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Palmyra: ISIS-Wanton Destruction

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On 4 October, 2015 Maamun Abdulkarim, the Syrian Director General of Antiquities and Museums, confirmed that the 2000 year old Arch of Triumph in the ancient city of Palmyra had been blown up by ISIS forces which control the city and the surrounding area.

He said “ It is now wanton destruction; their acts of vengeance are no longer ideologically driven because they are now blowing up buildings with no religious meaning.”

On 23 August, the temples of Baalshamien − Lord of the Heavens − and Bel, a goddess often associated with the moon, had been largely destroyed by ISIS (Daesh in Arabic). This iconoclastic approach to pre-Islamic faith and their material culture is the same as had led to the destruction of the large Buddha statues in Afghanistan – monuments that attested to the rich culture along the Silk Road.

Masmun Abdulkarim called upon the international community to find a way to save Palmyra. His cry comes from the heart as he is the nephew of the long-serving director of the archaeological sites of Palmyra, Dr Khaled al-Assad. On 18 August, Dr al-Assad had his neck cut and his body hung from a traffic light pole. The 83 year-old archaeologist had been held in seclusion (and probably tortured) for three weeks. In the public square of Palmyra an accusation was read out that he was the “director of pagan idols.”

From a distance, it is hard to know what elements within ISIS are responsible for these destructions and what are the motivations. ISIS has attracted fighters from a good number of countries, and it is impossible to know the nationalities within the chains of command. Many Syrians are proud of the vestiges of pre-Islamic civilizations, proof that the area was an important actor and in some ways a rival of Rome. Thus, it is not clear who wants to destroy works of art and cultural heritage. It is impossible to know at this stage if there are possibilities of rational discussion and good-faith negotiations with ISIS authorities to preserve cultural sites in Syria and Iraq.

Syria and Iraq are home to some of the world’s first cities, a complex and unique meeting of states, empires, and faiths. The protection of works of art and cultural heritage is an aspect of world law in which UNESCO is playing a leading role. There is also a need to build an awareness and then action on the part of non-governmental organizations, especially those in consultative status with the United Nations as well a cultural institutions. One of the difficulties with appeals to the “international community” is that the international community has no street address, and so appeals are rarely delivered. Too often, governments and people react after events rather than affirming a position from a deeper level of awareness and a legal basis in world law.

The protection of cultural heritage owes much to the vision and energy of the Russian artist Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947). Roerich’s desire to make known the artistic achievements of the past through archaeology, coupled with the need to preserve the landmarks of the past from destruction, led to his work for the Banner of Peace to preserve art and architecture in time of war. Roerich had seen the destruction brought by the First World War and the civil war which followed the 1917 Russian Revolution. He worked with French international lawyers to draft a treaty by which museums, churches and buildings of value would be preserved in time of war through the use of a symbol − three red circles representing past, present and future – a practice inspired by the red cross to protect medical personnel in times of conflict.

Roerich mobilized artists and intellectuals in the 1920s for the establishment of this Banner of Peace. Henry A. Wallace, the US secretary of Agriculture and later Vice-President of the United States, was an admirer of Roerich and helped to have an official treaty introducing the Banner of Peace − the Roerich Peace Pact − signed at the White House on 15 April 1935 by 21 States in a Pan-American Union ceremony. At the signing, Henry Wallace on behalf of the USA said “at no time has such an ideal been more needed. It is high time for the idealists who make the reality of tomorrow, to rally around such a symbol of international cultural unity. It is time that we appeal to that appreciation of beauty, science, education which runs across all national boundaries to strengthen all that we hold dear in our particular governments and customs. Its acceptance signifies the approach of a time when those who truly love their own nation will appreciate in addition the unique contribution of other nations and also do reverence to that common spiritual enterprise which draws together in one fellowship all artists, scientists, educators and the truly religious of whatever faith.”

