New attempt to understand destruction of cultural heritage

21 February 2017

The website Aggregate recently published a new collection of essays – The Destruction of Cultural Heritage: From Napoléon to ISIS – in which it attempts to put the destruction of buildings, monuments and artefacts in the Middle East in context.

A building damaged by aerial attack during the Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988), Abadan, Iran.

According to the website, the essays investigate the destruction of monuments in the Middle East from the Napoleonic era to the present. The impact it has – on the human psyche, history, philosophy and culture – is highlighted. An important factor is the role of the media in these events – not only reporting on the destruction itself, but also in messages that are disseminated to create and embed certain perceptions.

Beyond Destruction 1: Archaeology & Cultural Heritage in the Middle East

Iconoclasm has a much longer history in the West than in Arabic and Muslim countries, the introduction states.  Those wanting to use the destruction of cultural heritage in the Middle East as putting ‘our’ (read Western) values in contrast to ‘their’ (Muslim) ways, misses the point. According to historical evidence Muslim countries have been much more tolerant towards other religions, including Christianity.

And where the western media focuses on the destruction of monuments, buildings and artefacts from the pre-Muslim era, experts point out that ISIS have also destroyed many Muslim artefacts. The area currently occupied or threatened by ISIS – the so-called Levant which includes Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian areas, as well as northern Iraq (ancient Mesopotamia) – has a very layered history with different cultures and religions that have lived there and reigned over many centuries.

The essays are divided in two parts: the first focuses on the destruction and what follows, while the second investigates civilisation, barbarism and the use of violence on inanimate objects.

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