For five long years I quit the news. When relationships don’t serve you, you quit them. So the news and I, we were through. But late last year I realized why this was a mistake—why being informed about what matters in the world is important. Today, the news and I are back “on”, but only in certain arenas. I follow a handful of trusted sources on Twitter where I can keep up to date on world news and politics. Knowledge is power, and once I’ve got it, I’m not afraid to use my own voice to help spread it. But amid the flurry of articles and voices reporting and giving opinions on the Islamic State over the past year, I’ve remained silent. Today I’ve found my voice on that, too.
The Islamic State, it was reported on Friday, took control of ancient Syrian city, Palmyra. Pictures of the brutality the terrorist group inflicts on humanity are unbearable to see; the experience of being the target of genocide (yes, genocide—if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...) and in the midst of civil war unimaginable. There are no words that can do this unbearableness justice. And so when the media reported on fears that Palmyra’s ancient Roman ruins and artifacts would be destroyed, many Twitter voices wondered why it is that we’re so concerned with the ruins, when actual humanity is being destroyed. A valid point, to be sure. But I think the destruction of artifacts and ruins runs a lot deeper than those trivializing our concern over them allow for. Here’s why:
A people’s history, a people’s artifacts, are very much a part of who they are. Destroying a people and what remains of their ancestors and heritage is the deepest most thorough and terrifying way to destroy a people. Any artist or craftsman/woman knows the importance of creating things that will be left behind—to live on long after they are gone. One creates so that one day someone may find what they've created and know in whatever small way that they were here, what they were like, and that they mattered. So yes, destroying relics is just as much a terrifying part of destroying a people as the actual killing of the people. It completes the totality of thorough destruction. There will be nothing left of them. It is in this way that the Islamic State is removing an entire portion of humanity—both present and past—from the world, and I cannot think of anything more terrifying.
In the wake of news like this is the very time when we should stop and think about every right, every privilege and every bit of happiness we take for granted every day, be thankful, and be careful not to squander them. We should look at every ounce of hate that still lives within our borders and feel shame. And we should examine closely the role we, America, played in the creation of the Islamic State. For that, we should also feel remorse. And yet, most people aren’t capable of feeling so deeply.
Our American world will spin on. We’ll talk about Hillary and her emails, or Josh Duggar and why molesting five young girls—some of whom were reportedly his sisters—was a “mistake”. We’ll have an unfortunate and inappropriate continuing debate over police overreach and whether black lives matter as much as blue lives. We’ll point fingers and cast blame. Our fame monster will churn as we criticize Hollywood for how terribly they treat 30-something female actresses like Maggie Gyllenhaal while at the same time gluing ourselves to Perez or TMZ to gawk at the latest female actress to have had “work” done, never really acknowledging the connection. Things seem to change, but nothing really changes.
Meanwhile, in Palmyria, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East and Africa, terror knows no boundaries. Genocide and war is real there. People, their cultures and their histories are being wiped out. And so when we talk about the importance of Palmyra’s ruins and the artifacts in it’s museum, we’re not choosing to value things over people. We’re terrified of what losing an entire people along with their history might look like. The repercussions run wide and deep.