Victor Davis Hanson: Blowing Up History





Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author most recently of The End of Sparta.

In the Arabic media, there are reports that Muslim clerics — energized by the sudden emergence of Egypt’s new president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood — are agitating to demolish the Egyptian pyramids. According to the imams, the pharaohs’ monuments represent “symbols of paganism” from Egypt’s pre-Islamic past and therefore must vanish.
 
Don’t dismiss such insanity too easily. Islamists in Mali are currently destroying the centuries-old mausoleums of Sufi Muslim saints in the city of Timbuktu, the historic site of early Islamic scholarship and jurisprudence. But perhaps the most regrettable recent Islamist attack on the past was the Taliban’s 2001 dynamiting and shelling of the huge twin sixth-century statues of Buddha carved into a cliff at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. “We are destroying the statues,” Taliban spokesmen at the time bragged, “in accordance with Islamic law, and it is purely a religious issue.”
 
Ideologically driven and historically ignorant violence is not an Islamist monopoly. Sometimes postmodern, politically correct Westerners can be every bit as zealous — and as potentially destructive of the past — as premodern Islamists. One of the joys of visiting California’s Yosemite Valley is a series of historic arched bridges that span the Merced River on the valley floor. One, the 80-year-old Stoneman Bridge, is an architectural masterpiece and a tribute to Depression-era ingenuity and artistic elegance; the sister Ahwahnee Bridge and Sugar Pine Bridge were likewise designed to combine functionalism and beauty. All are used daily, are appreciated by thousands of visitors each summer, and now are listed as endangered treasures by the National Trust for Historic Preservation...


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