Friday, December 16, 2016

Palmyra as the rubble of pluralism

PALMYRA WATCH: The Rubble of Palmyra. ISIS did not merely blast apart old stones—it attacked the very foundations of pluralistic society (Leon Wieseltier, The Atlantic). A rambling and didactic, but sometimes interesting article. Two excerpts:
We call this the Ozymandian feeling, after Shelley’s stinging sonnet of 1818; but we might also call it the Palmyrene feeling, because it was articulated at greater length, and in inferior verse, by Shelley’s friend Thomas Love Peacock 12 years earlier, in a long poem called “Palmyra.” “Time asserts his empire over the ruins. ... This pomp of ruin presses on the heart…” Yet as the world contemplates the destruction of Palmyra—I mean its destruction in our day, on our watch—we must resist the customary romanticism. It induces an aesthetic passivity, which would go too nicely with the West’s political passivity.
You can read the full text of Thomas Love Peacock's poem "Palmyra" here.
A recent study describes the extraordinary variety of the “deities of the Palmyrene pantheon”: “Bel, Belti, Nebu, Nergal, and Nanai are of Babylonian origin; Balshammin and Belhammon seem to be from Phoenicia; Ishtar and Atargatis are Aramaean; Shadrafa and Elqonera are probably Canaanite; and Arab deities include Shamash, Allat, Abgal, Manawat, and a host of others.” The oasis was an oasis of differences. When one reads this catalog of coexisting divinities, one is reminded of the old Enlightenment argument, made against the exclusivist and bellicose tendencies of the monotheistic faiths, about the innate tolerance of a polytheistic universe. Where there is one God, there is one way. Where there are many gods, there are many ways. In Palmyra there were many gods and many ways. The Palmyrene spirit is precisely what theocrats seek to extirpate. In the West, we are all, perfectly or imperfectly, Palmyrenes.
Background on Palmyra, its history, the ancient Aramaic dialect spoken there (Palmyrene), and the city's tragic recent fate in the hands of ISIS is here with many, many links.