Why ISIS Killed an Antiquities Scholar


temple to BAAL — gone.
ancient tombs in palmyra  — gone

For a half-century, Khaled Asaad devoted his life to the antiquities of Palmyra, a UNESCO Heritage site located northeast of the Syrian capital, Damascus. A scholar of Aramaic, Asaad wrote extensively about pre-Islamic life in Syria and was a fixture of international archaeological conferences. Unfortunately,  the ruins he worked among could not preserve his life because on Tuesday, August 18th, 2015, the cruel and ultimately depraved Islamic militants from the Islamic State beheaded Asaad in a Palmyra town square ISIS then hung the 82-year-old’s corpse from a Roman column like he was a dog.

Palmyra flourished in antiquity as an important trading hub along the Silk Road. Asaad had worked over the past few decades with US, French, German and Swiss archaeological missions on excavations and research in Palmyra’s famed 2,000-year-old ruins, a Unesco world heritage site that includes Roman tombs and the Temple of Bel, the pagan god mentioned in the Old Testament as being worshipped by the Canaanites and with whom Gideon fought against in the Book of Judges.

Prof Al-Asaad in his museum
Gruesome executions are an integral aspect of the Islamic State’s ruling style, but this killing illustrates the crucial role antiquities play in ISIS’s day-to-day governance. Part of this is symbolic: Muslim fundamentalist groups have long had a contentious relationship with cultural artifacts, particularly those that predate the rise of Islam in the 7th century A.D.

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