To be honest, I hear the news of people that have died at the hands of the Islamic State and I feel very little visceral emotion. I’ve become so desensitized to death and human suffering in this world of ours that it evokes almost nothing physical within me. That is not to say that I do not feel sad about it- I do. But that sadness extends to a certain place and does not go further.
When I heard, however, about Mosul and Nimrud- when I watched the video- I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. I felt that emotion that extended throughout my mind. Maybe it’s because, while we’re desensitized to human tragedy and human suffering, we’re not so used to the destruction of art and those pieces of evidence that other people existed before us, that once before someone (not us, but someone) was able to make art and not war, to practice love and not hate.
It reminded me of the burning of the Alexandria library, where centuries of Egyptian learning were lost as the papyrus burned almost instantly and the wax on the tablets melted. Of the massive stone Buddhas destroyed in Afghanistan. Of the medieval bridge destroyed by the Serbs in Mostar in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Of the looting of the Romanov properties in the wake of the Russian Revolution, and of the huge quantities of art destroyed in the wake of the World Wars.
I talk to myself a lot- mainly so I don’t sound stupid to other people- and I was arguing this point to myself the other day in the shower. And the question I posed to myself was, “Why is destroying art and artifacts so much worse than killing actual real live people?”
My train of argument went something like this: “Well, Kristina, art was created by someone and is valuable because it’s a reflection of everything that went into its creation: emotions, culture, identity, and an understanding of the world at the time. Once destroyed, you can never get the art back, and no one is going to make that same art, ever again. Other generations will never benefit from it, or be inspired by it, or be changed by it. It’s gone, forever, and it can no longer be a part of the collective whole that inspires everything afterwards. And that’s why it’s worse than a human death.”
Until I looked at myself and said, “that sounds a lot like a human being to me.”
And that’s when I realized I was using the same argument to defend art that I was to marginalize human deaths.