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Will Islamic extremists destroy the pyramids? Joel Brinkley responds to questions about his recent column

An Egyptian woman and her family visit the

An Egyptian woman and her family visit the historical site of the Giza Pyramids, near Cairo, Egypt. (Jan. 28, 2012) Credit: AP

[Editor's note: In his July 17 column for Tribune Media Services, Joel Brinkley wrote that Egypt’s new president has been quiet about calls by senior Islamic clerics for the demolition of the Great Pyramids. But the threat to the monuments has been questioned by others, including a story in The New York Times. Here, Brinkley responds.]

Will Islamic extremists destroy the Great Pyramids of Giza? In my view, some of them definitely want to and have since the seventh century, when Islamists captured Egypt. As the Egyptian newspaper El Bayad put it a few days ago, an Egyptian nongovernmental organization “warned against the ongoing incitements from a large number of men of the Islamic religion to destroy the Pyramids and other Pharaonic antiquities, deeming them pagan symbols of pre-Islamic Egypt.”

Many Islamic fundamentalists consider it a commandment, enshrined in Sharia law, to destroy what they consider to be symbols of pagan idolatry.

I wrote about this last week, as did others, and that has set off a debate, in the Huffington Post, The New York Times (my former employer) and other places: Is this a serious threat, or are these just silly rumors, feeding on themselves?

The answer lies somewhere in between, though it's not a coincidence, as El Bayad added, that “these calls have greatly increased after the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Dr. Muhammad Morsi.”

Middle East extremists, like other malevolent actors, don’t generally advertise what they plan to do. But the people talking about this now — a senior Saudi Sheikh on a radio talk show July 7, Salfist leaders in Egypt more recently, among others — certainly aren’t planning to do the deed themselves. They’re talking about what they believe should be done.

Writing about it is not spreading rumors. It’s giving the Egyptian government fair warning that talk like this from senior members of the faith might very well inspire a zealot somewhere to take on the job.

Will this actually happen? Probably not, but we can’t know. My advice: Don’t dismiss it as a hoax, because it’s not. Right now, thank goodness, it’s just talk. But vigilance in Egypt will assure that it does not move beyond that.

Pictured above: An Egyptian woman and her family visit the historical site of the Giza Pyramids, near Cairo, Egypt. (Jan. 28, 2012)