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Ed Webb

After 'Missteps' And Controversies, Museum Of The Bible Works To Clean Up Its Act : NPR - 0 views

  • When the Museum of the Bible opened three years ago, its founders aimed to engage a wider audience with the Bible and its thousands of years of history. But the museum's ambitious goals have been overshadowed by a series of scandals, still unfolding, over antiquities — acquired in a five-year international shopping spree — that have turned out to be looted or fake.
  • Steve Green, the evangelical president of the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts chain and the museum board's chairman, started acquiring artifacts in 2009 for what would become a $500 million museum on prime Washington, D.C., real estate. (Museum officials have long said the institution has no sectarian or evangelical agenda.)
  • Hobby Lobby paid a $3 million fine in a Justice Department settlement for not exercising due diligence in acquisitions. The judgment directed the forfeiture of 5,500 clay tablets and other illegally imported items to the Iraqi government.
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  • fresh controversies — over previously acquired objects, including Dead Sea Scroll fragments found to be fake and items from Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt — have continued to dog the museum
  • the museum is discussing the return to Iraq of another 8,106 pieces. Hobby Lobby acquired them so haphazardly for the museum, he says, that it may never be known how they came onto the market
  • ome of these items may have even come from Iraq's national museum, which was looted after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and troops failed to protect cultural sites
  • Hobby Lobby acquired the items, most of them clay tablets, between 2009 and 2014 from sources in the U.S., the U.K. and Israel. Another 5,000 items, Egyptian papyri and textiles, acquired during the same period, also lack proper documentation
  • between 5% and 10% of the roughly 8,000 objects now being returned to Iraq are fake
  • The Museum of the Bible's latest issue is over an ancient Jewish prayer book from Afghanistan. The museum says it was "legally exported" from the U.K. and "acquired in good faith" with provenance information dating from the 1950s. Now, Kloha says, museum staff believe the book was taken out of Afghanistan after 1998 — decades after a UNESCO convention made it illegal to export antiquities without government approval. The Taliban, which controls many parts of the country today, is accused of widespread trafficking in antiquities.
  • The U.S. government's 2017 complaint against Hobby Lobby notes that Green was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2010 while carrying a $1 million Bible without a customs declaration. The following year, U.S. Customs agents seized misidentified cuneiform tablets being shipped to Hobby Lobby from the United Arab Emirates.
  • the museum's reputation among scholars has made it difficult to arrange loans of works from other institutions
  • Iraqi's ambassador to the U.S., Fareed Yasseen, tells NPR that he would personally like to see Iraqi artifacts exposed to as wide an audience as possible. "To me, the Elgin Marbles should be in Greece, not in the British Museum, because a lot of people will see them in Greece," he says. "But if you look at the massive winged bulls [from ancient Iraq] you have in the British Museum ... or the Louvre, I mean honestly, if they were in Iraq, so few people would go there to see them. To be fair, looking at the issue as a world citizen, if you will, these are part of all our heritage. Anybody who has read the Bible can relate, right?"
Erin Gold

Glimpse inside the Guggenheim - The National Newspaper - 0 views

  • The Guggenheim: The Making of a Museum, an exhibition hosted by the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) at the Emirates Palace opens tonight with a selection of 50 of the most important paintings from the Guggenheim New York collection.
  • The Guggenheim: The Making of a Museum, an exhibition hosted by the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) at the Emirates Palace opens tonight with a selection of 50 of the most important paintings from the Guggenheim New York collection.
  • The Guggenheim: The Making of a Museum, an exhibition hosted by the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) at the Emirates Palace opens tonight with a selection of 50 of the most important paintings from the Guggenheim New York collection.
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  • he Guggenheim: The Making of a Museum, an exhibition hosted by the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) at the Emirates Palace opens tonight with a selection of 50 of the most important paintings from the Guggenheim New York collection.
  • The Guggenheim: The Making of a Museum, an exhibition hosted by the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) at the Emirates Palace opens tonight with a selection of 50 of the most important paintings from the Guggenheim New York collection.
  • he Guggenheim: The Making of a Museum, an exhibition hosted by the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) at the Emirates Palace opens tonight with a selection of 50 of the most important paintings from the Guggenheim New York collection.
  • Investment
  • he Guggenheim: The Making of a Museum, an exhibition hosted by the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) at the Emirates Palace opens tonight with a selection of 50 of the most important paintings from the Guggenheim New York collection.
  • he Guggenheim: The Making of a Museum, an exhibition hosted by the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) at the Emirates Palace opens tonight with a selection of 50 of the most important paintings from the Guggenheim New York collection.
