#CultureUnderThreat: Recommendations for the US Government
a task force report by the Antiquities Coalition, the Asia Society, and the Middle East Institute
The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War
by Robert Bevan
In the account of Palmyra that has been told by the Syrian government and repeated in the international press, the devastation of Palmyra began with the arrival of the jihadists in May 2015. Before the takeover, Syrian officials had managed to remove a large number of free-standing sculptures and antiquities, and Tadmor, despite the collapse of its tourist economy, was considered a safe haven. Then ISIS came and began blowing up monuments and staging mass executions in the site’s Roman amphitheater. According to Syrians themselves, however, the story is more complicated.
Known for its free health care and university education for all, its robust defense of gay rights and social freedoms, and its vigorous culture of social and political debate, the country has long been envied as a social-democratic success, a place where the state has an improbably durable record of doing good. When it comes to refugees, however, Denmark has long led the continent in its shift to the right—and in its growing domestic consensus that large-scale Muslim immigration is incompatible with European social democracy.
At the heart of the current crisis is a fundamental problem: there are virtually no legal ways for a refugee to travel to Europe. This situation has led to a vast, shadowy human-smuggling industry, based in Turkey, the Balkans, and North Africa, which European officials have recently estimated to be worth as much as $1 billion per year.
Yet one more horror in a war that has delivered them almost daily, the mass exodus of Syrians through a narrow opening in a chain-link fence at the Syrian-Turkish border this past June nevertheless stood out for what it showed about the sheer complexity of the human catastrophe now unfolding in Syria. The US has accepted fewer than one thousand Syrian refugees so far—more made it through that hole in the fence during a few hours.
Despite Tunisia’s unusual political and cultural assets, it has now suffered the two worst terrorist attacks in its history—both involving radicalized young Tunisians, both seeming to target the post-revolutionary order the country has worked so hard to construct. How can the Arab world’s most promising and ambitious new democracy also be one of its greatest producers of violent jihadists?
One of the main findings of the Senate investigation of the CIA’s torture program was not simply the abuse, or the law-breaking, or the moral reprehensibleness of it. It was that there was a fundamental corruption of governance, in which the CIA persistently lied, not only to Congress but to the executive branch to which it ostensibly reported.
After more than a dozen years of the US-led “war on terror,” as Pakistan has slid between military and civilian rule, crackdowns and suicide bombings, the cosmopolitan city of Lahore has struggled to maintain its old values. A group of Lahori intellectuals have decided to fight back in the way they best know how: with words and books and open debate.
What do Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Thomas Jefferson, and David Ben-Gurion have in common? More than we might think, according to a remarkable new exhibition about the Cyrus Cylinder, a 6th-century BC Babylonian text praising Cyrus the Great.