Thursday, 24 September 2015

Yemen - Unhappy Arabia

Damaged buildings
In Yemen, the Economist [N.P. and Erasmus] suggests ('The religious and cultural heritage being ruined by Yemen's war' Sep 9th 2015) that although monuments and antiquities are being destroyed in Yemen in the ongoing sectarian civil war, nobody cares because it's done by Saudis/West, not ISIS.
[in] Yemen a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab states has been waging war by air and land against the Houthis, a Shia rebel group who control the capital, Sana'a, and are denounced by their foes as a proxy for Iran.  The roster of antiquities damaged in the war in Yemen runs long. Missiles fired from the coalition's planes have obliterated a museum (where the fruits of an American-Yemeni archaeological dig were stored), historic caked-mud high-rise dwellings, 12th century citadels and minarets and other places whose importance to humanity's heritage has been recognised by the UN. The Great Dam of Marib, a feat of engineering that was undertaken 2,800 years ago, has been struck four times, most recently on August 18th. Antiquities experts fear for the oldest surviving fragment of the Koran, in a six-month war which has killed over 4,000 and injured 20,000.  But apparently out of deference to their Saudi and Gulf friends, Western powers have yet to make much comment on the destruction in Yemen, whether humanitarian or cultural.

Although we are loud about the need to respect the general principle of protecting religious and cultural objects from war:

In the ancient city of Sana'a, a UNESCO World Heritage site, there is a bitter feeling that the West is applying lenient standards to a coalition whose members are strategic allies and defence customers. Mohannad al-Sayani, director of Yemen's General Organisation of Antiquities and Museums, laments that his country is suffering cultural vandalism whose ideological purpose resembles the campaign against Syrian and Iraqi antiquities. In all cases, people are bent on wiping out what they consider to be "idolatry"—in other words, any object that in their view signals deviation from the strict path laid down by the Prophet Muhammad and his immediate successors. In addition to the strikes from the air, he says, ruthless local branches of Islamic State and al-Qaeda are making ground attacks on Yemen's cultural sites. [...] While the relationship between intentions and results in aerial warfare can be foggy, other damage is being done by al-Qaeda forces, fighting along Yemen’s southern coast, who make no secret of their purpose. They have threatened to destroy the "idols" in the museum of Mukallah port, and destroyed two Sufi shrines, including a 700-year-old mosque in Lahj, a short way inland.  In Aden, the main southern port, Sunni fighters who were under bombardment by the Houthis responded by destroying a Shia mosque. Other traces of non-Sunni culture were wrecked too, including the gravestones of Chinese workers who built the coastal road in the 1960s. Perhaps the latter were deemed to be relics of atheism, dating from the 1970s when Yemen was a socialist republic, says Thanos Petouris, a Yemen expert who released footage of their destruction. As with any belligerent in any war, the Houthis have an agenda too; they naturally want to draw attention to cultural vandalism in the hope that the West will snap out of its indifference and rein in the Saudi-led coalition.

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