Culture lies on the front line of conflicts across the world. Timbuktu has fallen into the hands of Tuareg rebel forces and shots have been fired around the city’s grand mosque, a Unesco World Heritage Site. This follows on the heels of the shelling of the city of Apamea in Syria. The citadel of Madiq and the ancient villages in the north of Syria, all of which are Unesco World Heritage Sites, could become collateral damage. They need our protection.
It may seem incongruous to denounce crimes against culture and call for their protection at a time of political instability and humanitarian crisis, but it isn’t.
Protecting culture is a security issue. There can be no lasting peace without respect. Attacks against cultural heritage are attacks against the very identity of communities. They mark a symbolic and real step up in the escalation of a conflict, leading to devastation that can be irreparable and whose impact lasts long after the dust has settled.
Attacks on the past make reconciliation much harder in the future. They can hold societies back from turning the page toward peace.
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