(The New Yorker) -- It does something to our sense of ourselves, and of humanity, when we see pictures of men, willfully and with impunity, destroying some of the world’s oldest and rarest archeological treasures. A couple of weeks ago, it was video clips of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham’s extremists wielding sledgehammers and drills, methodically destroying an exquisitely carved stone lamassu, or winged man-bull, at the Assyrian complex of Nimrud, which was created by artists nearly three thousand years ago. A few days later, it was the ancient temple complex of Hatra, in northern Iraq, which was built by the Seleucid Empire around two or three centuries before Christ. Hatra had been the site of a series of glorious colonnaded buildings and statues; it is reported that beginning on March 7th, ISIS destroyed what was left of them. On Monday, there were new images on social media showing ISIS extremists attacking the grounds of St. George’s, a centuries-old Chaldean Catholic monastery outside of Mosul. In this world of all-seeing, all-hearing killer drones, these acts somehow continue.
UNESCO, the international body that has been given the powers of judgment over what sites on this planet constitute our “world heritage,” has denounced these incidents of vandalism as “acts of barbarism.” That’s about it, in terms of a concerted international response. UNESCO has no policing powers. We have empowered a body to recognize the rare and beautiful things of this planet, yet we do nothing when they are destroyed.