Nuances of Nimrod

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Bashing Nimrod, described in the Bible as “a mighty hunter before the Lord”, added fuel to fire in a region on edge over the excesses of the Islamist terrorist organisation, the so-called Islamic State, neither Islamic nor a state, and is a despicable act of senseless terror. 

The ides of March are ominous. The 2,000-year-old fortress of Hatra in the northern Iraqi wilderness followed the destruction of Nimrod. United Nations Secretary General on Monday condemned what he called the “deliberate destruction  of our common cultural heritage” by the Islamic State.

Plundering was not restricted to heathen idols. Mosul’s central library has been ransacked by the militant Islamists, contradicting the Prophet Mohamed’s stipulation that Muslims must acquire knowledge and pursue scientific research. Not only are the terrorists content to behead Muslims, Christians and Yazidis, ethnic Arabs and Kurds and Assyrians, foreigners such as Japanese and Westerners, but now they are literally bringing the statues of the ancients to the block.

Reminiscent of the Taliban’s destruction of the twin statues of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in March 2001, the Islamic State militants’ terror invited international recrimination. The desecration of Nimrod’s royal tombs is contemptible. Exactly 14 years later, the Taliban’s ideological apprentices are desecrating global heritage.

The spectacle of Islamic State militants smashing idols in the Museum of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city now under their control, is tragic to say the least. Next they turned upon ruins of Nimrod, smashing what they consider idols. Nimrod is the ancient Assyrian capital of Kalhu, the Biblical city of Calah, and its treasures are invaluable, a legacy not only of ancient Mesopotamian civilisation, but of the culture humanity and beyond price.

Son of Kush, grandson of Ham and great grandson of Noah, Nimrod inherited the garments of Adam and Eve from his father Cush. The vestments ostensibly gave him great strength. The systematic demolition of the vestiges of the ancient city founded in the 13th century BC, dates to the days of Abraham, the father of monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He was born and bred in the magnificent Mesopotamian civilisation, in the vicinity of the Tower of Babel, Babylon. Abraham’s father Terach, an idolator, was a courtier of Nimrod.

Smashing the scared stones might have been appropriate in ancient times, but it is untenable today. Nimrod was furious when Terach took Abraham to confess his “wicked” deed, and was punished by being set alight. What is sadly fascinating is that militant Islamists in this day and age would conjure up images of the distant past. Yes, the Quran discusses Abraham’s trajectory in great depth, but at a time when hardly anybody believes in polytheism, and when the descendants of idolators have embraced Abraham’s spiritual quality of Chessed, Love and Kindness, or EL, from which the Arabic Allah is derived, it is difficult to imagine that those who consider themselves Muslims would reenact the melodramatic events of millenniums ago, even down to the burning by fire of a Jordanian Muslim pilot just as Nimrod cast Abraham, the First Patriarch, venerated by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The Islamic State is making a point of linking the past to the present in the tantalising prospect of staging its own reprisal against hewn history.The insistence rings hollow. Abraham was the first man recorded in history to smash idols, but that was not a prelude for him to sell the statues. A shared memory of past suffering and injustice cannot be back on the political agenda of pretentious zealots. And, the monotheistic legacy cannot now be marked with more than a token nod.

The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Irina Bokova described the tragic destruction of Nimrod as a catastrophic war crime. And demanded that the world saves whatever remains of the treasures. “This is yet another attack against the Iraqi people, reminding us that nothing is safe from the cultural cleansing underway in the country,” Bokova bemoaned.

Her plea fell on deaf ears. The terrorist “targets human lives, minorities, and is marked by the systematic destruction of humanity’s ancient heritage,” she extrapolated.

According to early Arab chroniclers who wrote the Kitab Al-Magall or the Book of Rolls, Nimrod worshiped fire and committed idolatory, and the very word Nimrod, “Troublemaker”, has negative connotations. Nimrod is the father of polytheism as opposed to the monotheism of Abraham.