  • The Guggenheim: The Making of a Museum, an exhibition hosted by the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) at the Emirates Palace opens tonight with a selection of 50 of the most important paintings from the Guggenheim New York collection.
  • Taking the viewer on a journey from the impressionist works of late 19th century from Paul Cezanne and Henri Matisse through to the post-war abstract paintings from Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko and beyond to the mid-1960s, the show is intended to to tell the story of how the original museum was founded
  • “We have to admit that the eye is a muscle and the more it is used, the stronger it gets. We are aware that not everyone in the [Abu Dhabi] audience has a long history of looking at this type of art so we want to introduce them gently.”
  • This would be the first in a series of exhibitions from the Guggenheim Foundation leading up to the opening in 2013.
Ed Webb

Our Oligarch - 0 views

  • Abramovich is perhaps the most visible of the “oligarchs” surrounding Putin, who are widely perceived as extensions of the Russian president and keepers of a vast fortune that is effectively under the Kremlin’s control. Much of this wealth was extracted from Russia’s enormous energy and mineral resources, and is now stashed in secret bank accounts in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, in empty mansions and condos from London to Manhattan to Miami, and in yachts and private jets on the French Riviera.
  • as much as 60% of Russia’s GDP is offshore
  • The reserved, gray-bearded Abramovich is notoriously litigious toward critics who seek to detail his close ties to Putin. Last year, he successfully sued the British journalist Catherine Belton, who claimed in her 2020 book Putin’s People that the Russian president dictated Abramovich’s major purchases, including his decision to buy Chelsea. He also extracted an apology from a British newspaper for calling him a “bag carrier” for the Russian president.
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  • Abramovich—who, like many of the most prominent Russian oligarchs, is Jewish—has for years been a prolific donor to Jewish philanthropies. He has given half a billion dollars to Jewish charities over the past two decades, sending money linked to Putin’s kleptocratic regime circulating through Jewish institutions worldwide
  • Among other things, he has profoundly influenced Jewish life on three continents, developing deep financial ties with major communal institutions. He is partly responsible for the preeminent role played by Chabad in the religious life of post-Soviet Russia, for the growth of major Jewish museums from Russia to Israel, for a raft of anti-antisemitism programming involving leading American and British Jewish organizations, and for the expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem
  • the Jewish world is forced to reckon with its long embrace of Abramovich, and with the moral costs of accepting his money
  • Certain Soviet Jews of Abramovich’s generation found themselves at the forefront of an emerging market economy. Concentrated in white collar professions but systematically excluded from desirable posts and from the top ranks of the Communist Party, they were unusually prepared—and, perhaps, motivated—to find legal and semi-legal points of entry into the tightly-regulated commerce between the Soviet Union and the West. This helps explain why, as the historian Yuri Slezkine writes in The Jewish Century, six of the seven top oligarchs of 1990s Russia (Petr Aven, Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Fridman, Vladimir Gusinsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and Alexander Smolensky) were ethnic Jews.
  • Boris Yeltsin soon initiated the firesale privatization of state-controlled industries at the urging of Washington and the IMF—a reckless transition from a command economy to a capitalist one that drove millions of Russians into poverty
  • the Yeltsin administration implemented its infamous loans-for-shares program, selling off key state industries in rigged auctions to Russia’s new business elite for a fraction of their real value in order to stabilize the state’s finances in the short term. Berezovsky and Abramovich gained ownership stakes in Sibneft, one of the world’s largest energy companies, and became instant billionaires.
  • In 1996, the handful of leading oligarchs pooled their financial resources—and directed their media companies’ coverage—to reelect the deeply unpopular Yeltsin over his Communist challenger, Gennady Zyuganov, whose platform of re-nationalizing industries terrified both the Russian and Western business classes
  • Fearing that it was unsustainable for a small group of mostly Jewish billionaires to prop up an ailing, visibly alcoholic president—especially after the ruble collapsed in 1998, dragging down a generation’s living standards and initiating a hunt for scapegoats—Berezovsky spearheaded an effort the following year to replace Yeltsin with a young, healthy, disciplined, and then-obscure former KGB officer named Vladimir Putin. It was a decision he would come to regret.
  • wealth so easily acquired could just as easily be taken away. In 2001, Putin hounded Berezovsky and Gusinsky—whose TV networks had criticized the president’s mishandling of a naval disaster—with criminal indictments for tax fraud, forcing them to sell their media and energy holdings at a fraction of their true cost. As a result, Abramovich, who had never challenged Putin, acquired control of Sibneft, while Berezovsky fled to the United Kingdom and Gusinsky departed for Spain and then Israel. Abramovich again came out ahead in 2003, when the oligarch Khodorkovsky was sent to a Siberian prison on tax charges after criticizing Putin for corruption, leaving his assets in the energy sector to be redistributed among those on good terms with the president.
