Extremism vs. Heritage

[Jakarta, LttW] A couple of months ago the World was rocked by the news that ISIS forces has destroyed artifacts & works of art at the site of the ancient city of Nimrud, Mesopotamia. The opinion column below penned by Jonathan Jones for the Guardian argues that the right stance that the World must take against this act of destruction is to condemn it as an act of aggression towards our World’s heritage. We here at ListenToTheWorld, agree with this position.

We would highlight though that whether or not the acts of destruction—as recorded in various videos displayed in YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and elsewhere—have been faked or not, is still a question up for debate. We currently have no way of becoming absolutely sure that ISIS forces have been destroying real artifacts or just substitutes. There are also further speculation that ISIS might possibly be staging these videos in order to raise the black-market prices of these artifacts in order that ISIS themselves might profit more from selling them in the black market. Through these and other speculations we can be sure of at least two things: 1) that the World cares about what happens to these ancient heritages, and 2) there is still room to question whether all is as it seems, that everything is as meets the eye.

Below is the article by columnist Jonathan Jones.


ISIS destroys statue at Mosul museum

“Yes, Isis threaten art: it’s that simple”

The shocking videos of Isis fighters destroying priceless antiquities may have been staged, but that doesn’t mean the Middle East’s art heritage is safe  — by Jonathan Jones for The Guardian

Are lovers and protectors of art and archaeology a bunch of sensationalists who vastly exaggerate the threat to world heritage from Islamist extremists, in particular Islamic State?

A comment by Mostafa Heddaya on Artinfo berates Tom Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum, for protesting emotionally at an attack on art, after IS released a video showing its cadres smashing statues in the Mosul Museum.

On closer inspection, the video may not be all it seems. Channel 4 news pointed out that most of the statues explode into dust. Stone would not do that. In fact, many of the artworks destroyed in the video appear to be plaster casts. Does the fact that IS may have fabricated this film – boastfully assaulting replicas – mean we should be sceptical about its apparent hostility to art, and calm down about the cultural destruction issue? Is it, in reality, more interested in looting art for profit than destroying it in the name of religious purity?

No. It would be complacent to take this film lightly.

Heddaya accuses the Met director of issuing a “hyperbolic statement” before all the facts were known. Well, it may be years before all the facts are known. But the way this film was made scarcely matters. Its message is clear: destroy the godless art of the ancient middle east. Smash Assyrian sculpture. Wreck the remains of Nineveh.

If it is true that Iraq’s museum service wisely removed many pieces from the Mosul Museum and replaced them with replicas, it may be that IS itself was duped. In other words, the people in the video may genuinely think they are destroying priceless antiquities. Whatever they think they are hitting, their message could not be plainer. Militants in Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere are encouraged by this video to do whatever violence to art they can dream up.

There is enough evidence to make everyone take that threat seriously. Islamist terrorism has consistently attacked cultural treasures. The Taliban destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001 is probably the worst act of cultural vandalism in history. The 6th-century statues were among the world’s greatest treasures, documenting as they did the very shaping of Buddhist art.

When Jihadists occupied Timbuktu in 2012 they set about systematically destroying its rich African cultural heritage. Sufi shrines were demolished and librarians had to resort to desperate methods to save the city’s manuscripts.

Jihadism is plainly a very real, very brutal threat to art and culture across the world. African culture, Buddhist art, Sufism and now the legacy of the Assyrian empire are all in its sightlines.

It is not the least bit “hyperbolic” to be horrified by this video.


Originally published at the Guardian.