Culture in the Cross Hairs
By IRINA BOKOVA
On July 7, in the wake of the destruction of the sacred shrines in Timbuktu undefined a Unesco World Heritage site undefined the spokesman of Ansar Dine, one of the Islamist groups controlling northern Mali, declared to the press that “there is no world heritage. It does not exist. Infidels must not get involved in our business.”
This statement captures the challenge we face. For the spokesmen of Ansar Dine, culture is narrowly defined. It is exclusive and static. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization stands for a different vision. Culture has universal meaning. When cultural heritage is attacked anywhere in the world, like the Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo and World Heritage sites damaged by severe bombing in Syria, each of us is shocked; this is a loss to all humanity.
Some cultural sites have an outstanding universal value undefined they belong to all and must be protected by all. Let’s be clear. We are not just talking about stones and building. This is about values, identities and belonging. Destroying culture hurts societies for the long term. It deprives them of collective memory banks as well as precious social and economic assets.