Monday, August 08, 2005
This "unprecedented onslaught", to be clear, is unprecedented only in its being turned on Saudi Arabia's own Islamic sites. The rest of the world has been accustomed to this precedent for quite awhile already.
Historic Mecca, the cradle of Islam, is being buried in an unprecedented onslaught by religious zealots.
Almost all of the rich and multi-layered history of the holy city is gone. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades.
Now the actual birthplace of the Prophet Mohamed is facing the bulldozers, with the connivance of Saudi religious authorities whose hardline interpretation of Islam is compelling them to wipe out their own heritage.
What is it with these guys and their fanatical fears?
According to Dr Angawi - who has dedicated his life to preserving Islam's two holiest cities - as few as 20 structures are left that date back to the lifetime of the Prophet 1,400 years ago and those that remain could be bulldozed at any time. "This is the end of history in Mecca and Medina and the end of their future," said Dr Angawi.
Mecca is the most visited pilgrimage site in the world. It is home to the Grand Mosque and, along with the nearby city of Medina which houses the Prophet's tomb, receives four million people annually as they undertake the Islamic duty of the Haj and Umra pilgrimages.
The driving force behind the demolition campaign that has transformed these cities is Wahhabism. This, the austere state faith of Saudi Arabia, was imported by the al-Saud tribal chieftains when they conquered the region in the 1920s.
The motive behind the destruction is the Wahhabists' fanatical fear that places of historical and religious interest could give rise to idolatry or polytheism, the worship of multiple and potentially equal gods.
They fear a place might attract pilgrimages? So bulldoze it and pave it over! Just making it off limits to pilgrims would never work. They fear a woman's face or body might incite illicit thoughts in the otherwise pure minds of Islamic men? Simple, cover all women under a heavy black sack, (since you can't really bulldoze and pave over a woman's face and still expect her to cook for you). The idea of asking men to struggle with their impulses and restrain themselves is utterly ridiculous and a non-starter. Hopefully, maybe destroying their own heritage will be sufficiently cathartic that they can finally break out of this pattern.
There is a certain impulse to cheer this newly-self-destructive impulse, to watch as Islam rips its own foundations out from under itself. Nevertheless it's sad that if these guys had the power, the world would soon be stripped of anything older or more significant than the Bush twins -- not because of American stripmallization, but ultra-Islamic intolerance. Of course the moderates will stand up to them though. Dr. Angawi is surely not the only concerned Muslim.
But as the Wahhabis begin to cannibalize their own culture, I have to wonder, as an Israeli, about the long term viability of Islam's so-called third holiest shrine. Will it eventually become another casualty of Wahhabi piety? Or will it slowly climb the charts to second or even first place, as Saudi Arabia slowly paves over the competition.
Today, the Dome of the Rock is Islam's 3rd holiest site, and that's problematic enough. If I as a Jew were to so much as set foot in this edifice, it could very well ignite a world-wide holy war (or fan the flames of the one we already have, depending on which blogs your read). Instead, we Jews are required to stand by and watch as the site's present proprieters, there by permission of the Israeli government, methodically dig up and eradicate priceless archeological evidence of the ancient Temple on top of which it was built. But it's not just that it is third holiest today. It's third with a bullet.
Would it be too forward of me to point out to Wahhabi leaders that the Dome of the Rock is a very serious pilgramage threat, and clearly venerated in an unseemly fashion by millions? Just in case they wanted a little warmup before getting down to the serious business still standing back home.