Killing History

It sounds like a perfectly impractical and even risible notion – to remove the Pyramids of Giza from the view of the righteous by covering them with wax. Good heavens, what would happen on the first hot day of summer, assuming such a thing could even be accomplished? A vast puddle of melted wax, I am certain. Stick a wick the size of a Titan rocket made out of cotton string in the middle, empty in a couple of truckloads of essential perfume oils and you’d have a scented candle the size of Texas, the eighth wonder of the ancient world and something that could probably fumigate most of the Middle East.

I could go on being humorous about this all, but as a person who loves history, and visited the various relics left to us of ancient Greece and Rome with breathless awe, I have a point and I ought to get back to it. I would have liked to have seen Egypt’s older-than-ancient ruins. I would have liked to have seen the pyramids, the temple ruins and the tombs, the museums of antiquities, and the archeological sites – assuming that I could see them without being trampled by Dr. Zawhi Hawass running to get in front of another camera. I would also have liked to have seen what remains of Nineveh, and Babylon, and Petra – the rose-red city older than time – and Jerusalem, too. I might yet see Jerusalem; it depends on whether the novel-writing gig pays off in a big way, eventually. Nineveh and Babylon could work out, as well. Depends upon the Iraqis getting it all in gear and organizing their country and tourism opportunities. (Wouldn’t those old palaces of Saddam Hussein make dandy tourist hotels? Lay on a modicum of comfort, and run bus tours out to the ruins and museums! Ka-ching!) It might take a while; just like it took South Korea to move from a war zone to the First World.

And I’d like to see the Buddhas of Bamiyan, too … except that … oops! The Taliban blew them all to flinders and shards, a couple of years ago. They were unacceptable, since they predated Islam, and that simply cannot be allowed. The evidence of all prior history must go down the memory hole. So has been the experience of archeologists and antiquarians hoping to preserve those relics of early Islam in the city of Mecca, and pre-Islamic cultures in the present Kingdom of Saudi Arabia generally. If Islamic hardline fundamentalists aren’t enthusiastically smashing Buddhist statues for being false gods, they are smashing Islamic relics for being idolatrous and deep-sixing remnants of pre-Islamic cultures for just being remnants of pre-Islamic cultures. Destroy the remnants is a crude way to go about destroying a history; there are things that small remnants can tell us about a people, a civilization and a past. These sites and monuments and dusty collections in museums all have stories to tell; most of them interesting, dramatic. Even if not, at least they are a connection to the past, and a way to make our understanding of it clear, or to even reassess what we thought we had known. Deliberately destroying history – even threatening to destroy it – is a way of putting us all in a kind of cultural sensory-deprivation tank. We have to have that historical awareness, of history and memory and all. Obliterating the Pyramids – that will be a crime against history.

So, what’s to become of thousands of years’ worth of Egyptian sites and relics – which are valued by anyone with an interest in the historical record of how our various Western civilizations developed? Who has an interest, and who takes care of such things, if the primary custodians suddenly take it into their head to trash them, melt them down, smash and destroy them? Who do the treasures of the past belong to, if not all of us? If worst comes to worst and the local custodians decide that the Pyramids are unseemly, and the treasures of the Pharaohs are an abomination … and they have the will and the means of destroying them … what do we do then?


(Cross-posted at

20 thoughts on “Killing History”

  1. We (i.e., we Western countries) should absolutely stop sending any antiquities back from our museums, where they are safe, to countries where they are not safe. And we should repeal all laws against private possession and importation of antiquities, so that private and institutional collectors can rescue as many small items as possible. For some period of time we can hope that the custodians of antiquities in the endangered countries will be more venal than they are fanatical, so that some of their objects can be quietly exported.

    As for the big items, see them while you can. I wish I had been able to spend a bit of time browsing in the library of the Institute of Egypt before it was burnt. Too late now.

  2. We already know what will happen.
    Given enough time, these morons will attempt to do to the pyramids what was done to the statues in Afghanistan.
    They don’t respect live humans who don’t pray 5x per day, why would they respect a pile of rocks?
    By the way, I don’t judge people or religions on their stated beliefs, I judge them by their actions.

    Try and guess how I judge Islam.

  3. We should gather a multinational military force, launch a surprise air and sea invasion, seize the museum sites, and collect all the portable relics from Egypt and move them to civilized countries. Shoot anyone who interferes. The Bamiyan Buddhas are proof positive that militant Islamists cannot be trusted with relics of the past that belong to all of humanity.

  4. Next time some third world country complains about private collectors and public collections tell them to see Helen Hunt. No country has any right to its history or its relics.

    Lets keep the Holy Land out of the hands of pagan infidels. No need for US troops. Privately funded peace keepers will be better. Just let them swear on the cross of Jesus. The stories we hear today about radical Islamists are very similar to letters written 1000 years ago.

    Where is Lord Elgin now that we need him?

  5. and they have the will and the means of destroying them

    I don’t know about will but they certainly have the means – lots of guys sitting around who need jobs.

    Issue each one a sledgehammer, give them a rousing pep-talk each morning and watch them beaver away at it.

    I suspect the House of Saud would happily provide the will in the form of cash money.

    Keeping a civilization is work. Destroying one is much easier. In the end, they loose big time, severing their present and future from the past. If you don’t know where you came from you can’t know where you are going.

  6. The most extreme of the Islamist crazies want to destroy their own monuments as well.

    Foreign muslims during the Hajj, who linger too long looking at the Prophet’s House in Medina risk being beaten by loitering gangs of fanatics and Mu’atawain (Religious police) who consider gazing at the house or remains of early mosques to be idolatrous. Likewise the Kaaba in Mecca is under 24 hour high security ever since Mahdists attempted to blow it up in 1979 (akin to apocalyptic Christians trying to raze Golgotha with bulldozers).

