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Extremists threaten Libya history

Libyan antiquities are falling prey to extremists.

In the most recent attack, vandals demolished the marble pillars of an ancient church in Shahat. Along with nearby Cyrene (which lent its name to today’s Cyrenaica region), the city is home to many Greek and Roman artefacts.

Activists concerned with preserving Libya’s patrimony shared news of the incident on social networking websites and blamed local authorities for failing to prevent the destruction.

Many Cyrenaica citizens were angered by yet another assault on their cultural heritage.

“Why should we demolish these places when we can benefit from them in tourism?” Benghazi librarian Nozha Saad asked.

“In Islam and laws, there’s something about the need to protect holy places,” she added.

Benghazi government employee Ahmed al-Barghati agreed, calling the April 26th attack on the church an example of “backwardness, ignorance and destruction of an important source of tourism”.

Many Libyan antiquities have been defaced by graffiti “that described them as idols”, 28-year-old mechanic Massoud al-Mansouri noted.

“At the beginning of the revolution, extremist groups accused the residents in the area of protecting places of worships of Christians, and wrote phrases urging everyone to demolish such places,” al-Mansouri told Magharebia.

“But the warning was not dealt with seriously, so here we are: they’re actually acting on their threats,” he said.

For Benghazi teacher Mona Khalifa, “Demolishing antiquities is definitely a cultural crime.”

“These antiquities are part of Libya’s history, and whoever did that has certainly a limited scope. They think that such antiquities affect Muslims heritage but Islam in Libya is strong and such antiquities don’t affect it,” she said.

Ancient churches, such as the one in Shahat, “just show the historical eras that Libya has been through, and we look at them from a cultural, historical point of view and nothing more”, she added.

According to Susa writer Mansour al-Goail, “These structures are an archaeological heritage that must be preserved, as they tell us about an era of our history.”

“Demolishing history deletes the features of countries,” he said. “The hand that demolished the church should have turned that destructive energy into a constructive one, so our society can improve,” the Susa man added.

Sabha employee Mahmoud Bin Zayed expressed concern over what the destruction of Libya’s past meant for the country’s future.

“It’s very unfortunate that those who did that have gone that far in their thinking, and if we continue like that, everything will be just flattened to earth,” he said.

Al-Bayda photographer Fathi Ali pointed that Libyan cities had “turned into bases for armed groups with certain Islamist orientations”.

“There are questions at the street about the identity of those groups and who finances them,” he added. “Meanwhile, we have a distracted government and a General National Congress (GNC) that has been repeatedly attacked and blackmailed.

This is in addition to the total absence of state security institutions,” Ali added.

“All these attacks on institutions, antiquities and ports, together with kidnappings, are signs that we’re about to have a state similar to Somalia and Iraq,” he said.

Article by Nadia Radhwan, Magharebia.

This article was originally published here.

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