In Apocalyptic Vandalism, ISIL blows up 800-year-old Nuri Mosque in Mosul

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

al-Hayat (Life) reports that on Wednesday evening around 9:30 pm local time, Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) blew up the Nuri Mosque in Mosul.

The destruction of the 800-year-old edifice was undertaken at a time when Iraqi government troops were closing in on this area in Mosul’s Old City, the last remaining bastion of Daesh there, where 3,000 fighters are still keeping some 100,000 people as human shields. That is about a tenth the strength they initially had.

I once called the destruction by the US Air Force of the annex to the Iraqi National Archives where 19th century administrative documents were housed a “cliocide,” a killing of history itself. The razing of the Nuri Mosque is another act of cliocide. Ironically, I also once suggested that the main antecedent for Daesh, of a state that held both Mosul and Aleppo, was the Zangid polity before the rise of Saladin Ayyubi. Daesh emulated the Zangids geographically and now they have wiped out one of their major surviving architectural legacies.

Iraq prime minister Haydar al-Abadi remarked that the terrorist organization was by this act announcing its own defeat.

This is a fair observation. Daesh was proud of having captured Mosul and of having taken that mosque, built in the rule of Nur al-Din Zangi, a Muslim ruler who held Mosul and Aleppo during the era of the medieval Crusades. They would not have destroyed the mosque where their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his claim to the caliphate (a lapsed medieval institution akin to the Christian papacy) unless they knew they were about to lose control of it.

Daesh has beheaded and otherwise slaughtered so many real, living human beings that it is perhaps wrong to concentrate on the destruction of a mere building.

But historical consciousness matters, and helps make us who we are. Mosulis were fiercely proud of the great mosque. Its minaret famously leaned, and that seems to have started happening soon after it was built. The medieval traveler Ibn Battuta spoke of seeing a leaning structure at the city’s citadel, and he likely was referring to this mosque.

The siege of Daesh has gone on for months, and the Iraqi counter-terrorism brigades are exhausted. They continue to fight on, and will eventually liberate all of Mosul.

Daesh sought support from sympathizers by falsely claiming that the US struck at the mosque. The US Air Force, however, denied that it was running any bombing raids in that part of Mosul.

We are seeing the slow destruction of Daesh as a territorial state. Eventually West Mosul will fall (though they have put up a more bloody-minded and dogged existence than anyone would have imagined.). Daesh believes that the last days are upon us, and its destruction of the mosque is likely an announcement of the near advent of the Judgment Day in their eyes. But actually we’ll all be around for a while to do ordinary non-apocalyptic politics.

But the grievances that gave rise to Daesh and led to the establishment of this iniquitous city-date are still there. How Baghdad treats post-war Mosul will be crucial.


Related video:

CBS Evening News: “Iraqi military says ISIS blew up iconic mosque in Mosul”

9 Responses

  1. A significant difference between the destruction the Nuri Mosque by Daesh, and the Iraqi National Archives by the US is that the mosque, like the 6th century Buddhas of Bamiyan, was destroyed with malignant deliberation whereas the library was bombed out of sheer ignorance and could well have been avoided had anyone in the command line considered for a moment Iraqi heritage rather than just oil installations. Were Trump to decide to go for Iran we would see unimaginable cultural destruction and the owls would be calling again from the towers of Afrasaid.

    • From the perspective of the Muslin people there is no difference between the two actions because the ultimate goal in Iraq and elsewhere is to do away with Islam.

  2. Daesh has beheaded and otherwise slaughtered so many real, living human beings that it is perhaps wrong to concentrate on the destruction of a mere building.
    No, it is not wrong to give equal weight to preserving history and to preserving human life. It is our ability to know history that makes us human.

    Also, a moratorium please on use of the words “icon” and “iconic”. To a millennial it seems anything older than they are is iconic.

  3. A building can be rebuilt. Some years ago the when the world was outraged over the destruction of the large Buddha statues the people who were least concerned were Buddhists, as it confirmed their belief that all worldly things are transitory.

    The impending destruction of US health care for millions of people is a much greater travesty.

  4. caliphate (a lapsed medieval institution akin to the Christian papacy)

    I have been a Muslim all my life but never had this understanding of the role of Khalipha (correct pronunciation) which means the successor- in this case the successor of the Prophet Muhammad (PUH)

    The role of a pope or a precast in Islam doesn’t exist

    In the Quran, God created Adam to rule the earth and created all that on earth to serve the human being so all human beings are Khaliphas = vicegerent

    (30) (2:30) Just *36 recall the time when your Lord said to the angels *37 , “I am going to appoint a vicegerent *38 on the Earth.” They humbly enquired, “Are you going to appoint such a one as will cause disorder and shed blood on the Earth? *39 We are already engaged in hymning Your praise, and hallowing Your name”

  5. ISIS has claimed that the mosque was destroyed as the result of American bombing, and some people have argued that ISIS would not have destroyed the mosque, as it was an Islamic building. However, ISIS is very likely to be the main culprit, because the puritanical Wahhabi branch of Islam to which most ISIS members belong is against even Islamic monuments that according to them take away from the simplicity of Islam.

    When the Wahhabis came to power in Saudi Arabia they demolished many mosques, burial places and historical locations associated with Prophet Muhammad, and especially with Shi’a Imams. The Wahhabi ulema viewed many religious practices and visits to the shrines of Muhammad and the Imams as superstition. They destroyed the shrine built over the tomb of Fatima, Muhammad’s daughter and Ali’s wife, and even wanted to destroy the grave of Muhammad himself.

    They did the same when they attacked Iraq. In 1801 and 1802 when the Saudis under Abdul Aziz ibn Muhammad ibn Saud captured Shi’a holy cities of Karbala and Najaf they destroyed the tomb of Imam Hussein ibn Ali and massacred many people. Therefore, the destruction of a beautiful ancient mosque in Iraq is quite in keeping with their narrow, barbaric beliefs.

  6. Appears to be a movement in the midst of suicide. An appropriate and welcome end to an essentially nihilistic creed, though what succeeds it may be no better.

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