Among the many paradoxes of the recent US presidential election, one must surely be that a wave of anti-establishment, populist anger has brought to power a government that stands poised to embark on what could be the greatest expansion of secret state surveillance since the September 11 attacks.
#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.
This brazen killing did not occur in isolation. If it was the “game-changer” that many see, it was also the latest, most extreme manifestation of a repressive regime that has acted with virtual impunity while maintaining enviably close ties to Washington. The Saudis did what they did because they assumed they could get away with it. And President Trump appears as keen to let MBS off the hook as the crown prince is to evade responsibility. Yet, with the president’s Iran policy at stake, even an angry Congress may be reluctant to take more drastic steps against Riyadh. If that is the case, the barbaric assassination of Khashoggi may go down as a different kind of game-changer: not the end of the US–Saudi relationship, but the moment when it was exposed for what it really is.
For years, Brancusi made hardly enough money to eat. In 1926, a version of one of his most extraordinary subjects, Bird in Space, was famously held up at the US border because customs officials didn’t think it was art. Sometimes, he even baffled his own cohort. Picasso (or perhaps Matisse) is said to have likened Brancusi’s 1916 Princess X, a glistening bronze torso of Princess Marie Bonaparte, to a large phallus. Yet, by the time of his death in 1957, the increasingly reclusive Romanian was regarded as one of the century’s greatest sculptors. Peggy Guggenheim, who began buying his work in the 1940s and took artist-worship seriously, called him “half astute peasant and half real god.”
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.
How can the Arab world’s most promising and ambitious new democracy also be one of its greatest producers of violent jihadists? For Tunisia, a small North African country with a thousand-year-old tradition of pacifist Islam, a new constitution based on human rights, and a unity government bringing together Islamists and secularists, the question has become a matter of almost existential importance.
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.