Monthly Archives: August 2015

The War On Culture

The destruction of the 2000 year old Baal Shamin temple at Palmyra, Syria, by Isis militants.

The destruction of the 2000 year old Baal Shamin temple at Palmyra, Syria, by Isis militants.

It is heart-breaking but horrifically fascinating to see Isis use culture as a weapon of war. Ironically it would appear that they fully appreciate the power of cultural language embedded in design and architecture, in a way that western governments currently cutting their arts funding are failing to grasp.  What is it about these ancient historical objects that make them so powerful and threatening today? What fear is driving this extreme erasure? A small part of me gives an angry cheer at the status and value awarded these objects through the prioritising of their destruction. Isis are unwittingly making martyrs of stones and the act of destruction may haunt them longer than the stones stood. Iconoclasm has been a weapon of war for centuries, the Christian church has quite an extensive record in this area of activity. Protestant iconoclasm in the summer of 1566 referred to as the “Beeldenstorm” began with the destruction of the statuary of the Monastery of Saint Lawrence in Steenvoorde the Netherlands and continued through Europe. But what powers such a strong the fear of objects that they have to be destroyed? In a consumerist western culture it would be remarkable if Louboutin burnt down the factory making Jimmy Choo shoes, but then perhaps they are the same factory in China anyway. Maybe this points to the core of the issue, western culture has largely separated the value of meaning from objects through mass manufacturing. If something breaks we just order another one from the same mould. 3D printing will not change this, just extend our consumption to printing another at home. The slow making and skill of crafting unique objects has been side lined to the luxury market of an elite who can afford the expense and we have mostly lost the skills to make things ourselves.

In the war on culture, it is hard not to dream up reprisal acts: 3D printing thousands of miniature models of the Baal Shamin temple in itching powder and dropping them on Isis camps etc… But reprisals are never the answer and just escalate the cultural war. It is more vital to use this event to help us reflect on how valuable culture is and to invest in it now in the UK. Otherwise our descendants will be in the embarrassing position of having nothing of cultural value to blow up in 2000 years time.


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