Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Why Is No One Talking About Libya’s Cultural Destruction?

Laura C. Mallonee asks 'Why Is No One Talking About Libya’s Cultural Destruction?' (Hyperallergic February 2, 2015).
Over the past few years, Libya has been making archaeology headlines not for the exciting new discoveries there, but for the ruthless cultural destruction. Here are just a handful of examples: In 2011, a gang busted into a concrete underground vault in Benghazi and stole 7,700 ancient coins, a heist described by one expert as among “the greatest thefts in archaeological history.” In 2012, Islamist militants razed countless Sufi shrines and graves throughout the country. And last year, gunmen in Tripoli stripped the 18th-century Karamanli Mosque of its intricate ceramic tiles and marble decorations, while Sabha castle was blasted by rockets. 
In a recent article Savino di Lernia ('Cultural heritage: Save Libyan archaeology', Naturefield of work that is under threat, and it matters.
Libya’s conflict has brought archaeological exploration in the region to a halt. Di Lernia was himself forced to evacuate in 2011; before then, he’d taken trips to the country every year since 1990. Concerns are now deepening about the safety of countless invaluable sites; it no longer seems a matter of whether they will be destroyed, but when, as anything not in line with the goals of militant revolutionaries seems to become a target. [...] According to di Lernia, archaeologists simply have to keep going. Just because war has made it impossible to do fieldwork doesn’t mean research can’t continue. It should instead be carried out internationally in museums, laboratories, and online, he says. Museum collections featuring Libyan artifacts can be digitized for global audiences. Satellite imagery can be scanned for remote analysis. An internet archive of rock-art sites could be built, “[helping] Libyan scientists overcome their isolation and regain a sense of identity.” He underscores the need to support Libyan archaeologists and scientists, demanding funding and visas from foreign donors and governments so they can work temporarily overseas.
This is part of a wider phenomenon being experienced right now. Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, says there is a "global context of repeated and deliberate attacks against cultural heritage, in Libya and elsewhere, threatening social cohesion and fueling violence and division within society.”   As UNESCO recognizes, culture has a powerful role in ‘building social cohesion and contributing to reconciliation and peace', we must continue to nurture skills, trust and knowledge about our shared past.

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