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The right to protect our common heritage

Sep 02,2015 - Last updated at Sep 02,2015

I write to express my deep dismay with regards to the purported bombing of Palmyra’s Baal Shamin Temple and now the Temple of Bel, as well as to the murder of Khaled Al Asaad, so rightly described by Peter Frankopan as a “…barbaric insult to our common identity as human beings”.

Also to add my support to UNESCO’s statement: “Such acts are war crimes and their perpetrators must be accountable for their actions.”

The tragedies that started in the West Asian region with the destruction of the Bamiyan temples in Afghanistan are grim markers of the ongoing wilful destruction of what we sometimes refer to as the cradle of civilisations.

Numerous museums have been destroyed in Syria. Countless sites have disappeared, whether as casualties of conflict or of wanton greed, in most countries of the region, and I urge a revisiting of the concept of a regional heritage site, whilst there is still heritage to conserve.

Archaeology, as we know, is not about modern nationalism, and therefore it is not about war, but by definition concerns the regional commons that we share.

It is our shared heritage that informs an enlightened and disciplined response to the past and enables not only empathy for and understanding of peoples of other cultures and other times, but an evaluation of one’s own society in relation to others.

I would love to see a time when archaeological sites have a right to protection, when not only obscenities of war, killing, raping and maiming, but also the plundering of such sites is stipulated clearly to all and sundry as off limits.

I do not know whether we will ever come to that point, but it is a tragedy that the demise of this region that produced the vision of Akhenaten, the wisdom of Cyrus III and the enduring legacy of Hammurabi, continues unabated, in full view of the so-called civilised world, in the name of civilisation, in the name of promoting democracy, in the name of freedom.


El Hassan Bin Talal

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