ISIS has continued its blood soaked campaign to impose its view of pure Islam on the world and to destroy all evidence of art and civilization in its path. The destruction of ancient works and structures has appalled the world. The Islamic extremists have now murdered one of the world’s leading experts on the history and art of the region — 82-year-old archaeologist Khaled Asaad. By all accounts, Asaad refused to tell ISIS where art was hidden. ISIS has been destroying large works while selling smaller works on the black market. Images show ISIS supporters laughing and rejoicing as their ancient history and art is destroyed with sledgehammers as the professed will of Allah. The standoff between Asaad and these murderers put the conflict between civilization and these Islamic extremists into the sharpest relief. It also shows who many Muslims continue to put their very lives at risk to protect their history and art. Indeed, they are protecting the art and history of the very nadir of civilization.
ISIS beheaded Asaad and then hanged his body from a column in the town’s main square. He had been interrogated by Islamic State for over a month on the location of the antiquities after they seized Palmyra.
Asaad spent over 50 years working at the UNESCO World Heritage site with experts from around the world. He was renown for his knowledge and passion for archeology. His books include “The Palmyra Sculptures” and “Zenobia, the Queen of Palmyra and the Orient.” He was one of the greatest experts in the world on Syrian archeology and personally discovered several ancient cemeteries, caves and the Byzantine cemetery in the garden of the Museum of Palmyra.
Few academics or intellectuals are ever called to put their very lives at risk for the preservation of knowledge and art and history. Those like Asaad are on the frontline in a war between science and ignorance; between civilization and barbarism; between free thought and religious orthodoxy.
His headless body hanged from a pillar as another indelible image to the world by ISIS of its intent to destroy the very existence of civilization in its twisted view of Islam. For academics around the world, Asaad will remain an image of a different kind: a man of conviction and courage who died in the effort to preserve his nation’s history and very identity from those who would erase it. He died as he lived in showing that civilization transcends the lives of any given generation. This educated and enlightened man died at the hands of religious extremism and ignorance. In doing so, he left the world with a challenge to meet this ISIS threat united and unafraid and unbent.