As Nicholas Roerich said in a presentation of his Pact “The world is striving toward peace in many ways and everyone realizes in his heart that this constructive work is a true prophesy of the New Era. We deplore the loss of the libraries of Louvain and Oviedo and the irreplaceable beauty of the Cathedral of Rheims. We remember the beautiful treasures of private collections which were lost during world calamities. But we do not want to inscribe on these deeds any words of hatred. Let us simply say: Destroyed by human ignorance – re built by human hope.”

The Roerich Peace Pact is the world-law basis for an expression of concern from the governments of what was the Pan-American Union (In 1948 it was reestablished as the Organization of American States). There is also the Hague Convention of May 1954 which was signed by a wider geographic range of States. The Roerich Peace Pact and the Hague Convention are rarely cited by governments. Therefore, leadership must come from non-governmental organizations and the cultural sector to work unitedly and creatively to prevent the wanton destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage.

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Culture – the “X Factor” for Building Back Better after Conflict and Disasters

MD Staff

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Culture is the foundation upon which cities are built.  Cities are not just a collection of buildings but are people, their stories, and how they interact with each other through their cultural identity and sense of place.

As seen when one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most recognizable landmarks, the 16th-century Ottoman bridge Stari Most, or “Old Bridge”, was destroyed in 1993 during the Bosnian War, local communities demanded and prioritized a full rebuilding of the original bridge with a message loud and clear: “A person killed is one of us; the Bridge is all of us.”

Subsequently, international efforts supported by UNESCO and the World Bank helped rebuild the Old Bridge and restore the Old City of Mostar. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the restored Old Bridge and Old City of Mostar attracts tourists from around the world, creating jobs and revitalizing the local economy.

With the shared conviction that culture is critical to achieve sustainable urban development and to ensure effective post-crisis reconstruction and recovery processes, a new World Bank – UNESCO Position Paper, Culture in City Reconstruction and Recovery (CURE), was presented today at UNESCO Headquarters to propose an enhanced culture-based framework for city reconstruction and recovery that integrates both people-centered and place-based approaches.

Culture at the heart of people, spaces, and city recovery policies

Symbolizing the fundamental role culture plays in the recovery of a city’s physical, social, and economic fabrics from war and conflict, the story of Mostar is emblematic of today’s cities and communities worldwide.

“Culture is a key source of resilience, reconciliation, and social cohesion for cities and communities,” says Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture. “As the partnership of UNESCO and the World Bank across the world told us, including in Haiti, Mali, Bosnia and Herzegovina, preserving culture is critical for post-crisis recovery and reconstruction processes.

As the world continues to urbanize at an unprecedented speed and scale, cities are increasingly bearing the brunt of conflicts, crises, and disasters. Natural hazards such as storms, floods, and earthquakes are becoming more intense and frequent, with a disproportionate impact on urban areas. Meanwhile, armed conflicts are becoming increasingly complex, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and causing widespread destruction in cities. Both are having a devastating effect on culture.

How can countries and cities best prepare themselves to effectively address increasing crises generated by acute urban distress?

Local contexts may vary, but successful policies must be both place-based as well as people-centered. While place-based strategies prioritize the reconstruction of physical assets, people-centered strategies can strengthen community ownership and social inclusion, improve livability of the built environment, and accelerate the socioeconomic recovery of cities.

At both the foundation and intersection of people and places lies the “X factor” of culture. Through cultural heritage and creativity, culture is essential as both an asset and a tool for city reconstruction and recovery. Without prioritizing culture, reconstruction processes can induce additional disruption of physical and social fabrics.

The CURE Framework

The CURE Framework provides guiding principles that integrate place-based and people-centered approaches through culture into sustainable urban development policies – to help cities effectively address the impact of urban crises.

“The CURE Framework marks an important milestone in the ongoing partnership between the World Bank and UNESCO to advance sustainable urban development by investing in culture, urban regeneration, and resilience in an integrated manner,” says Sameh Wahba, World Bank Director for Urban and Territorial Development, Disaster Risk Management and Resilience.

