What does it say about a people when they devote their most concerted efforts towards obliterating the accomplishments of others?
Front Page Magazine is reporting that Islamists in Egypt and elsewhere are calling on the newly-elected Muslim regime to demolish the Great Pyramids, which they see as monuments to pagan infidelity. The task is presented almost as a challenge by Bahraini sheik Abd al-Latif al-Mahmoud, to Muhammad Morsi, a certain test of his piety to the Islamist cause.
Abd al-Latif sees the Islamist re-assumption of power in Egypt as a chance to finish the program of destruction launched in the seventh century, when the Muslim invaders first laid siege to the ancient delta and its architectural wonders, and allegedly even burned up part of the Library of Alexandria. Ever since then, some Egyptians have kept themselves busy destroying and stealing Ancient Egypt’s smaller and more valuable antiquities, a practice that continues to this day. The military government could keep the vandalism and looting in check; perhaps now, with a government less eager and less able to stop vandals, larger and more effective operations will surely become more feasible than they were.
Still, there is ample cause to scoff at the idea of a band of jihadists detonating the Great Pyramids or the Sphinx.
For one thing, Egypt’s is a tourist-driven economy; without oil or much else by the way of exports, its population, particularly the lower classes, depends heavily on the allure of the ancient wonders. In the wake of all the unrest and violence in the country, most Egyptians are already feeling the effects of the decrease in tourism; imagine what would result if the major tourists attractions themselves were eviscerated!
For another, these are not some teetering, rickety heaps of rock; any attempt to deconstruct or demolish the sites would necessarily take time. The construction of largest of the Great Pyramids took some 100,000 slaves working for two decades! Other forces with a more civil understanding of the value of the structures would certainly intervene before any irrevocable damage had been done.
My interest in this head-scratcher is not due to any fear that I (or my future children) might not get a chance to ride a fancy camel around the base of the pyramids. My interest lies rather in what this hollow and ridiculous threat can tell us about what sort of thoughts are going on in the minds of those behind it. Why would anybody call for such a measure in the first place? Is it simply religious fervor, a ‘pious’ desire to erase all blasphemous and unholy monuments to false gods, as most commentators are quick to offer? There is some credence to this; after all, the very same people can be seen calling on the Egyptian president to sever treaties with Israel and institute sharia law.
I hesitate to buy into such a straightforward and cookie-cutter line of reasoning. One must bear in mind that the World Trade Center and Pentagon were not religious monuments, or tombs of pagan pharaohs. I see the threat to obliterate the pyramids much like I look back on a brotherly scuffle in my childhood; I had won a kiddy tractor-pull (by pedaling a little green John Deer down a 20 foot track with a cinderblock in tow) and was awarded a little trophy in the shape of the tiny farm machine. My brother, who was not a part of the contest, and therefore had no trophy of his own, decided to slam mine on the floor to assuage his indomitable jealousy.
And so I see this same drama playing out on a millennial scale, across continents, and with much larger, more laudable trophies to smash…