Over the years, I’ve almost lost count of the priceless treasures of art and antiquity which I’ve seen with my own eyes – and which now lie in pieces.
Fourteen years ago, racing across Mosul to see the building where US forces had just shot dead the sons of Saddam Hussein, I glimpsed the “hunchback” minaret of the 12th century al-Nuri mosque looming over the old city, built by Nur al-Din Mahmoud Zangi, an Arab hero who united the Arabs against the Crusaders.Gone, my lords and ladies, in just a few seconds, scarcely a week ago. We blamed Isis. Isis blamed a US air strike.
Back in 2012, I ran past the 12th century minaret of the Umayyad mosque in Aleppo, pounding down the road towards the ancient Citadel as bullets buzzed up the streets. Within a year, the minaret was dust. We blamed the Syrian government for shelling it. The Syrians blamed al-Nusrah/al-Qaeda “terrorists”. All over Aleppo, they felt the ground tremble as the minaret fell.