Requiem for Palmyra

How will the world explain to future generations why it allowed the wanton destruction of world heritage?

Civilization is being tested, and the preliminary results are disheartening. Civilization as we know it began in Mesopotamia; it should not be lost on anyone that this land and its adjacent environs are the locus of civilization’s contemporary crucible.

These are tragic times for our collective history and heritage, with no end in sight.

The Babylonian chief god Bel (‘Lord’, a.k.a. Marduk), who figures with Daniel in the apocryphal Bel and the Dragon, dominated the pagan pantheon of deities worshiped during Palmyra’s heyday. The Aramean/Assyrian god Baal-Shamin (‘Lord of Heaven’, a.k.a. Zeus, Jupiter), was honored with an altar erected in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes, and the deity’s worship is obliquely referred to as the ‘abomination of desolation’ in Daniel and 1 Maccabees.

Palmyra’s Temple of Bel (whose chief priest Haddudan once led Palmyra’s peace party and surreptitiously assisted Emperor Aurelian in conquering a besieged Palmyra) and Temple of Baal-Shamin are no more. Now a few funerary tower tombs have also been demolished, perhaps including the one containing the remains of Odainat of Palmyra (a.k.a. Odenathus), a 3rd century Arab client king of the Roman Empire who repeatedly defeated Shapur the Great of Persia before being murdered under suspicious circumstances.

How long will Palmyra’s signature arches, columns, tetrapylons, and theater hold out? If coalition forces are unwilling to intervene and stop ISIS – Assad’s Syrian army has certainly been no help – then there is no reason to believe these will be spared by the destroyers.

Palmyra is civilization’s synecdoche, a metonym and microcosm for the global battleground. If we the civilized fall short there, it bodes ill everywhere else.

The only thing required for the incline of barbarism is the decline of civilization. The bravery of savages exists in direct proportion to the cowardice of sophisticates.

The annihilation of the nihilists of ISIS – Barbarians Anonymous – begins the moment the forces of civilization exert the will to resist advancing evil, decisively seizing the initiative from humanity’s adversaries and putting a definitive end to their nauseating volute of violence. Only a sclerotic resolve can reverse fortunes and lead to actions for the ages.

In the world’s most igneous region, fanning the dying embers of crippled countries will not avail. For better or worse, Syria and Iraq are no more. In time they may be replaced not by the Islamic State but by a Kurdish one, rising Phoenix-like from warm ashes. That is an actionable goal toward which civilization can strive, an aim in which may lie the region's redemption.