Semiramis, Queen of Babylon and Nimrod’s chief consort, was worshiped as “The Mother of God”, “Queen of Heaven” and “Fertility Goddess”. She was the forerunner of both the Virgin Mary and Aphrodite, the Greek goddess.

When Semiramus gave birth to a son, after the demise of her husband, she claimed that it was the reincarnation of her deified Nimrod. UNESCO’s Bukova lamented what she deemed to be “one of the most devastating acts of  destruction of library collections in human history.”

Tammuz, mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel, is a Babylonian and Sumerian god and the fourth month of the contemporary Syriac and Hebrew calendars. It was also a month of the Babylonian calendar. The fall of Tikrit and Mosul, the strongholds of the Islamic State is imminent, and it is most likely to take place in the month of Tammuz.

Why are the militant Islamists not weighed down by guilt? They force women into sexual slavery and placate their conscience by smashing idols and burning historical records. The Central Library of Mosul, a depository of ancient and modern Mesopotamian history, was burned and historical maps, books, archives of newspapers dating from the Ottoman period ruthlessly incinerated.

Hulagu Khan, the grandson of the legendary Mongol Emperor Genghiz Khan, who sacked Baghdad in 1258, could not have been more barbarous, cruel and tyrannical than the militant Islamists of the 21st century. Hulagu’s mother, the celebrated Sorghaghtani Beki, was a Nestorian Christian princess and so was his chief consort Tukuz Khatun.

Civilisations were finely blended in a unique Islamic fashion. This was a fundamental feature of Islam, initiated and encouraged by Prophet Mohamed. At least two of his wives were Coptic Christian, including Maria, the mother of his son Ibrahim who died in infancy, and some others were Jews.

Tammuz began his life as a humble Sumerian shepherd named Dumu-zid or Dumuzi. The sight of militant Islamist terrorists with sledgehammers smashing the sculptures of Tammuz, menacingly brandishing hammers and drills to crush the “idols” was tragic and tarnishes the name of Islam.

Tammuz was the son of the ancient Mesopotamian god Enki  and was also known as the Akkadian/Babylonian Ea and in ancient Egypt, Tammuz was closely related to Osiris. And the theme of death and resurrection permeates the Tammuz legend.

The cult of Tammuz is also associated with Adonis, the Greek god of beauty and desire. Is that what the adherents of the ideology of the Islamic State fear the most? Must pleasure be differed, or assigned to the afterlife?

The Mosul University founded 50 years ago is no more. Militant Islamist terrorists have overrun faculties and the offices of deans transforming them into dormitories and pleasure hideaways of their emirs, or commanders.

“By Allah’s permission”, the Islamic State’s trademark Arabic insignia, is as vainglorious, cavalier and cocky as Adonis of yesteryear. Note, however, that like Tammuz, and incidentally Jesus, the Greek appellation Adonis is a variation of the Canaanite or Phoenician word “Adoni”, or “My Lord”.

Incidentally, Adonis is the pen name for the contemporary Syrian poet Ali Ahmed Said Asbar who was nominated more than once for a Nobel Prize for literature. And Jesus was often referred to as “The Lord”. Syria is today a stronghold of the Islamic State, but Palestine, too, is the purgatory of the Palestinian people.

“We love to die as you love to live and we promise to fight until the last one of us,” is the Islamic State’s hallmark on the Internet.

Facing bans and blockages on Facebook, Islamic State militants have launched their own CaliphateBook. Their Twitter accounts have been shut down, and rightly so. The militant Islamists have used social media methods to further their cause. Among the sins that have most angered the ostentatious living-weary Islamist militants is the emptying of their coffers, and smashing the idols is a devious means of replenishing depleted coffers. The road to Tikrit, the hometown of the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and of Mosul, both overrun by the Islamic State, is certainly not all smooth.

Gamal Nkrumah is a Cairo-based African and international affairs expert.