Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Cornell archaeologist says 'Sabotage ISIS media campaign'

Big red wrestling
with the truth
Cardboard cutout time in Cornell... Lori Khatchadourian, Cornell assistant professor of Near Eastern Studies joins the ranks of those who reckon we should not discuss in social media the destruction of heritage by groups (ISIL is mentioned explicitly and exclusively). Prof Khatchadourian says that such destruction "is motivated by the desire for media attention – and the best offense is to deny such media".
“ISIS’s perverse campaign of carnage is a carefully staged performance designed precisely to draw media attention, shock our sensibilities, and attract adherents. To shine a spotlight on this stage is thus to cater directly to the Islamic State’s interests. [...] “It is time for a strong offense, a representational counter-assault centered on the success of heritage preservation the world over. Archaeologists around the world are working daily to research, preserve and teach the human past. Let us highlight discoveries in the Middle East and beyond that defy, undercut and sabotage the Islamic State’s media war. Let us leave the essential task of documenting the destruction to organizations in the business of heritage. “As things now stand, the media is covering the wrong success stories.”
Three points here. First of all, where on earth does she get this division between "archaeologists" and "organizations in the business of heritage" from? That's a nonsense. There is no division, either of obligations or interests here. Secondly, the public (stakeholders in the heritage) have a right to know (a) what is going on and (b) what archaeologist (the ones that ARE "in the business of heritage") think about it. Who does Prof  Khatchadourian think she is saying we should deny them this information because it fits "our" (her) propaganda needs to trumpet other successes? I am all for making the information feely available and discussing it openly, frankly and with engagement. Not burying our heads in the sand and making out that - like "metal detecting" - it is somebody else's problem. I cannot think why anyone in academia (as opposed to the lot-to-hide-antiquities-trade) would be against such a notion.

Thirdly, I do not think Lori Khatchadourian has spent much time with real ISIL propaganda. About the roads and the schools, getting the electricity up and running, getting the regime off the backs of Syrians and all the rest. I guess the US media do not really point readers to this, and it takes a few mouse clicks to find what the Other is saying, more head-in-sand burying.

The truth is the bruhaha about the heritage is not ISIL propaganda, but "our" own. It is primarily the USA which is guilty of cranking up emotions over the ruins and museums, the looting, the destruction. What was the speech John Kerry gave as the bombs were being loaded in the bomb bays for the first US strike against Syria in September 2014 - just one year ago? It suits the US narrative to have this black propaganda representing the enemy as culturally backward and ignorant vandals. That has been the staple of propaganda from at least since the scurrilous 'Che cosa hanno fatto gli inglesi in Cirenaica' (1941). It makes them "alien", an "Other" just as much as the shock-horror Daily Mail-esque stories about child brides and all the other staple of the spin put on the US phony war with ISIL. It's a far safer public justification for what the US is "doing" than made-up stories about WMD. 

Kathleen Mary Corcoran, 'Cornell archaeologist says sabotage ISIS media campaign' Cornell University Media Relations Office September 1, 2015.

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