  • “I don’t think there is a percent of independence in Abramovich,” said Roman Borisovich, a Luxembourg-based Russian banker turned anti-corruption activist who once encountered Abramovich through Berezovsky in the 1990s. “For Abramovich to stay alive, he had to turn against his master [Berezovsky], which is what he did, and he has served Putin handsomely ever since.”
  • Whereas in the Yeltsin era, the term identified a system dominated by truly independent tycoons, “Putin’s top priority when he came to power was to break that system, replacing it with a system of concentrated power in which men who are inaccurately referred to as oligarchs now have only as much access to wealth as Putin allows them to have,”
  • Even as he built up his credibility with Putin, he joined many of his fellow oligarchs in stashing his billions in Western financial institutions, which proved eager to assist. “Elites in the post-Soviet space are constantly looking to move their assets and wealth into rule-of-law jurisdictions, which generally means Western countries like the US or UK,”
  • In 2008, Berezovsky sued his former protege over his confiscated Sibneft shares; then, in 2012, seven months after a judge rejected all of his claims, Berezovsky died in his London home in an apparent suicide. Some former associates believe he might have been murdered
  • In 2017, BuzzFeed reported that US spy agencies suspect Russian involvement in as many as 14 mysterious deaths in Britain over the previous decade, including Berezovsky’s. In the wake of the 2018 poisoning of the defected double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, British intelligence services became increasingly wary of wealthy expats with close ties to the Kremlin. Diplomatic strain stymied Abramovich’s effort to acquire a Tier 1 British visa, which would have enabled him to stay in the country for 40 months.
  • “No one forced the British or American real estate industries to toss their doors open to as much illicit wealth as they could find, or the state of Delaware to craft the world’s greatest anonymous shell company services,” said Michel. “Western policymakers crafted all of the policies that these oligarchs are now taking advantage of.”
  • Abramovich also safeguarded a significant part of his fortune in the US, especially during his third marriage to the Russian American socialite and fashion designer Dasha Zhukova. Even after their 2018 divorce, Abramovich began the process of converting three adjacent townhouses on Manhattan’s Upper East Side into what will eventually become the largest home in the city, an “urban castle” valued at $180 million—making him one of the many wealthy Russians sheltering assets in New York’s booming and conveniently opaque real estate sector. (The mansion is intended for Zhukova and their two young children; Abramovich also has five children from his second marriage based primarily in the UK.) He also owns at least two homes in Aspen, Colorado, a gathering place of the global elite.
  • the oligarchs are now credibly threatened with exile from the West. Countries like France and Germany have already begun confiscating yachts owned by select Russian officials. And although the UK is still struggling to come up with a legal basis for following suit, leading politicians like Labour Leader Keir Starmer are urging direct sanctions against Abramovich. “Abramovich’s reputation has finally collapsed, along with the other supposedly apolitical oligarchs,” Michel said four days after Russia invaded Ukraine. “There’s no recovery from this. This is a titanic shift in terms of how these oligarchs can operate.”
  • Israel has been more hesitant to hold him to account.
  • In 2018, Abramovich acquired Israeli citizenship through the law of return, immediately becoming the second-wealthiest Israeli, behind Miriam Adelson. As a new Israeli citizen, he joined several dozen Russian Jewish oligarchs who have sought citizenship or residency in the Jewish state—a group that includes Fridman, Gusinsky, and the late Berezovsky. Since 2015, Abramovich has owned and sometimes lived in the 19th-century Varsano hotel in Tel Aviv’s trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood, and in 2020 he purchased a mansion in Herzliya for $65 million—the most expensive real estate deal in the country’s history
  • As an Israeli passport holder, Abramovich is eligible to visit the UK for six months at a time and is exempt from paying taxes in Israel on his overseas income for the first decade of his residency
  • Given his increasingly precarious geopolitical position, Jewishness has become Abramovich’s identity of last resort—and Jewish philanthropic giving has provided him with an air of legitimacy not only in Israel but throughout the Jewish world. Abramovich and his fellow oligarchs “need to spend some money to launder their reputations,” said Borisovich, the anti-corruption activist. “They cannot be seen as Putin’s agents of influence; they need to be seen as independent businessmen. So if they can exploit Jewish philanthropy or give money to Oxford or the Tate Gallery, that’s the cost of doing business.”
