The practice pillaging perceived treasures from conquered territories and destroying what remains is nothing new. Throughout history, communities, religious groups, and entire cultures have been victims of barbaric destruction, mostly in the name of primitive intolerance for any number of ideologies—race, ethnicity, religion, etc. While lovers of culture may lament the loss, there's nothing particularly radical about art destroyed by bad people in the name of a cause.
In the 2010s, the Middle East lead the way in the loss of art and artifacts, most of them ancient; the number of historical sites lost because of ISIS increases each year. The collective power vacuum that came in the wake of the Arab Spring allowed swaths of land to fall under ISIS control. ISIS fighters come from all over the world, including the United States. For the purposes of this article, the group will be refered to as "Daesh," it's other name.
Daesh's isolated interpretation of religion fuels an incendiary agenda to violently rid the world of non-Islamic symbols of faith. The organization seems intent on having history erased by demagogues. This list purposely focuses on historical sites and beautiful artifacts destroyed by these individuals in lieu of the additionally loss of life that accompanies such extreme iconoclasm.
As stated by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre: “Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world.” The entire city of Palmyra is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its famously well-preserved Greco-Roman ruins, and the Temple of Baalshamin was among the most intact structures in the region. It was substantially rebuilt and converted from a temple to a church in 131 CE, to keep pace with the spread of Christianity. It stood in this form for nearly 2,000 years.
Daesh took control of Palmyra in August 2015, and callously continued its doctrine of destroying any artifact deemed “pagan.” The Temple of Baalshamin was in the cross hairs, and was completely destroyed in July or August 2015. UNESCO declared the act a war crime.
In September 2015, after wiping away the Temple of Baalshamin, Daesh focused its destructive efforts on the nearby Temple of Bel. Its namesake was a Mesopotamian title applied to various gods throughout the ancient Near East.
The structure itself is about 2,000 years old, and it was built over the course of the first and second centuries. The temple was dedicated to the Semitic god Baal in 32 A.D. So, the Temple of Bel managed to last more than 1,900 years, in a location that has been used for nearly 5,000 years, but this didn't stop Daesh from reducing it to rubble with just one explosion.
Jonah was a prophet with historical significance in Christianity (Jonah), Judaism (Yonah), and Islam (Yūnus). He is the only one of the Twelve Minor Prophets from the Bible mentioned by name in the Qur’an. In the ancient city of Nineveh, the Mosque of the Prophet Yūnus was built atop what's believed to be the burial site of Jonah, which was a sacred site for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Even though the mosque was a place for prayer, the notion that it was constructed on a Christian site was enough motivation for Daesh to destroy the building in July 2014.
After Daesh was driven out of Mosul in early 2017, a tunnel system was discovered under the mosque as a result of the damage. In the tunnels, archeologist Layla Salih discovered artifacts believed to date back to the Assyrian empire in 672 BCE. Daesh’s ill-fated efforts to rid the world of artifacts resulted in a remarkable archeological find filled with idols for the world to worship.
A group of monumental standing Buddha statues dating to the 6th-7th century CE, which stood for more than 1,700 years, was reduced to rubble in a matter of weeks in March 2001. Coverage of the Taliban has fallen to the wayside in lieu of Daesh, but the political party’s history is not without atrocities.
After nearly a decade of political upheaval after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in '88-'89, the Taliban dominated worldwide news (before 9/11) when it completely decimated historic landmarks. Unsatisfied with the issues caused by artillery and anti-aircraft weapons, the Taliban resorted to drilling holes to place dynamite throughout the statues. The detonations obliterated the Bamiyan Buddhas.