As we continue to watch violence escalate in Syria and Iraq, lamenting the loss of life and displacement of millions, we must remember the conflict that has quietly claimed over 4,000 lives in only six months, and continues to displace and destroy every day. The Saudi-led (and US-backed) military campaign against the Houthi rebel militia movement in Yemen has resulted in the destruction of markets, apartment buildings and refugee camps, leaving behind a severe humanitarian crisis made worse by harsh restrictions on imports. Yemenis are slowly starving, being cut off from fuel, water, and medical supplies while facing inflated prices for food and other goods.
Like Iraq and Syria, Yemen is also seeing the deliberate destruction of its spiritual and cultural heritage, as both airstrikes and local branches of Islamic State and al-Qaeda have attacked many of the country’s most important historical sites. The Economist details the extent of the destruction thus far:
The roster of antiquities damaged in the war in Yemen runs long. Missiles fired from the coalition’s planes have obliterated a museum (where the fruits of an American-Yemeni archaeological dig were stored), historic caked-mud high-rise dwellings, 12th century citadels and minarets and other places whose importance to humanity’s heritage has been recognised by the UN. The Great Dam of Marib, a feat of engineering that was undertaken 2,800 years ago, has been struck four times, most recently on August 18th. Antiquities experts fear for the oldest surviving fragment of the Koran, in a six-month war which has killed over 4,000 and injured 20,000.
But apparently out of deference to their Saudi and Gulf friends, Western powers have yet to make much comment on the destruction in Yemen, whether humanitarian or cultural. They have expressed justified horror over cultural losses in Syria, such as Islamic State’s demolition of the Bel temple in Palmyra. They willingly subscribe to the general principle of protecting religious and cultural objects from war.
Yet Western officialdom has been tongue-tied about Yemen; Britain’s Foreign Office, for instance, did not respond when asked about the cultural damage there. In the ancient city of Sana’a, a UNESCO World Heritage site, there is a bitter feeling that the West is applying lenient standards to a coalition whose members are strategic allies and defence customers. Mohannad al-Sayani, director of Yemen’s General Organisation of Antiquities and Museums, laments that his country is suffering cultural vandalism whose ideological purpose resembles the campaign against Syrian and Iraqi antiquities. In all cases, people are bent on wiping out what they consider to be “idolatry”—in other words, any object that in their view signals deviation from the strict path laid down by the Prophet Muhammad and his immediate successors. In addition to the strikes from the air, he says, ruthless local branches of Islamic State and al-Qaeda are making ground attacks on Yemen’s cultural sites.
Read full article here.