February 14, 2010
Ezekiel's Tomb on the Edge of Destruction
A short fifteen-minute drive outside Kerbala, Iraq, one can witness the frontlines of the clash between East and West, Islamism and progress. There, in the small town of Al-Kifl, lies -- at least at the time of this writing -- the 2,500-year-old Tomb of the Prophet Ezekiel. But for the first time in recorded history, the Tomb is threatened not by the collateral damage of war, nor the ignominies of thieves and bandits, but by a planned, government-authorized, and taxpayer-funded demolition.
The Jerusalem Post and various watchdog groups have reported that the Iraqi Cultural and Antiquities Authority are implementing plans to erect a mosque on top of Ezekiel's Tomb. Last month, the process began as the ancient Hebrew inscriptions adorning the inside of the Tomb were defaced, perhaps irrevocably, and covered over by plaster.
With the not-so-distant memory of the Taliban's destruction of Buddhist statuary in Afghanistan still in mind, the impending Islamification of the Jewish shrine of the Tomb might seem like the product of a uniquely modern cultural phenomenon. But in reality, the history of Ezekiel's Tomb reflects the millennial ebb and flow of Islamic power.
It was only once the Ottoman period ended that the tomb was wrested from Islamic control and returned to Jewish custodianship; and, strangely, it was under the Ba'athist Saddam Hussein that the site was restored and actually protected from destruction. But today, as Islamist power congeals across the globe, the Tomb faces perhaps its greatest and most imminent threat.
This current threat mirrors Ezekiel's own prophetic life -- and in this way, it is a continuance of his prophecy. Ezekiel prophesied in a turbulent and uncertain time in Jewish history, leading a defeated people from the destruction of Jerusalem to the rivers of Babylon. He was on the forefront of a cultural war, where his vision of a new Jewish reality-in-exile could confront those who wished to forget the tragedies of their past, wipe away their identity, and disappear.
Today, the Jewish people is again fighting for its life, this time in a battle against the de-legitimization of its first state in more than two millennia. Much of the hateful fodder fueling Israel's enemies in this war comes from Islamist sources, who have deployed the myth of Zionism as a European colonialist invention of the 19th century that has no relation to Jewish history, nor to its spiritual legacy.
But it is Ezekiel and his timeless vision that stand at the forefront of making such claims preposterous. The Prophet dreamed of a future renewal while his people were in the introductory stage of a nightmarish and traumatic exile. It was Ezekiel who provided the people a message of a better day, a time of redemption when the Jews would be ingathered and return to Zion, with humanity redeemed. He inspired the Jewish people in their darkest hour to never forget its ethical legacy and to never stop believing in a better tomorrow.
Today, the West and Israel have remained silent thus far in the face of this clear act of aggression directed at a common historical and spiritual legacy. If Islamism is allowed to metastasize through Iraqi streets and neighborhoods, the foundations of one of the first Arab democracies will quickly crumble.
But, more crucially, if Israel and the U.S. resign themselves to inaction and allow a biblical cultural edifice to be erased at the hands of an Iraqi Government that embraces the worst manifestations of militant Islam -- and does so with the upkeep of American taxpayers' money -- then it will not be just Iraqi democracy that is threatened, but the values of liberty and tolerance which form the core of our societies.
It is for precisely this reason that Prime Minister Netanyahu last week, on the hallowed ground of Auschwitz, invoked Ezekiel's prophecy in his speech to reinforce the historical roots of Israel's mission: "Then He said unto me: These bones are the whole House of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone; we are doomed.', therefore, and say to them: Thus said the Lord God: I am going to open your graves and lift you out of your graves, O My people, and bring you to the land of Israel."
All who believe in progress, who refuse to give up the past, and who yearn to establish a more perfect tomorrow, must fight to keep this tomb protected. For if we remain silent today, then that silence will serve as the first chapter in a story of shame that begins with the abandonment of our history and concludes with the surrender of our future.