The destructiveness of the Islamic State


nimrudThe Islamic State has just blown up a 10th century Chaldean Catholic church in Iraq and bulldozed a nearby graveyard.

Of course, multi-culti rectitude demands that we, well, if not exactly applaud such cultural self-expression, then at least acknowledge its validity.

Yes, we disagree with such vandalism and would never condone it in our own backyard. But we realise that other cultures are different, and who’s to say we are right and they are wrong?

That way we comply with diktats of progressive modernity, thinking we’ve displayed proper respect for other cultures, without, one hopes, laying ourselves open to their more extreme manifestations.

Moreover, we think ours is the first generation, or perhaps the second, that learned the value of diversity and an open mind.

In fact, ours is the first generation, or perhaps the second, that doesn’t even begin to understand the meaning of true cultural tolerance. This can only arise from a deep-seated feeling for our own heritage, and a profound understanding of it.

For Christendom was an asset-stripping civilisation like no other. Those for whom Western culture was practically a part of their biological make-up knew that Christianity had produced a civilisation towering head and shoulders above all others.

But they also knew that our own culture could become even better by borrowing the best of what different civilisations had to offer. And even if we didn’t borrow other people’s creations, by showing genuine respect for them we would assert the formative animus of our own civilisation: love.

I’m not talking about pre-historic times here. Here’s what Lord Curzon, at that time the Viceroy of India, had to say on the subject in 1900, when my grandfather was already a grown man:

“If there be any one who says to me that there is no duty devolving upon a Christian government to preserve the monuments of a pagan art or the sanctuaries of an alien faith, I cannot pause to argue with such a man.

“Art and beauty, and the reverence that is owing to all that has evoked human genius or has inspired human faith, are independent of creeds, and, in so far as they touch the sphere of religion, are embraced by the common religion of mankind.

Destruction_of_Buddhas_March_21_2001“Viewed from this standpoint, the rock temple of the Brahmans stands on precisely the same footing as the Buddhist Vihara, and the Mohammedan Musjid as the Christian Cathedral. There is no principle of artistic discrimination between the mausoleum of the despot and the sepulchre of the saint.

“What is beautiful, what is historic, what tears the mask of the face of the past and helps us to read its riddles and to look it in the eyes – these, and not the dogmas of a combative theology, are the principle criteria to which we must look.”

I have to admit that my own philosophy, and tastes derived thereof, is rather less ecumenical than that. A Buddhist temple or a mosque, no matter how beautiful, will neither affect me aesthetically nor engage me emotionally nearly as much as, say, Chartres Cathedral does.

Nor do I believe that “art and beauty… are independent of creeds”. On the contrary, I am convinced that, the greater and truer a creed, the more beautiful the art it inspires.

However, while disagreeing with some of the statement, I doff my hat to the man who made it. For the nobility of spirit, sagacity and sheer goodness shine through every word – and these matter more to me than Lord Curzon’s cultural preferences.

He practised what he preached, and Lord Curzon is still venerated in India, which must disappoint those who don’t have a good word to say about the Raj.

Here, for example, are a few words of appreciation from Jawaharlal Nehru, the man second only to Gandhi in his contribution to India’s independence: “After every other Viceroy has been forgotten, Curzon will be remembered because he restored all that was beautiful in India.”

Now, which of our contemporary politicians, preaching multi-culti values in order to garner the multi-culti vote, would be capable of speaking with the same subtlety and erudition, with the same genuine respect for other cultures?

Dave? Ed? Nick? Anyone? The very thought sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? They could learn a lesson or two from Lord Curzon, if they had any use for such knowledge, which they don’t.

The Muslims especially could also partake of his wisdom and kindness, except that their own macabre obtuseness won’t let them because their religion doesn’t encourage ecumenical respect.

Historically, even those few Muslims who made an important contribution to world culture, men like Avicenna in the 11th century or Averroës in the 12th, were in their own religion despised as heretics. It’s Isis that’s the paragon of Islamic piety.

I think Lord Curzon underestimated the decisive role the founding religion plays in a civilisation. I also think he knew it – but felt he had to speak that way. He was a politician after all.


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