Op-Ed: Syria will need its culture

The Temple of Baal Shamin, in kappier times
The Temple of Baal Shamin, in happier times Photo: Joseph Eid

In yesterday’s Houston Chronicle, I argued that Museums and arts patrons need to follow the example of the Menil Foundation and offer safe harbor for works of art:

Addressing the Islamic State’s destruction of the temple of Baal Shamin in the Syrian city of Palmyra, the director general of UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural body, was sharply succinct about the impact of this act. Irina Bokova called it “a new war crime and an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity.”

The ongoing destruction of historically significant sites, Bokova said in a statement Monday, threatened to erase the symbols of the cultural diversity that have shaped the region for nearly 2,000 years. “The art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, is a symbol of the complexity and wealth of the Syrian identity and history,” she said. “Extremists seek to destroy this diversity and richness.”

Indeed, 2,000 years ago, Palmyra was a multicultural mix of the best of the Persian and the Western Greco-Roman world. T.E. Lawrence called Palmyra the “Venice of the Sands” because the oasis city formed the center of a vast trade network – trade that facilitated a cultural flourishing that has been left largely intact.

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  1. Derek Fincham, Syria will need the culture that ISIS hopes to destroy, Houston Chronicle (Aug. 28, 2015), http://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/outlook/article/Fincham-Syria-will-need-the-culture-that-ISIS-6472801.php.

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