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Editorial: Islamic State destruction extends far beyond killings

The beheadings of American and British journalists and aid workers, the many killings of Lebanese and Kurds and the unknown number of Syrians who have died due to the Islamic State are almost unfathomable in their tragedy. Undoubtedly, these murders exemplify the brutal tactics of Islamic State militants. And these horrific killings are only one aspect of the larger picture of destruction caused by war and violence in the Middle East.

CNN published — inappropriately enough in its Style section —  an article Nov. 5 entitled “The Greatest Buildings You’ll Never See: 19 Priceless Monuments Lost in Middle East Conflicts.” While this aesthetically pleasing slideshow was obviously intended to be a quick read, the subject of this article brings up a seriously underlooked consequence of violence in the Middle East. The ancient city of Bosra, the Great Mosque and Citadel of Aleppo and the crusader castle Crac des Chevaliers are just a few of the immeasurably important historical landmarks that have been damaged, or even completely destroyed, by the civil war and Islamic State attacks in Syria, among other nations. Most recently, this September, the Armenian Genocide Museum was destroyed by the Islamic State and rendered completely unusable in its current state.

It is difficult to fully consider the loss of material things in the context of human suffering, but it is still crucial to acknowledge the importance of the destruction of these historical sites. Many of these sites offer valuable archaeological evidence on the empires of pre-Islamic Persia and contribute to the scarce art history discourse surrounding Near Eastern art. By exterminating these sites from memory, the Islamic State attempts to construct a history that places Persia as the representation of pure Islamic culture that developed independently of any preceding or external influences.

Moreover, the destruction of such landmarks reduces the tourist economy and hurts the livelihoods of citizens who rely on such sites for business. Already, the violence that has seized Syria since 2011 has temporarily devastated the country’s tourism industry. As a country with unrivaled archaeological sites, Syria was once an extremely popular tourist destination, with tourism accounting for 12 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2010. Naturally, fear of the widely reported violence in Syria — and the Middle East more generally — has temporarily hindered that industry.

The escalating destruction of historic sites by the Islamic State and other violent actors in the Syrian wars may make such declines in tourist revenue irreversible. This devastation will only further decimate the Syrian economy, a trend many argue further perpetuates the chance for violence.

Thus, when condemning the violence of the Islamic State and other militant groups, it is crucial to not only highlight the explicit loss of life but also the increasing architectural destruction and the reverberations that it could, and likely will, have on the livelihood of millions of citizens dependent on the tourism industry for economic survival. Undoubtedly, it is impossible to reserve equal empathy for people and material things, but it is extremely important to recognize the effect of the destruction of these priceless monuments in much more than just an ephemeral or intangible manner.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16, Baxter DiFabrizio ’15, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum ’15, Katherine Pollock ’16 and Himani Sood ’15. Send comments to



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