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ISIS; destroying the heritage and culture of the Middle East and its impact on the people

Updated on October 13, 2015
The Middle East
The Middle East


The Middle East has always been considered as the backbone of the Islamic states. The Middle Eastern states represented modernization combined with the old Islamic traditions. It represented harmony, peace and tolerance for all human beings regardless of race, religion or caste. However since ISIS (who is supposedly fighting a war to establish an Islamic empire) has taken control of some of the major cities in the region, the dynamics have changed. Middle East is no longer a place where a Christian or even a Muslim can live without the fear of their very lives. It is a wide misperception that ISIS is a Sunni dominant militant group and that they target other sects and religions. However under the rule of ISIS no one is spared or is safe and if anyone regardless of who they are stand in their way, they are annihilated.

Mosque being destroyed by ISIS
Mosque being destroyed by ISIS

Destroying Mosques, Churches and Historical monuments

ISIS is not only responsible of taking the lives of innocent people but also destroying the culture and heritage of the region. It was reported that in 2014 multiple Shia mosques and shrines were destroyed throughout Iraq, including Al-Qubba Husseiniya Mosque in Mosul, Jawad Husseiniya Mosque etc. In June 2014, ISIS bulldozed the shrine of Fathi al-Ka'en. Later in the same year around 40 tombs from the era of Hazrat Umar (the second Khalifa after the death of the Prophet (PBUH)) were destroyed in the ongoing war. ISIS also targeted Sufi shrines many were destroyed in Libya. It is also responsible for destroying churches and it was reported that on June 16th 2014 all churches in Mosul were destroyed. Over the last two years many churches all over the Middle East have been wiped out. These places were not just for worship but they were also landmarks of history. For example, Al-Tahera Church in Mosul was built at the turn of the 20th century and was one of the oldest in the region. A 1500 year old monastery (St. Elian) was destroyed using bulldozers and the video was posted online to make a public statement.

ISIS is openly targeting and destroying thousands of years of history. According to report produced by UNESCO, Jewish Shrines of Jonas and the Prophet Daniel, the Jobar synagogue near Damascus, which, legend has it, goes back to the time of Elijah the Prophet, and the tombs of Sufi Sheikhs in Mosul have been looted and some of them have been demolished using bulldozers when the bombings and the airstrikes didn’t finish the job. By destroying such monuments, they are not just simply blowing up buildings but erasing the very history of humanity from that region. In my opinion it seems like they are trying to completely eradicate the era of Islamic history and create a barren land where ammunition, death and suffering are very common so that in fifty years’ time when people look back, this is the kind of Islamic states they would see and to be honest the very thought if terrifying.

Mosque Destroyed by ISIS
Mosque Destroyed by ISIS

UN responds

ISIS is responsible for destroying some of the Middle East’s most spectacular archeological and culturally important landmarks. They are bound to erase all non-Islamic history in the area and what they fail to realize that their actions are destroying Islamic culture as well. But considering how ISIS operates, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they don’t respect or have an appreciation for the historical landmarks. The destruction of these has resulted in public outrage and accusations of war crime against ISIS which is why the UN has finally decided to intervene. The UNESCO director general, Irina Bokova gave a brief statement regarding the target destruction of these sites saying that “It is not too late to take action.” She strongly condemned the destruction of the cultural heritage and the persecution of the minorities as a “part of a strategy of deliberate cultural cleansing of exceptional violence.”This statement was issued after ISIS destroyed a 2000 year old temple in the historic ruins of Palmyra, Syria and then posted the video online just a few days ago. According to the UN this was a war crime and thus serious action would be taken.

Palmyra Ruins

The spectacular Image of Palmyra Ruins
The spectacular Image of Palmyra Ruins
ISIS Members Using Barrel Bombs to Destroy Palmyra Ruins
ISIS Members Using Barrel Bombs to Destroy Palmyra Ruins
The Destruction of Palmyra Ruins
The Destruction of Palmyra Ruins

Satellite Confirmation

Satellite Confirmation of the Destruction of Palmyra Ruins
Satellite Confirmation of the Destruction of Palmyra Ruins

Impact on People

The unrest in the Middle East has resulted in huge dynamic changes in the region; economically and domestically. Firstly, people who could leave the area have left with their families, increasing the number of Middle Eastern immigrants all around the world and the number of IDPs is alarmingly high. As for the rest who are left behind, for whatever reasons,have either accepted their fate and have put themselves at the mercy of ISIS or groups have risen like in Syria that are fighting tirelessly against the oppression and the rule of ISIS. But as mentioned in previous articles, these groups are neither big enough nor organized enough to fight effectively against a well-funded organization like ISIS. Moreover, people fear for their very lives as anyone that becomes remotely a threat to ISIS is executed or beheaded publically. For example, Eleanor Robson, professor of ancient Near Eastern history at University College London who has done extensive research in Iraq said that the effort to protect the archeological sites is fruitless. Initially, guards were posted at the major sites but ISIS soon beheaded Nineveh sites’ chief of security in October, and these guards were more equipped to tackle looters rather than “crazed fanatics with machine guns”. “In the short term I think we have to just sit it out,” she said.

These public executions are not only traumatizing to the locals but also create a sense of fear all around the globe. People are terrified at the name of ISIS and it is sad that even a two year old child knows to fear ISIS. Think about it, the children born in Middle East today wouldn’t know what peace or harmony or tolerance is. They are the generation that has opened their eyes amidst terror and mass killings. They have no notion of security or any kind of normalcy we are accustomed too. For them the sound of airstrikes and bombings is as natural as the sound of rain. One shudders to think how these children will grow up to be when all they have seen is violence around them. And this just doesn’t end here; as a result of the unrest, economic trade has also suffered terribly and there is a shortage of supply for the most basic commodities in the area.

ISIS Crimes Against Civilians
ISIS Crimes Against Civilians
Syrian Refugees in UN Camps
Syrian Refugees in UN Camps


To this day ISIS is responsible of destroying thousands of year old cultural and historical landmarks, sites and monuments, erasing the very history of humanity in the region. They have committed mass murder in the name of religion and have successfully destroyed the essence and image of Islam. However, even in the darkest of times one must not lose hope and since now UN has finally intervened, maybe things will eventually start moving in the right direction.

What do you think the best way to fight ISIS?

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