Cultural Carnage and the Triumph of the Spirit

Sometimes, at the moment of death, a human being becomes immortal. Their spirit triumphs over their mortality. Thus it was this week for the tortured keeper of the treasures of the ancient city of Palmyra.

Three months ago Islamic State fighters overran it.

This week, Khalid al-Assad, the 82-year-old archaeologist who was instrumental in the effort to save the site’s priceless antiquities, was publicly beheaded and his headless corpse hung from the remains of a Roman column.

He endured torture for a month, but still refused to disclose where the city’s sacred relics had been hidden.

Cultural Carnage

“His work will live on far beyond the reach of these extremists,” said UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova. ”They murdered a great man, but they will never silence history.”

Before being seized and tortured by Islamic State, he was urged by fellow archaeologists in the Syrian capital, Damascus, to flee for his life. He is reported to have told them he was born in Palmyra, had devoted his life to the world heritage site and would die there.

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Dialogue on the global challenge of Islamophobia

I am deeply concerned about the global challenge of the spread of Islamophobia. There is a compelling need for the international community to understand and meet this challenge, just as surely as it would need to combat any epidemic that threatens the well-being of humanity.


Recently, I was invited to speak about religious conflict in today’s world at one of Morocco’s leading universities. This place of higher learning, Al Akhawayn University, belongs to the same international network, the Council of Independent Colleges, as Naropa University.

It is an independent, public, coeducational university established by Royal Decree to promote “the values of human solidarity and tolerance”. So it was a truly appropriate setting in which to talk about religious hatred.

I spoke from the perspective of two leadership positions I hold. I am the Chair of the International Working Group on Sri Lanka. It that works working for a just, peaceful and equitable resolution to the continuing conflicts in that country. In the last two years there have been more than 300 attacks on mosques, businesses and homes of Sri Lanka’s Muslim population – as well as attacks on other religious minorities. It deeply saddens me to say that these have been led, in many cases, by Buddhist monks and carried out in the name of Buddhism.

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