The new framework and operational guidance takes policy-makers and practitioners through the planning, financing, and implementation process.  The CURE Framework highlights the foundational role of culture and emphasizes that effective city reconstruction and recovery programs require that culture be mainstreamed across the damage and needs assessments, as well as in policy and strategy setting, financing, and implementation. Finally, this collaborative effort recognizes that the integration of culture into post-crisis urban development and recovery can contribute substantially to making cities more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

The report draws upon global experience to demonstrate progress being made on the ground. Whether it is building a citizenship culture in Medellin, Colombia, to counterbalance the city’s violent past or fostering peace-building through transparency and community engagement in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, culture is the centerpiece.

Other experiences include post-earthquake cultural heritage conservation and recovery of the Old Town of Lijiang, China; promoting reconciliation through preservation of cultural heritage in Nicosia, Cyprus; and improving disaster risk management for the conservation of monuments in Bagan, Myanmar. In Iraq, the World Bank and UNESCO are preparing to collaborate on the rehabilitation of Mosul, building on the CURE Framework, as part of UNESCO’s “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative and the World Bank’s Emergency Operation for Development project.

According to the position paper, culture as the foundation for recovery often begins with the physical reconstruction of iconic landmarks such as the Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina. At other times, the collective act of rebuilding shared heritage is the impetus for community rebirth, such as the post-conflict reconstruction process of religious and cultural sites in Timbuktu, Mali. Furthermore, Tokyo, Japan, demonstrates how a cultural construct approach, coupled with innovative land readjustment mechanisms, results in a resilient city that flourishes against many considerable odds. In the report, examples of Seoul, Republic of Korea, and Beirut, Lebanon, demonstrate that recovery without culture must eventually be adjusted to achieve sustainable results.

By adopting the CURE Framework, national and local leaders will be able to place culture at the heart of their own city reconstruction and recovery processes in the face of crises – whether they are disasters, armed conflicts, or urban distress situations – to build inclusive, resilient, and sustainable cities and communities for all, which is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity at the local, regional, and national levels.

World Bank

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Kashmir’s plural ethos and communal harmony

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Peace is the foundation of prosperity among the nation states of the world and harmony forms the basic foundation of that enterprise.Man is the wonderful creation of God with an inherent sense of metaphysical and worldly belongings. The savage societies of the pre-historic times without any order and hierarchy of social organisation subsequently in the long timeframe paved way for the foundations of nation states and social organisations with a proper moral and a social order.

Although, the onslaught of the forces of globalisation  after post-modernism have added a new colour to the contours of social dynamics and set in motion a new wave of  societal organisations in the world, the case of Kashmir portrays a different tale of ever evolving, unaltered communal harmony. The only narrative that can ensue an atmosphere of peace and prosperity is that of the peaceful coexistence in the society in order to avert the crisis that makes inroads within a society from time to time.

Jammu and Kashmir is the only northern state of India with a longest tag of amity and brotherhood that has survived the currents of time and remains so in the contemporary times. Kashmir called as the land of rishis, saints, seers and sadhus is known for its communal harmony not only at the local level, but also the world over since times immemorial.

The sort of mysticism that the Sufi and Bhakti movements have lent to the cultural ethos of Kashmir is found much nowhere in the world besides Kashmir. The vale of Kashmir is full of various religious faiths who have survived the onslaught of the forces of globalisation with the changing signs of time. Muslims form the majority of the vale along with the religious people of Hindus, sikhs, Buddhists, Christians; etc.

Over the period of time, a sort of communal harmony has permeated the socio-cultural space of the society creating a congenial atmosphere of communitarian responsibility and social bond among the people of Kashmir surpassing religious lines of thought. This has not only added to the peace horizon of the land, but also created a sense of mutual trust and unified bond among the various communities of the land. In Kashmir, the communal harmony is deep rooted in the historical narratives.

The ethos of the Kashmir culture has time and again withstood the travails and tribulations of the time despite the currents of odds and challenges through the changing times. On a miniscule scale, there has been disturbance to the communal harmony of the state following the partition of the Sub-continent into India and Pakistan.