  • A 2017 article in Politico, which identified Abramovich and Leviev as “Chabad’s biggest patrons worldwide,” also referred to Lazar as “Putin’s rabbi.” Lazar has often run interference for the Russian president—for instance, by defending his initial crackdown on oligarchs like Gusinsky as not motivated by antisemitism, or by praising Russia as safe for Jews under his governance. (The researcher noted that Putin has also cultivated prominent loyalists in other Russian religious communities, including the Orthodox Church and Islam.)
  • Abramovich also significantly funded the construction of the $50 million Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, which opened in 2012 (and to which Putin pledged to donate a month of his presidential salary). In a 2016 article in The Forward, the scholar Olga Gershenson suggested that the museum’s narrative bordered on propaganda, framing Jews as “a model Russian minority” and “glorifying and mourning . . . without raising more controversial and relevant questions that would require the viewer to come to terms with a nation’s difficult past.”
  • “It concentrates on the Soviet victory over the Nazis, and then it ends by saying that Jews in Putin’s Russia are all good and content.”
  • “Say No to Antisemitism” has brought together Chelsea players and management with many top Jewish groups; the currents heads of the ADL, the WJC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and the Holocaust Educational Trust, among others, are all listed on its steering committee. The campaign is at least in part intended to address the antisemitism of some Chelsea fans, who have been known to shout “Yid!” and hiss in imitation of gas chambers when taunting fans of the rival club Tottenham, which has a historically Jewish fan base that proudly refers to itself as “the Yid Army.” Last November, Israeli President Isaac Herzog described the campaign as “a shining example of how sports can be a force for good and tolerance.”
  • Abramovich is also one of the primary benefactors of a Holocaust museum that opened in Porto last May. As of last year, Abramovich is a newly minted citizen of Portugal (and by extension, the European Union), which offers such recognition to anyone who can prove Sephardic ancestry dating back before the Portuguese expulsion of Jews in 1496.
  • Berel Rosenberg, a representative of the museum, denied that Abramovich had given the Porto Jewish community any money besides a €250 fee for Sephardic certification; regarding reports to the contrary, he alleged that “lies were published by antisemites and corrupt journalists.” However, Porto’s Jewish community does acknowledge that Abramovich has donated money to projects honoring the legacy of Portuguese Sephardic Jews in Hamburg, and he has been identified as an honorary member of Chabad Portugal and B’nai B’rith International Portugal due to his philanthropic activities in the country.
  • Abramovich has made a $30 million donation for a nanotechnology research center at Tel Aviv University; funded a football-focused “leadership training program” for Arab and Jewish children; and supported KKL-JNF’s tree-planting campaign in the southern Negev, which is dedicated to Lithuanian victims of the Holocaust—and which has drawn opposition from local Bedouin communities who view it as a land grab.
  • he has kept his support for Israeli settlements well-hidden
  • Abramovich has used front companies registered in the British Virgin Islands to donate more than $100 million to a right-wing Israeli organization called the Ir David Foundation, commonly known as Elad, which has worked since the 1980s to move Jewish settlers into occupied East Jerusalem. Elad also controls an archeological park and major tourist site called City of David, which it has leveraged in its efforts to “Judaize” the area, including by seizing Palestinian homes in the surrounding neighborhood of Silwan and digging under some to make them uninhabitable.
  • “In order for settlers to take over Palestinian homes, they need a lot of money,” said Hagit Ofran, co-director of the Settlement Watch project at the Israeli organization Peace Now, “both to take advantage of poor Palestinians for the actual purchases, and then for the long and expensive legal struggle that follows, and that can bankrupt Palestinian families. The money is crucial.” Of Abramovich’s support for Elad, she added, “That’s a lot from one source; I assume that if you give such a big donation, you know what it is for.”
  • Just two days before Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, it was reported that Abramovich is donating tens of millions of dollars to Yad Vashem, the global Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem
  • Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan joined the heads of multiple Israeli charitable organizations in urging the US not to sanction Abramovich. The letter was also signed by Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau and representatives of Sheba Medical Center, Tel Aviv University, and Elad
  • Oleg Deripaska and Mikhail Fridman, were already calling for peace negotiations just three days after the invasion. (Fridman and Deripaska are also major Jewish philanthropists, as are other Russian oligarchs including Petr Aven, Yuri Milner, and Viktor Vekselberg. All of them now face global scrutiny.)
  • Even before he announced he would be setting up a charity to help victims in Ukraine, members of Abramovich’s family were quick to distance themselves from the war: A contemporary art museum in Moscow co-founded by Abramovich and Zhukova has announced that it will halt all new exhibitions in protest of the war. Abramovich’s 27-year-old daughter Sofia, who lives in London, posted a message on her popular Instagram account that read, “The biggest and most successful lie of the Kremlin’s propaganda is that most Russians stand with Putin.”
