The loss of history

Eckart Frahm
Eckart Frahm

By Eckart Frahm
Professor of Near Eastern languages & civilizations, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

The events of 9/11 have led to actions on the part of the U.S. that have thoroughly transformed the Middle East. Unfortunately, despite an enormous investment of lives and money, the region remains deeply troubled. The world’s attention has been focused, for good reasons, on the political and humanitarian catastrophes that have befallen it. But for someone like me who is studying the civilizations of the ancient Near East, a particularly devastating aspect of the crisis has been its disastrous effect on the region’s cultural heritage.

Since 2001, and especially after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, hundreds of archaeological sites in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen have been looted, scores of museums ransacked, and numerous culturally significant places damaged by military activity. The rise of ISIS has added to the mix ideologically motivated acts of deliberate destruction of ancient artifacts, cultural institutions, and shrines and churches.

The loss of history that has resulted from all of this — a history crucial for both Eastern and Western quests for where we come from — is deeply painful. It is all the more imperative that we continue our efforts to retrieve and document what has been stolen, help our academic colleagues in the Middle East take stock of the damage done, and encourage political allies in the region to do everything to minimize the risk of future destruction.

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