Systematic attacks on humanity’s very first civilizations have never been as extensive as in the last 20 years. Many years of war and conflict have severely eroded the cultural heritage of the Middle East.
– We judge that the looting that took place in the Middle East is the most extensive since World War II, says author Anders Rydell.
Illegal trade and looting
Destroy the false gods – Palmyra and the war against cultural heritage paints a portrait of the ideological and underlying reasons for the destruction, devastation and looting of humanity’s oldest high cultures.
– We don’t know how much has been destroyed, enormous areas of archaeological sites were ravaged. Iraq and Syria have the richest archaeological soil on the planet, says Anders Rydell.
Celebrated world hero
The frame story begins in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria with an 82-year-old museum director named Khaled al-Asaad. He became a celebrated world hero for his fight to protect the museum objects and the ancient city of Palmyra against IS siege during the 2015 Syrian civil war.
– He had the chance to escape when IS besieged the city, but he refused. IS decapitated him, photographed and spread the images. He became a kind of martyr for cultural heritage, says Jesper Huor.
Exploitation biggest threat
The biggest threat to cultural heritage comes from exploitation – cities destroyed in war must be rebuilt, which risks destroying the soil.
The idea of what cultural heritage is and what a museum can be was born in 18th century France. Attacks against the cultural heritage of the Middle East are thus as much an attack against Arab nation-states as against European ideals and values, say the authors.
– When we talk about the Islamic State, their destruction of temples in Palmyra, it was above all a ritual, symbolic destruction, explains Anders Rydell.
– And if we hadn’t thought that these temples or statues were important and classified as Unesco-labelled, they wouldn’t have been attacked, adds Jesper Huor.