    Saudi urban renewal in the 60’s and 70’s destroyed countless archaeological treasures – oddly, one of the influential advocates of protecting these sites is a member of the Bin Laden clan, possibly one of Osama’s western educated half-brothers.

  7. I wish I had visited Egypt when I wanted to a few years ago. At the time, an earthquake discouraged me but there is no prospect of going now before I die. My daughter missed out as I was going to take her. I have no idea what Egypt is going to do without tourism. Starve, perhaps.

  8. We are witnessing an entire culture, of worldwide scope and influence, collapse into fanatical insanity.

    Our appraoach must have two specific goals:

    1) Only allow them to hurt and damage themselves;

    2) Isolate and impoverish them by cutting off all support and non-strategic interactions until they realize they may exist in the modern world only at our sufferance.

    Until we, as a culture, acknowledge that fanatical islamofascism is every bit as hostile and dangerous as the most virulent variations of communism we faced in the recent past, (as in Pol Pot et al), we will not be able to generate the will nor the determination to contain them, and force them to live only within their own ideas in action.

    In short, we must repeat Reagan’s approach to the cold war, WW3, in order to prevail in the islamofascist war, WW4.

    We can best start by generating our own energy supplies at every opportunity, and reducing the flow of our money into their pockets as quickly as possible, until it is as near to to zero as we can make it.

    They have made themselves lepers to all civilized people. Let them consume themselves in their disease, and good riddance.

  9. It really dumbfounds me when I see countries with such a long and treasurable history dismantle and destroy the very vestiges of their heritage.

    We in Mexico lost a great deal our indigenous heritage at the hands of Spaniards. When Spaniards came, a process of transculturation started that did away with the past entirely, subsequent migrations of Europeans mixed with local population and there was a new language and people had to forget the old ones, they had to accept a new religion and terminate any symbols of the old ones, had to accept new dress codes, new music, new manners, new everything and a great deal of our cultural heritage was lost.

    Revolutions came and we discovered we had to go back and find in our past ancient heritage reasons and explanations for our present and our future.

    If there’s anything more meaningful to Mexicans, it is precisely our great-lost ancient cultures, and their relics are the most valued treasures in our country. We treasure everything we can possibly find and learn about our mayans, aztects, toltecs, zapotecs, nahuatls and the like, and we have developed a very broad school of archeologists, many American archeologists have done great wonders for Mexico translating the hieroglyphics and symbols of ancient Mexicans, deciphering their language.

    Perhaps it is because we lost that past and heritage entirely that we now value it more than anything.
    But It amazes me to see what happens now in Egypt and other countries where history is being destroyed, specially because Egypt has a long sad history of invasions and transculturations, the Greeks, Romans, Caliphates, Ottomans, etc..

  10. The Israeli govt delegates the administration of Jerusalem holy places to the various religious authorities. Thus the mosques on the Temple Mount are administered by Muslims. It is a running scandal that for many years the Muslim religious authorities have been systematically destroying newly discovered evidence of early Jewish presence found in archaeological excavations in the areas they control. This obliteration of evidence goes together with the Palestinian Authority’s propaganda campaign to deny Israel’s overwhelmingly Jewish history. The distinction between religion and politics is a western construct that has no place in Islam. We should expect Islamist regimes to destroy systematically the holy sites and other antiquities of pre-Islamic and competing religions.

  11. One great Irony – countries like Egypt have been after Britain (and I think Germany – the Pergonon Museum) to return some artifacts – “stolen”.

    It may be that these will be the only preserved artifacts left.

  12. Bill,

    I don´t think the ruins or ancient artifacts are “theirs”, I don´t advocate that they would belong to a private collector either, but I think they simply belong to humanity, to universal history and they should be protected from destruction.


  13. Exactly, JoseAngel – there are artifacts and relics which belong to humanity. It doesn’t matter who actually has current posession of them and where they are, only that they be kept safe and accessible for everyone.
    For strict Islamists to consider destroying things like the Pyramids, or as the Bamiyan Buddhas and historical treasures in the Kabul Museum were destroyed, is just unthinkable.

  14. @SgtMom – JoseAngel – at the time these artifacts were going to the Pergonon and British Museum – and you should see the Egyptian Museum in Berlin!) – the locals at the time regarded their history as just old rubble. And some, like the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, excavated the artifacts.

    Same with the Greeks.

    You are right – they belong to humanity and what we are witnessing is a bit of mass insanity. What the Taliban did to those monuments will be remembered as the Napoleon’s troops shooting cannon at the Sphinx.

    @Dr Kennedy – I am sorry you never got to Egypt. While I haven’t had the opportunity to travel that I did earlier I did get to Egypt by way of Kenya in 1983.

    Although I was on a “group tour” apparently EgyptAir overbooked their flight from Nairobi to Cairo and I had to make my way by myself to Cairo in the next day/2.

    Never will forget riding in the taxi from the Cairo Airport – you are in a vast city teeming with untold millions – they actually don’t have an actual population count – with hardly a stoplight or freeway. Unbelievable but motorists while dodging donkey carts just honk their horns.

    You travel up a wide boulevard from the airport and some miles up, round a corner and there they are – the pyramids.

  15. Good – couldn’t happen to a more annoying, glory-hunting personality. I hated to watch any History Channel doc about Ancient Egypt – because there he was without fail, elbowing his way to the front.

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