So argues Iason Athanasiadis in a wonderful opinion piece for Al Jazeera. The whole thing is worth your time, but here are two highlights. He begins by noting:
An underreported conflict is ravaging the Middle East. From sub-Saharan Africa to the Levant, an unholy alliance of profiteers, modernizers and fundamentalists is taking advantage of political instability to pillage and wreck the splendid remnants of civilization — artworks and artifacts, but also monuments, sites and buildings. Pounds upon pounds of these precious antiquities pile up in the warehouses of Cairo, Beirut and Istanbul, ready for export to glitzy auction houses. These are the ill-gotten spoils of the wars tearing through the so-called cradle of civilization since at least 2011.
And he concludes by arguing the looting and theft erases the future for the Middle East:
Memory is a notoriously malleable tool, subject to revisionist narratives and manipulation. If our physical heritage is destroyed, we will rely on memory all the more. That’s not necessarily a good thing when the education received by the majority of schoolchildren in the region is skewed toward dominant religious and ethnic narratives.
If those of us who inhabit the region allow the last palpable, visible traces of a multiethnic and multireligious heritage to be eradicated, we will also prevent future generations from developing a rich, nuanced regional and cultural identity. Erasing or selling off the past will make it even harder to reconstitute these deeply traumatized societies once the fighting ends.
The great Arab author Abdelrahman Mounif died in 2004 after witnessing Washington’s demonstration of “shock and awe” over Baghdad. His “Cities of Salt” quintet gloomily chronicled the process by which a culture is deracinated, surrenders to modernity and fades. Unsurprisingly, it was banned in the Gulf Arab states, which in the 40 years since the oil boom have become disturbing examples of populations dislocated from their past and living in an alienated hypermodern present, whether in Dubai, Doha, Riyadh or Kuwait City.