I argue in a Saturday Op-Ed that one way to think about the iconoclasm of so-called Islamic State militants is to value the art they would destroy:
The Islamic State militants destroy art to send a powerful and destructive message: that learning, beauty and the transformational power of art has no place in any so-called Islamic State. We can expose the lie in this message in one simple way: by supporting ancient and contemporary art from the region.
Our city demonstrates how effective an ambassador art can be. Houston stands proud as one of America’s emerging cities for terrific art from all over the world, especially art from the Middle East. Works of art that formed the Houston-based FotoFest 2014 Biennial are currently on display at the Emirates Palace Gallery in Abu Dhabi. Also, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) has an outstanding collection of Islamic art spanning the 9th to early 20th centuries; beautiful calligraphy and other decorative art that demonstrates the region’s commitment to learning and beauty.
We should encourage the MFA and other museums to responsibly display more works of Islamic art from this troubled region. By countering the vile message of the Islamic State by consuming and valuing Islamic art, we value and preserve what they would destroy.
The BBC is reporting that 19 people, including 17 museum visitors have been killed in an attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunis. Many other visitors were trapped in the museum. No group has claimed responsibility yet, but two gunmen were killed, and there may be some involved in the attack still on the run.
The attack began at a time when hundreds of visitors were on their way into the museum. Interior ministry officials said the gunmen were armed with grenades and assault rifles. Gunfire was first heard around 12:30 p.m.
Helicopters buzzed over the area in the afternoon, and Tunisian state television said they were evacuating people from the area, possibly including those injured in the attack.
The site of the attack, the National Bardo Museum, is in central Tunis near the national Parliament, which was evacuated as police officers responded to the attack and surrounded the area.
The identity and motivation of the attackers were not immediately clear. No group had claimed responsibility for the attack by early evening. An Interior Ministry spokesman said that the gunmen had probably been Tunisians, but their nationality had not been confirmed.
This museum is one of the major cultural institutions in Tunisia. It contains roman mosaics, antiquities from ancient Greek civilizations, and Islamic art.