I've been fortunate to spend the past couple of weeks traveling in Israel and, now, Sicily.
Religious and cultural ruins are virtually everywhere I turn, and in Israel, at least, ISIS is never far below the surface of any meaningful discussion. After all, Israel does have the Islamic State lapping at its northeast and southern borders, from where it threatens death and destruction.
Not to mention the fanatical Sunni Muslim group's attempts to become established in Israel itself. Then there's the horrific situation in Sicily involving the many thousands of North African and Middle Eastern refugees desperate to escape ISIS and a variety of other deprivations, and dying by the boatload in the process.
Which brings me to the handwringing in the Western press over what ISIS is doing in the Syrian city of Palmyra. There, ISIS is destroying priceless and, of course, irreplaceable antiquities connected to the region's pre-Islamic past.
This is despicable, the work of barbarians seeking to control minds by rewriting history to their liking.
But let's not forget when lamenting what is being lost in Palmyra, that -- as Palestinian activists like to say when imploring tourists traipsing from one ancient Christian site to another -- attention must also be paid to the needs of living Christian Palestinians, the "living stones." the people actually enduring the many ways to suffer that characterizes the contemporary Middle East.
People trump ruins and artifacts hands down, journalistically and otherwise. Period.
Let's also remember that ISIS is engaging in actions indulged in by our own religious cultures, as well as virtually every marauding culture throughout history. European Americans did it to Native Americans, the Chinese are doing it to Tibet, Christians historically had no problem constructing churches on sites where innumerable pre-Christian temples once stood, and Hindus and Muslims have destroyed each other's temples and mosques on the Indian subcontinent, as well as the holy sites of Buddhists.
Need additional examples?
Then let's certainly include what the Romans did to the Jews at the site of the Jerusalem Temple, a place where everybody seems to have practiced physical supersessionism when given the chance. And Muslims in the time of the Prophet Mohammad did it to the pre-Islamic divinity cults that were worshiped in what today is the Kaaba in Mecca, Islam's holiest site.
Didn't Pope Francis just apologize for what was done to the indigenous peoples of the Americas in the name of civilizing the heathens (and grabbing their land and wealth) by forcible conversion to Christianity or outright slaughter?
Not to put too fine a point on this, but what comes to mind is the image of wealthy patrons contributing millions to the preservation of this or that Medieval Italian painting of the Madonna and child or modern pop art painting of a soup can while ignoring a homeless family begging for its daily bread just yards from where a museum gala is being staged.
Or governments spending hundreds of millions on sports stadiums rather than social services or aging infrastructure. Or religious groups deciding an impressive edifice should take priority over everyday human needs. Examples of this are ubiquitous in the lands I've visited on this trip. There are debates linked to this sites that should be covered, not ignored.
In a nutshell, it may be said that human armies, cultures and religious traditions, even those we consider the epitome of rational establishment thinking, tend to act like a succession of canines leaving their mark. How mammalian we are.
(Least You think of me as a clod lacking all manner of sensual appreciation, let me state here for the record that I relish visiting architecturally stunning and beautifully decorated religious and secular structures, including sports stadiums, of which the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, home to two Olympics, has been my favorite since childhood when I fantasized about owning -- yes, actually owning -- a sports palace. But that was prior to its being castrated -- downsized, that is -- to showcase football above all else. How karmic that Los Angeles has not had an NFL team in two decades! But I digress.)
So have I been clear? The destruction of the artifacts of history diminishes humanity. It's both a criminal activity and moral perversion. But however reprehensible ISIS' actions against ancient stones may be, they pale in comparison to what it's done to the living stones of the Middle East, the people of Syria and Iraq.
Plus, we all have some religious or cultural connection to a history of similar physical destruction.
Not a bad point to keep in mind when we're being journalistically self-righteous about the sins of ISIS in Palmyra. The far more important story to be pursued is whether or not the U.S. and it's European and Arab allies can and should do more to end the horrific ISIS killing spree.