The destruction of the Baalshamin temple at Palmyra is an atrocity on a global and human scale. The loss of life inflicted by IS, is of course a travesty of religious intolerance. But the destruction of the temple is in some ways a more threatening and robust attack. Taking a life is a moral outrage, but when IS destroy temples they are destroying culture, the very essence of a people. And not only those who built the temple nearly 2,000 years ago, but also the culture and artistic sensibilities of the generations who have lived near the site. Generations who looked at it and said, ‘here is something special which we must preserve, here is an idea of humanity’. IS are doing what the expanding Christian empire did to pagan cultures in the middle ages, they are eradicating any sense of difference, and with it our ability to learn and value the developing human condition. This is a holocaust, one of culture.
IS took control of Palmyra in May, sparking fears for the site. It is considered one of the ancient world's most important cultural centres. The ancient city, which is a Unesco World Heritage site, is famed for its well-preserved Greco-Roman ruins, and the Baalshamin temple, built nearly 2,000 years ago, is one of the city's best-known buildings. The Islamic State group has destroyed several ancient sites in Iraq. The militants believe any shrines or statues implying the existence of another deity are sacrilege and idolatry, and should be destroyed.