The exodus of the Hindus in nineties ascribed to the circumstances was a gory chapter in the chronicles of Jammu and Kashmir history. However, the return of the same has added a new threshold to the scene. The separatist leadership has time and again been vocal for their return as being part and parcel of our composite Kashmiri culture.

However, the time has served as the best healer of the same wounds and paved renewed ways for the cherishment of the communal harmony. The social harmony vindicates the notions of love and affection among different religions and is a blessing in disguise for the times.

Status

The state of Jammu and Kashmir reflects the true plural ethos of the secular India where people of different communities strive for the love and harmony, complementing the lives of each other on a day-to-day basis.

The festivals of one community are celebrated with gaiety and fervor by the other religious community, solidifying the ethos of multiculturalism and pluralism. Kashmir represents the thread of the confluence of communal harmony and brotherhood. The communal harmony of the state is neither instant nor accidental, but is a legacy of the past times till date that has permeated the psyche of the people and created a bond of unity in the socio-cultural milieu of the valley.

The recent installation of a church bell in a church at Srinagar after a span of 50 years by the Christian community with the support of the Sikh, Muslim and Hindu communities is a reminder of communal harmony that is deep rooted in the cultural milieu of the state.

The annual Hindu pilgrimage of the Amarnath yatra is the biggest and ever glaring example of the amity where old and young, men and women, etc all are hospitably treated with care and concern by the native Muslims and even carried on their shoulders towards the sacred place of cave through the difficult terrains and ways enroute to the cave.

In the town of Seer Hamdan, Anantnag, the legal heir of a deceased hindu Pandit namely Arzan Nath is a Muslim man namely Nissar Ahmad Wagay. Long ago, through the oral history of the people, have heard of him serving the former during ups and downs of life. Arzan Nath was a govt employee with no one to look after. Nissar Ahmad served him through the turbulent times and offered heart-catching services, which even a true descendent, could not offer. Nissar used to accompany Arzan Nath through thick and thin times of life. Having personally observed, both of them used to pay the dusk obeisance at the shrine of Hazrat Shahi Hamdan (R.A.). At the time of his death, it was none other than Nissar who performed the last services to the deceased.

Another Hindu Pandit Shadi Lal in the same town is a hope for the hopeless patients who turn up in large numbers at his Ayurvedic shop. The most important trait of the said person is that he cares and heals the patients of the whole South Kashmir. In other words, he has turned out to be a savior of the whole community. Come dawn, the people could be seen in large flocks outside his shop. People respect him out of reverence and reciprocate in great regard. Recently, after suffering from body disease, the final remedy to my ailment surfaced only after i took the herbal medicine of the pandit gee.

Challenges

The biggest obstacle and roadblock for the cherishment of the ideal of communal harmony in India is the fanaticism and extremism of fringe elements of the society. Since, all religions preach the message of peace and harmony, there can be no way to justify the claims of the demeaning and demoralizing of whatsoever religious community a society carries on. The biggest issue of the current and contemporary times is to contain the fringe elements of the society and let the people live in whatsoever capacity they live to carry on the cog in the wheel of the life.

The Few reasons in the path of communal harmony are:- Egoism, Lack of vision in Education, Lack of discipline, Lack of Cooperation, Social disorder, Casteism, Violence, Immorality ,Lack of faith in true religious values, deficit of good leadership, etc.

Education can be exploited as a powerful tool against these threats in the path of Communal Harmony. On his return from South Africa, Gandhiji envisioned for a unity among different communities of India and did his best in capacity for the realization of the same.

Last Word

In order to realise the goal of communal harmony, peace is the main pre-requisite and a necessary condition. Disharmony creates the forces of disarray and disruption, rendering harmony handicapped and ultimately towards a state of paralysis. To promote the ethic of communal harmony, it is imperative for all the stakeholders of the society to play a part in particular and work in sync for the realization of the same in general.

Youth as a main driving force and an asset of a nation can be the best ambassadors of peace and communal harmony. The only way to achieve that goal is the proper education of the youth across the spectrum of education spanning the whole level of education. This way youth can learn to make communal harmony as a way of living, rather than ethic in simpler terms. Besides, the govt of the state as well as the centre have a shared responsibility to promote communal harmony further.

