Tuesday, November 09, 2004

What Respect Have Wahhabis Shown To Muslim Monuments?

OpinionJournal - Leisure & Arts: "What Respect Have
Wahhabis Shown To Muslim Monuments?
The reopening of Bosnia's Mostar Bridge tells only part of the story.

BY MELIK KAYLAN
Tuesday, August 3, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT

Two weekends ago, a certain identifiable swatch of world community worthies--United Nations and European Union dignitaries, Muslim princes and ambassadors, NGO officials--came together in Bosnia to celebrate the reopening of the famous Mostar Bridge. It had been destroyed by Bosnian Croats in 1993, during the Bosnian War, to expunge a symbol of cosmopolitan Islam dating from 16th-century Ottoman times. Its destruction caused an uproar, and rightly so. Simultaneously, Bosnian Serbs were busy obliterating some 70% of the local Muslims' historic monuments. The Serbs then moved on to similar deeds in Kosovo.

The bridge's reopening had been a belated triumph. Under the aegis of Unesco, countries such as Turkey, Italy and Croatia contributed to the project for a decade along with town residents. At the same time, the town's old buildings underwent renovation funded by the Aga Khan and World Monuments Fund.

The Mostar Bridge offers a corrective to all those clich├ęs about American disregard and ignorance of world culture, about American unilateralism (bad) vs. international consensus (good), about America's much-bruited crusade against Islam--all so beloved of the Euro-U.N./Al Jazeera opinion bloc.

Under the Ottoman Turks, the bridge created ease of trade and mutual contact between Catholic, Serbian Orthodox and Muslim communities. That ethos ultimately proved intolerable to Yugoslav Serb and Croat ethnic cleansers. And were it not for American interventionism in 1990s, they would have prevailed. Muslims persistently forget that. It's worth remembering too that Americans intervened only after abysmal failures of Euro-U.N. consensus politics. Moreover, the World Monuments Fund contributed a fifth of the town's renovation cost--almost entirely from private American donors. Simply put, without the U.S. neither the bridge nor perhaps Bosnia itself would exist now.

But that's only half the story. Crusade-besotted pan-Arab pan-Muslims, who were so outraged over the (non)events at the Baghdad Museum during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, should ask themselves: How much respect has the Wahhabi sect of Islam shown to Muslim monuments? It's a question that Al-Jazeeraites don't ever ask.
After the Dayton Accords in Bosnia and in postconflict Kosovo, reconstruction aid poured in from Saudi Arabia. Much of it went into Wahhabi proselytizing, bullying, converting and bribing of destitute Muslims. An austere desert sect, Wahhabism cannot abide what it considers idolatry, frippery, or nostalgia for objects in religious places. When forced by locals to renovate rather than supplant, the Saudis obliterated all historical highlights, interior decoration, turquoise tiling and the like in local mosques, ripping out and whitewashing everywhere. Like the Serbs and Croats, they forcibly purged what they considered alien--only they did so within the precincts of their own religion. In Kosovo's cemeteries, weeping villagers often witnessed Saudi bulldozers destroying the marble headstones of their Albanian forefathers from the 14th and 15th centuries. U.N. observers considered it an intra-Muslim dispute beyond their ken.

So much for the Saudis abroad. What about the holy soil of Saudi Arabia, in Mecca and Medina--terrain that Osama bin Laden so fiercely declared as threatened by the proximity of American infidel bases? As it happens, there the Saudi record is even worse, with the Bin Laden family in the forefront of razing and building contracts.

During the Ottoman centuries, Mecca and Medina became highly cosmopolitan, with many world Muslims of varied sects choosing to settle and die there. Their descendants often came to visit their ancestors' tombs. That sacred ground was the common heritage of all Muslims. It became Saudi property when the Wahhabis took over in the 1920s and, ever since, they have systematically destroyed all such sites, including the tombs of the Prophet's own family and companions. This always involved digging deep under the foundations to remove all fragments of bones. In Mecca, in the 1970s, they even tore down the dwelling of Mohammed's mother. A McDonald's has replaced it. To many eyes, even the Kaaba's Great Mosque of Mohammed has been utterly destroyed by total renovation.

Few Muslims dare to say such things publicly, of course, least of all Al-Jazeera correspondents. The monuments, though, or what remains of them, speak volumes.

Mr. Kaylan last wrote on an exhibit of British modern art at the Tehran Museum of Art."