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Landis: ISIS Destruction Of Ruins Not A Desperation Heave, But Propaganda That's Working

The Syrian government announced this week Islamic State militants destroyed 2,000-year-old tower tombs in the central city of Palmyra, claiming the Roman-era sites promote idolatry.

Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and the author of the blog Syria Comment, called Palmyra the "jewel in the crown" of Syrian archaeology. The Temple of Bel, a shrine to the Mesopotamian god that once formed the center of the city's religious life.

"It's probably the best-preserved Roman site anywhere," Landis said. "And this temple had all the pillars. They just turned it into dust. If you look at the satellite photos now, it's just one big, dusty, flat thing."

ISIS militants claim they're trying to get rid of paganism, and promote monotheism. But Landis said it's really about goading the west into a reaction.

"They're doing it in a Hollywood version to get attention, just the way that cutting off heads was done in spectacular fashion with orange suits," Landis said.

And Landis said that's ruining the livelihood of the residents in the dusty little oasis city.

"Every bit of money that came into that city came because of tourism," Landis said. "It's a devastating thing. It's very short-sighted, and of course it's a product of the complete meltdown of Syria and Iraq."

But it's not a desperation move by ISIS. There's no evidence ISIS is any weaker than before U.S. airstrikes began last year, and the militants are using the radical action as propaganda, and a recruitment tool.

"You would think that it would be the death knell, and in the long run, many Muslims are horrified by this," Landis said. "But there is an underclass of people that are being recruited, and we've seen young people from the west going there in larger and larger numbers. So we don't know what to do about it right now."

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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