Rhodes, Ba’al, Bel, and the destruction of heritage

In 2015, ‘so-called’ IS militants captured the ancient city of Palmyra. They promptly destroyed some of the most historic buildings in the world, using the destruction as part of elaborate executions for added levels of atrocity. At the centre of this, was the temple of Bel (or Ba’al, I am confused about this point). To most in historical circles, this destruction was particularly upsetting. Indeed, it’s one of the reasons I have avoided writing about it until now.

However, to put a positive spin on such a shitty story, it’s nice to know that part of that temple is to be recreated as part of a temporary exhibit in Trafalgar Square, London.

(And if one positive story isn’t enough, you should also check out the Army, which is signing up ‘monuments men’ to go into war zones and rescue at-risk heritage.)

However, this is not the only time in recent history where the subject of destroying historical objects has reared its head. In America, over the last year, the subject of race relations on campus has been especially heated. Among the many changes that students are demanding is the removal of mascots, crests, statues and names of racist founders. This mirrors the banning of Confederate flags as symbols of white supremacy.

In the UK, one of the focal figures for this campaign is Cecil Rhodes, a man who played a huge role in the development of the British Empire. He was also, as were many of his peers, massively racially prejudiced. Fun fact; he also started the De Beers diamond company, who are also pretty shady characters. But, he also gave a lot of his money to education, including things like the ‘Rhodes Scholarships’, which has provided more than a few future heads of state with the chance to study at Oxford University.

This is what the UK’s imperial history looks like; a fat white dude who probably rendered at least one species of animal extinct

So, should Oxford University tear down Rhodes’ statue? Think very carefully, because if you said ‘yes’, that’s a similar sort of logic to that of those ‘so-called’ IS chaps. Granted, you probably weren’t going to murder anyone in the process, but that’s because you’re actually a pretty decent person, rather than a homicide-tourist.

IS destroys statues, temples and ancient monuments because these don’t agree with the IS philosophy. Are we going to damn the memory of our own historical figures because they don’t agree with our modern philosophy? On a day when Germany is finally reprinting Mein Kampf, should we monumentalise only our heroes? Or should our villains stay on plinths as well, so that we might never forget them?

This will always be an impassioned subject. We remember when Iraq was overthrown, images of the statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled. However, in the Ukraine, which is currently still engaged in conflict with Russia, a different reaction has taken place. Rather than tear down one statue of Lenin, a local artist has turned it into something radically different:

Lenin Vader Statue

Perhaps the best way to maintain our history, is to accept that it did happen, but that it can still be relevant to the world we live in today.

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