Why Islamic State destroys

Why did ISIS estroy the Great Mosque of Mosul on June 20, 2017?

July 4, 2017 22:18
3 minute read.
al nuri mosque isis

A still image taken from video shows the destroyed Grand al-Nuri Mosque of Mosul in Iraq, June 21, 2017. (photo credit: IRAQI MILITARY HANDOUT/VIA REUTERS TV)


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On June 21, 2017, Islamic State destroyed the Great Mosque of Mosul. The renowned mosque dated back to the 12th century and the time of Saladin. Tradition says that the mosque was built between the years 1172 and 1173, after Nur ad-Din took control of Mosul.

It’s ironic. Even though it was Islamic State (ISIS) that destroyed the mosque, the mosque held great positive historical significance for ISIS. This was the very place where, on July 4, 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself the leader of the caliphate.

So why did it do it? Why did ISIS destroy the Great Mosque of Mosul? Understanding the rationale behind this act of historical and religious destruction is an essential part of understanding what motivates ISIS and directs its decisions, tactics and strategies.

The Great Mosque is officially called the Jami al-Nuri, named after Nur ad-Din. Atop the mosque sat a famous minaret which has been nicknamed “al-Hadba,” the hunchback.

The minaret was so names because it was crooked. Think of it as the Islamic world’s version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The reason the minaret leaned is unclear. Logically speaking, it was probably the result of thermal expansion.

Sun and heat probably caused the bricks to get bigger and lose their shape. Whatever the cause, the tower tilted by almost three meters. In 1981 an Italian firm tried to protect the structure. The irony here should not be lost.

But when it comes to the Great Mosque of Mosul, tradition and superstition often overtake logic. According to some believers, Muhammad flew by the mosque and, as a result, the tower bent. Christians say that the tower bends toward the tomb of Mary.

The minaret stood 45 meters high, a truly impressive height. Its image adorns banknotes and postal stamps throughout the Islamic world. And now it is gone – destroyed. It survived for 850 years only to be destroyed by ISIS in what, at first glance, appears to be a vindictive whim.

But it’s more than a whim. ISIS destroyed the mosque and the minaret because it needed to.

The Great Mosque of Mosul was a significant part of the culture of Islam.

If we were to create a hierarchy of most identifiable historical and religious sites, Mecca and Medina would top the list, followed by al-Aksa and then the Mosque of Mosul. Next in line would be the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.

This is why ISIS destroyed the mosque that meant as much to them as it did to the rest of Islam.

At 9:50 p.m. on June 21, 2017, Iraqi forces were moving closer and closer to ISIS forces in the Great Mosque.

They were within 50 meters of the minaret when ISIS blew it up. In the eyes of the approaching Iraqi fighters, reaching the mosque symbolized their victory over ISIS. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi went so far as to call it a “declaration of defeat” by ISIS.

ISIS could not let that happen.

We already know that ISIS destroys historical sites with great regularity.

It destroyed the ancient city of Nineveh without a second thought. It destroyed the burial site of Jonah. But this act of destruction was different.

In this case ISIS knew how valuable the mosque and minaret were to other Sunnis. And despite the value it had for them ISIS came to the only conclusion they are capable of: if we cannot have it, no one can.

And so it blew up the mosque and the minaret and, with it, hundreds of years of history.

The Great Mosque of Mosul was the last vestige of ISIS in Mosul. The black ISIS flag flew defiantly from its top.

ISIS could not permit another flag to fly from the famous minaret. In their minds, today and forever after, they and only they were worthy of controlling the Great Mosque of Mosul.

That arrogance is what informs ISIS.

It is how it makes its decisions. It is how they live their lives. Without a second thought, ISIS detonated a piece of history, a place of religious worship, a monument to Islam.

All that is left are stamps and pictures.

The writer is a political commentator and the author of “THUGS.” He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV.
Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.

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