but argues that “it would be folly to believe that the survival of archaeological reports and photographs could in any way compensate for the destruction or looting of the ancient remains. The preservation of buildings and objects that managed to survive for two thousand years of Palmyra’s history has to be a priority wherever civilization is cherished. The Arabs at Palmyra today, and undoubtedly many Arabs everywhere, know that the city belongs to them and their past.” Read his summary of the history of this splendid ancient city here:


The Venice of the Sands in Peril by G.W. Bowersock | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books.


The Goals of the Islamic State: Hijrah, al-Haramayn and Hegemony |History News Network

A historian of Islamic history, Timothy R. Furnish, explains the goals of ISIS:

“Long-term, ISIS—as many breathlessly have reported—aspires to not just ruling all the Islamic portions of the Middle East, Europe and South/Central Asia, but Rome and points further west, including the United States.  This may be a hookah-dream, but considering that the ideology—if not quite all the brutal activity—of ISIS has solid grounding in Salafism, both its Wahhabi and Deobandi (South Asian) versions, it’s something that should be taken seriously by non-Muslims.

It is the medium-term goals of ISIS that should most concern us.  I submit that these primarily are two-fold:  1) to goad us—that is, the United States—into inserting ground troops into, particularly, Syria, as a means of fulfilling the hadith about the great apocalyptic battle  near Dabiq; and 2) to take over Saudi Arabia, or at least to cause such regional instability that Riyadh’s regime fractures, and ISIS Toyotas ride triumphantly into al-Haramayn, the “two holy places” of Mecca and Medina.” Read his entire article at:

History News Network | The Goals of the Islamic State: Hijrah, al-Haramayn and Hegemony.

Sultan Murad IV (seventeenth century) and al Baghadadi

Sultan Murad IV (seventeenth century) and al Baghadadi

One Standard, Not Two, for Christianity and Islam – The American Interest

Obama’s refusal to call ISIS (or ISIL) a radical Islamic organization has sparked a debate over the relationship between religion and violence. The controversy escalated after he reminded Americans of Christianity’s violent past at the recent national prayer breakfast. Much of the outrage over his comments was motivated by the belief that Obama had fabricated the claims and insulted Christianity. At the same time many in this camp also believe that Islam is responsible for the violent behavior of ISIS. To them Christianity is the good religion and Islam is the bad one. This opinion is grounded in bias rather than evidence and we can safely dismiss it. That leaves us with the two contradictory views presented by Obama: 1) religion has no relationship to ISIS, or 2) religion, at least in part, is responsible for the violent behavior of Christians in medieval and early modern Europe as well as ISIS in the Middle East today. In the above cited essay, the historian Jeffrey Herf argues that both are culpable in the same way. Different traditions and selective use of sacred texts result in different behaviors and versions of the same religion. As Herf points out,

“Western governments have tied themselves in knots to the point of foolishness because they refuse to state what is obvious to many millions of people about the importance not of the religion of Islam per se but of interpretations of Islam in this era of terror. Just as it makes no historical sense to discuss slavery or the Holocaust without examining Christianity’s contributions, so it is ridiculous to assert that the Islamic State, the Hamas Covenant, the fanaticism of the Iranian mullahs, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood have nothing to do with Islam. It amounts to saying that its adherents either do not mean what they say or that they don’t know what they are doing. Both assumptions are condescending. To be sure, these varieties of Islamism differ from one another, but they all engage in the labors of selective tradition. They did not invent the texts that they quote but they have selected and emphasized some rather than other components of the tradition. They can all point to passages in the Koran and in the commentaries about it that in their view justify attacks on the Jews, on Muslims of whom they disapprove, on Christians and on other assorted ‘infidels.’”(“One Standard, Not Two, for Christianity and Islam”)

the crusades

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Iraqi Libraries Ransacked by Islamic State Group in Mosul – ABC News

“When Islamic State group militants invaded the Central Library of Mosul earlier this month, they were on a mission to destroy a familiar enemy: other people’s ideas.” These people are truly barbarians! The beheadings, the burning of the Jordanian pilot, the killing of anyone who disagrees with them, the treatment of women, the destruction of ancient sites, and now the burning of books. Is there any shred of humanity left in these radicals?

Iraqi Libraries Ransacked by Islamic State Group in Mosul – ABC News.

Mideast Iraq Libraries In Danger

History News Network | Why Now Is the Time to Remember the Thousands of Frenchmen Who Volunteered to Fight for Hitler

The historian Robert Zaretsky makes an interesting comparison between the Frenchmen who volunteered to fight for Hitler during WWII and the Frenchmen who are volunteering to fight for ISIS today. I think it’s a useful reminder that this kind of thing is not new.

Zaretsky writes: “Drawing these parallels between France’s past and present is more than a simple parlor game. Instead, they offer lessons that are both sobering and comforting. From one generation to the next, there will always be those susceptible to the siren call of millenarian movements that offer a heightened sense of purpose, along with the weapons and language to pursue it. Moreover, just as historians rightly underscore the extremely small percentage of Frenchmen who joined the Charlemagne ranks, future historians will no doubt do the same in regard to the French contingent in ISIS. Finally, that the parallels should recall to France, whose large Muslim community already and unfairly serves as a lighting rod for many discontents and disappointments, that Islam is no more responsible for the bloody-minded recruits to ISIS than liberalism was for those who flocked to the colors of the Charlemagne Division seventy years ago.” Read his entire article at:

History News Network | Why Now Is the Time to Remember the Thousands of Frenchmen Who Volunteered to Fight for Hitler.

ISIS flag II

History News Network | Letter to My Friends: Why We Can’t Expect to Win a Religious War in the Middle East

William R. Polk’s great advice at the HNN that we unfortunately won’t follow:

“Adding up these points, I argue that the more they are attacked, the stronger the salafis become.  Even if we kill their leadership, cut off their supplies of arms and food and overwhelm their followers, we cannot destroy their movement.  I believe that the history of religious movements proves two things:

The first it that, religious wars are never “won.” That is the “bad news.”

Second, the “good news” is that even violent, radical, ugly religious movements “mature.”  That is, they are forced by their followers and even by some of their leaders to become “civilized.”  This is a process, slow to be sure, we can see in all radical movements.

Thus, what we need to do, in my opinion, is to ease our pressure to enable internal changes — those that are beneficial to them and to us — to take place.

Admittedly that is a long-time strategy.  It is far less popular than attacking:  most people love war, soldiers like to win glory and promotion and arms dealers want to sell their goods.  So our leaders may not have the strength or the courage to try a long-term strategy, but I think it is far and away the most likely to accomplish our objectives.”

Please read his entire post at:

History News Network | Letter to My Friends: Why We Can’t Expect to Win a Religious War in the Middle East.

isis flag