Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pyramids

Islamists Calling for Pyramids’ Destruction?

According to Raymond Ibrahim, calls are starting among a more radical fringe of Islamists to destroy the Pyramids:

According to several reports in the Arabic media, prominent Muslim clerics have begun to call for the demolition of Egypt’s Great Pyramids—or, in the words of Saudi Sheikh Ali bin Said al-Rabi’i, those “symbols of paganism,” which Egypt’s Salafi party has long planned to cover with wax. Most recently, Bahrain’s “Sheikh of Sunni Sheikhs” and President of National Unity, Abd al-Latif al-Mahmoud, called on Egypt’s new president, Muhammad Morsi, to “destroy the Pyramids and accomplish what [Muslim conqueror of Egypt] Amr bin al-As could not.”

The calls to destroy the Pyramids are certainly fringe, and do not represent the vast majority of the Egyptian public or the Egyptian leadership, even amongst the Muslim Brotherhood. Still, that such a fringe and wacky idea gains any voice in Arabic media or on Islamist websites should be cause for concern, given precedent.

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According to Raymond Ibrahim, calls are starting among a more radical fringe of Islamists to destroy the Pyramids:

According to several reports in the Arabic media, prominent Muslim clerics have begun to call for the demolition of Egypt’s Great Pyramids—or, in the words of Saudi Sheikh Ali bin Said al-Rabi’i, those “symbols of paganism,” which Egypt’s Salafi party has long planned to cover with wax. Most recently, Bahrain’s “Sheikh of Sunni Sheikhs” and President of National Unity, Abd al-Latif al-Mahmoud, called on Egypt’s new president, Muhammad Morsi, to “destroy the Pyramids and accomplish what [Muslim conqueror of Egypt] Amr bin al-As could not.”

The calls to destroy the Pyramids are certainly fringe, and do not represent the vast majority of the Egyptian public or the Egyptian leadership, even amongst the Muslim Brotherhood. Still, that such a fringe and wacky idea gains any voice in Arabic media or on Islamist websites should be cause for concern, given precedent.

In March 2001, the Taliban dynamited the great Buddhas at Bamian, a UNESCO world heritage site. Their destruction came after repeated assurances that no such action would be taken. The destruction of the 1,500-year-old Buddhas came six years after the Clinton administration began its initiative to diplomatically engage the Taliban to bring the group into the community of nations. There were even calls within the State Department to recognize the Taliban who, diplomats reasoned, were no worse than the Saudis and controlled 90 percent of Afghan territory. Fortunately, George W. Bush put a stop to that.

Currently, Islamists in northern Mali are destroying historic Sufi shrines in Timbuktu, sites I was fortunate enough to visit a decade ago as a tourist. The logic of the Islamists is the same. Embracing a radical interpretation of Islam promoted on the back of Saudi petrodollars, the Islamists claim that the shrines which have stood for centuries during periods when even the most religious Muslims understood tolerance, somehow contradict the tenets of Islam by promoting worship of saints.

It is this same logic that has led Saudi architect and archaeologist Sami Angawi to bury and hide archaeological sites he has excavated from the time and, indeed, life of the Prophet Muhammad as Saudi authorities have destroyed 95 percent of Mecca’s ancient and historical buildings.

So, under such circumstances, what should the United States do?  There is little direct action, of course, and UNESCO is more concerned with playing Palestinian politics than pursuing its preservation function. Still, diplomacy matters. And so does stigma. Anyone who engages in such behavior should be so far beyond the pale that there can be no redemption. Alas, by talking to the Taliban—the same figures responsible for unleashing this wave of destruction against world heritage—diplomats have signaled that there can be, in effect, redemption after such action and, by so doing, have reduced the cost and stigma of such activity. Perhaps it’s time to decide what actions—terrorism, wanton cultural destruction, genocide—put groups so far beyond the pale of civilized society that there can be no recourse but for their complete destruction.

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