Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Cultural and Human Security

Threats to the security of cultural heritage in conflict and the political risk of repatriation have increased the power of cultural property in international affairs. International conventions for the protection and preservation of cultural heritage have created opportunities for emerging nations to have a voice in international affairs and have given rise to innovative solutions to disputes over possession of cultural property. The Penn Museum and the Dallas Museum of Art recently negotiated academic collaboration with Turkey in exchange for the return of disputed objects as long-term loans. At the same time, the symbolic power of cultural heritage is increasingly exploited in political violence and armed conflict.
A statue from the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos (Photo from wikipedia.org)Wanton destruction in Mali and Syria provide poignant, topical examples. As with resolution of cases for repatriation, threats to the security of cultural heritage in conflict would benefit from innovative policy that goes beyond sheer protection with strategic consideration of cultural heritage. The assertion of the interrelation of cultural heritage and international security suggests that artworks and monuments have strategic value. The value, in turn, creates opportunity to incorporate cultural heritage into policy in the interest of human security.
As a first step, nations have realized the practical significance of cultural heritage to national security. The emerging relationship between cultural property and human rights suggests the relevance of cultural heritage to human security. Turkey recently brought human rights law into a case for repatriation of antiquities from the British Museum, and political tension on the twenty-year anniversary of the destruction of the Babri Mashid in India illustrates the significance of cultural property in freedom of expression. Targeting of shrines in Timbuktu and burning of the souk in Aleppo undermine cultural identity and, thereby, compromise human security. In such cases, cultural and human security intertwine.

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