Hugh Fitzgerald: Qaisar Mahmood, New Head of the Swedish National Heritage Board


The  new head of the Swedish National Heritage Board is a Muslim, Qaisar Mahmood, born in Pakistan. He was chosen for this position despite the fact that he has never studied — not TAKEN a single course — in Swedish history, nor has he ever studied archaeology, and he proudly claims that “I know nothing about it [Swedish heritage].” What got him his initial job at the Swedish Heritage Board was that he claimed to have “participated in debates about culture and questions of identity,” had delivered lectures on the same theme, and he further stated how important it was to make the newest arrivals to Sweden, the Muslims, feel a “part of the culture,” which meant that the Swedish past should be scoured for evidence of  early appearances of Muslims. Recently, in fact, a Swedish researcher, Anneke Larsson, believed that she had found, written in the Arabic script known as Kufic, the name “Allah” on some scraps of a Viking tapestry, a burial cloth. This caused great excitement in the archaeological establishment in Sweden, delighted at this “staggering” find that, if true, would have dated Islam, or Muslims, in Sweden, back to the time of the Vikings, that is, roughly between 800 and 1000 A.D. But then Stephennie Mulder, a researcher at the University of Texas, pointed out that the Kufic script only started to be used 500 years after the Vikings had disappeared. That put paid to that false story of the Islamo-Viking tapestry, but not to the eagerness with which some Swedes are still trying to backdate the Muslim presence in their country, in a display of what has correctly been described as “ethnomasochism.”

As Qaisar Mahmood moved steadily up the bureaucratic ladder at the Swedish National Heritage Board, he gave no signs of becoming interested in, or even of having decided to study, the Swedish national heritage. For him, culture was part of a narrative, and multiculturalists had to “create the narrative” that best promoted their interests. As a Muslim, he wanted to fashion a “national heritage” for Sweden that would reflect the “inclusivity” of the present. The Viking tapestry turned out to have nothing to do with Arabic script, or Islam, but archaeologists getting with the program have not given up hope. Their appetites have been whetted; the search goes on for an early appearance of Islam, no matter how brief or how bloody, in Sweden.

Mahmood sees as a main part of his task finding “how to make these people [Muslims] part of something.” But they already feel “part of something” — that is, Islam itself. And that faith keeps them from taking a sympathetic interest in the Swedish past or, indeed, in any pre-Islamic or non-Islamic culture.

The inculcated contempt that Muslims feel for the pre-Islamic past of their own countries is well known. Muslims believe that until the arrival of Islam, there was nothing of value, nothing worth studying. It was a period they call the Jahiliyya, or Time of Ignorance. Devout Pakistanis  have nothing to do with the fabulous pre-Islamic Harappan civilization, of which the city of Mohenjo-Daro is representative. Muslim Iranians have no interest in the pre-Islamic civilization of Persia, as represented by the ruins of Persepolis. In Iraq, the Arabs have displayed no interest in the pre-Islamic civilizations of Mesopotamia — the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians — despite the obvious achievements of those peoples, especially the Babylonians. In Egypt, the Muslim Turks, indifferent to the artifacts of ancient Egypt, shot off the nose of the Sphinx. Muslim Egyptians did  appreciate the pyramids — suitable, it seemed, only for grave-robbing — until those same pyramids were made much of by Europeans, and still today they are seen by Muslim Egyptians not so much as objects of great cultural interest, but mainly as a tourist attraction for foreigners, and therefore worth keeping as a welcome source of revenue.

Muslim indifference to pre-Islamic civilizations is also shown by the history of archeological finds in the  Middle East. The discovery of the pre-Islamic past was entirely the work of European archeologists. It was an English archaeologist who famously found the tomb of Tutankhamen, and other Europeans, mainly  English, French, and German, who discovered other pharaonic tombs, unearthed and deciphered hieroglyphs, systematically collected, catalogued, and preserved pre-Islamic artifacts of every kind. Such great Egyptologists as Champollion (the Rosetta Stone), Lepsius (Champollion’s worthy successor in decipherment), and Howard Carter (who found the tomb of Tutankhamen) come immediately to mind. Not an Arab nor a Muslim among this impressive crew. The Baghdad Museum was founded by an Englishwoman, Gertrude Bell. The Cairo Museum was founded by a Frenchman, Mariette. No Muslim Arabs took part, save as hired diggers, in the discovery and unearthing of pre-Islamic sites, or in the collecting and cataloguing of artifacts. The discoverer of the Assyrian sites was the Englishman Austen Henry Layard, excavator of Nimrud and of Nineveh. The fabulous artifacts of Ur were found by another British archeologist, Sir Leonard Woolley. And once these sites were unearthed, who made their life’s work the preservation and study of the artifacts found at these sites, at such places as the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, the Louvre,  the British Museum, the Oriental Institute in Chicago? Always, and only, non-Muslim Western scholars.

Muslim indifference to the civilizations of the time of the Jahiliyya in what are now the Muslim lands also extends to the non-Islamic history of the West. For what are the kuffar but “the most vile of creatures” (Qur’an 98:6), and what, aside from military technology, do Muslims think they have to learn from what is too optimistically still called Western civilization?

The Swedish authorities who deal with “Swedish heritage” are unlikely to know any of this. They are unlikely to realize that the Muslim, Qaisar Mahmood, whom they have now put bizarrely in charge of the “Swedish National Heritage Board,” is not only unapologetic about knowing “nothing” — as he admits — about that heritage, nor anything about archaeology (why should Mahmood care about digging up a Viking longboat from the time of the Jahiliyya?), but is eager to find or fabricate a Swedish presence for Islam in as distant a past as possible, in order to help the contemporary cause of multicultural “inclusivity” which, for Muslims, doesn’t mean their integration into a larger Swedish society but, rather, that that larger society of indigenous non-Muslims must eventually succumb to their laws, their customs, their rightful dominance as “the best of peoples.”

Meanwhile, Qaisar Mahmood is a superb choice to head the Swedish National Heritage Board, given that the task at hand is to make sure, to borrow the phrase Thilo Sarrazin applied to Angela Merkel’s Germany,  that “Sweden undoes itself.” Qaisar Mahmoud will do — inshallah! — his Swedish promoters proud.

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