Although, some ground work has been done, but, there are still miles to go before we sleep. The need of the hour is the further promotion of the communal harmony in the society. The recent publication of ‘Living in Harmony’ books for school going children by Oxford University Press (OUP) in India to foster values of peace and cooperation is a good attempt.

Also, the Social media and yellow journalism of the mainland India should try to cherish the instances of communitarian love and amity in Jammu and Kashmir. Instead of fomenting trouble to earn TRP’s and portrayal of the news which creates wedge in the bond of the society, the main urge should be to plead the cases of injustices and show a solidarity for the same. The problem of binary has to do away with.

Today, when the world is envisioning for the state of annihilation of crisis, the crisis in Kashmir takes a major sway with each passing day. The gory tales of widows, half-widows and orphans who have been rendered so after the loss of their dear ones has permeated the society deeply and created a multidimensional layer of unwithering pain and sorrow and a state of unabated alienation of the masses.

The question is not of the otherness of the other, but, of oneself in tandem with the other. Not a single day is devoid of pain, agony, and other tragedies. The question is the question of order. The major onus lies on the representatives of the people who represent the masses which have been rendered heart-broken and empty hoped. Let the seers of politics take on. The answer to all the problems can be cherished in unity within the broader perspectives of the humane approach by which peace can return to a treacherous path within the domain of the whole society. Government in J&K should understand and circumvent in Toto and try to dive from the static deficit of governance to good governance. After all, time in consonance with care serves as the best cosset.

 

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100 years of history: Historic hotel celebrates worker heritage

MD Staff

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If you’re the curious sort who enjoys exploring historic sites in your free time, you’re far from alone.

Because people are fascinated with learning more about how Americans lived, thought and dreamed in the past, many seek out such cultural enclaves anytime they travel. That helps explain the $762 million in revenues logged by U.S. historic sites in 2013, according to Statista. Other research predicts the revenues realized by U.S. museums and historic sites will more than double between 2018 and 2022.

“Historic places create connections to our heritage that help us understand our past, appreciate our triumphs and learn from our mistakes,” the National Trust for Historic Preservation recently noted. “Historic places help define and distinguish our communities by building a strong sense of identity. When you visit a historic site, you learn from their stories.”

One fascinating and culturally rich historic site you may not have visited is The American Club, a Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond resort hotel in the heartland of Kohler, Wisconsin. The iconic hotel owned by Kohler Co., global leader in plumbing, was built in 1918 as a dormitory for its immigrant workers. This year the multifaceted national attraction celebrates its centennial anniversary in grand style, with even more activities and offerings for its guests.

Year-long features of the celebration include a new history exhibit, guided tours and a new cast iron sculpture installation, “The Immigrant,” created by artist Stephen Paul Day. Day took part in the Arts/Industry program and was inspired by the company history. The four-star restaurant, The Immigrant, will offer a tasting menu featuring dishes from France, the Netherlands, Germany, Normandy, Denmark and Great Britain — the primary homelands of original Kohler employees. Group Director Lodging for Kohler Co., Christine Loose explains, “The concept of gracious living and creating a sense of belonging has always been important to the company and our heritage.”

With its trademark red brick, striking Tudor architecture and soaring roof peaks and slate tile, the landmark is recognized by both the Historic Hotels of America and the National Register of Historic Places.

Aside from the historic elements of The American Club, visitors and guests can partake of several other features offered in or near the surrounding resort known as Destination Kohler. Key attractions include the Forbes Five-Star Kohler Waters Spa; a lakeside boutique hotel known as the Inn at Woodlake; cycling and yoga studios; four championship golf courses (Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits, the latter hosting the revered 2020 Ryder Cup); 12 dining establishments, renovation inspiration at the Kohler Design Center, and daily factory tours led by retired Kohler employees spotlighting the evolution of day-to-day manufacturing operations.

Destination Kohler is an hour north of Milwaukee and 2.5 hours north of Chicago. Learn more about its many attractions at DestinationKohler.com.

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