  • Abramovich and others have spent more than two decades loyally serving and profiting off Putin’s corrupt and violent regime—one that has been accused of murdering and jailing journalists and political dissidents and of committing war crimes from Chechnya to Syria. And for much of that time, Jewish institutions worldwide have been more than happy to take money from Abramovich and his peers
  • longstanding philanthropic ties may affect the Jewish communal world’s willingness to hold Russia accountable for its violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty
  • “I think the view of much of Jewish philanthropic leadership, right and left, conservative and liberal, has been the bottom line: If the purposes for which the philanthropy is given are positive, humane, holy, and seen to strengthen both the Jewish community and the whole of society, then to sit and analyze whether the donor was exploitive or not, and whether this was kosher or not, would be hugely diverting, amazingly complicated, and divisive.”
  • Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, acknowledged the difficulty of making ethical calls about donors, but argued that the attempt is still necessary. “In philanthropy, nearly all money is tainted, either because it was acquired by exploiting workers, by harming the environment, by selling harmful products, or by taking advantage of systems that benefit the wealthy to the detriment of others. That said, we can’t throw up our hands and say that we can either take no money or all money; there have to be red lines,” she said.
  • Berman, the scholar of Jewish philanthropy, agrees. “It is tempting to say all money is fungible, so where it came from does not or cannot matter,” she said. “But no matter how much we might want to launder the money, wash it clean of its past and its connections to systems of power, the very act of doing so is an erasure, an act of historical revisionism. Even worse, it can actually participate in bolstering harmful systems of power, often by deterring institutions reliant on that money from holding a person or system to account.”
Ed Webb

British archaeology falls prey to Turkey's nationalist drive - 0 views

  • Turkish authorities have seized possession of the country’s oldest and richest archaeobotanical and modern seed collections from the British Institute at Ankara, one of the most highly regarded foreign research institutes in Turkey, particularly in the field of archaeology. The move has sounded alarm bells among the foreign research community and is seen as part of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s wider xenophobia-tinged campaign to inject Islamic nationalism into all aspects of Turkish life.
  • “staff from the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, the General Directorate for Museums and Heritage from the Ministry of Culture and the Turkish Presidency took away 108 boxes of archaeobotanical specimens and 4 cupboards comprising the modern seed reference collections” to depots in a pair of government-run museums in Ankara. The institute’s request for extra time “to minimize the risk of damage or loss to the material was refused.”
  • Coming on the heels of the controversial conversions of the Hagia Sophia and Chora Museum into full service mosques this summer, the seizure has left the research community in a state of shock, sources familiar with the affair said.
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  • The formal justification for the raid was based on a decree issued on Sept. 3, 2019. It authorizes the government to assume control of local plants and seeds and to regulate their production and sales.
  • Turkey’s first lady Emine Erdogan, a passionate advocate of herbal and organic food products, introduced the so-called “Ata Tohum” or “Ancestral Seed” project that envisages “agriculture as the key to our national sovereignty.” The scheme is aimed at collecting and storing genetically unmodified seeds from local farmers and to reproduce and plant them so as to grow “fully indigenous” aliments.
  • “Seeds” he intoned, “are the foundation of our national security.”
  • The professor railed against assorted Westerners who had plundered Anatolia’s botanical wealth and carried it back home.
  • Ata Tohum is thought to be the brainchild of Ibrahim Adnan Saracoglu, an Austrian-trained biochemist.  He is among Erdogan’s ever expanding legion of advisers. The 71-year old has written academic tracts about how broccoli consumption can prevent prostatitis. He was with the first lady at the Sept. 5 Ata Tohum event.
  • a “classic nationalist move to dig deeper and deeper into the past for justification of the [nationalist] policies that you are currently putting in place.”
  • parallels with the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, who “connected Turkish civilization back to the Phrygians and the Hittites” as part of his nation-building project.
  • “You have these genetic ties to the land through these seeds as proof that our civilization belongs here and has been here since time immemorial. To want to have these [seeds] in the first place is part of the nationalist framework.”
  • The ultimate fate of the British Institute’s seeds remains a mystery. It’s just as unclear what practical purpose they will serve.
  • “the archaeology seeds are essentially charcoal, dead and inert.” As for the modern reference collection “we are talking about stuff that was collected 25 to 50 years ago and is not going to be able to germinate.”
  • “But in order to get genomic information you only need one or two grains, not the whole collection. What [Turkish authorities] have done is they’ve removed this research resource from the wider Turkish and international community of researchers. It was a nice, small research facility, open to anyone who wanted to use it. Now it’s all gone,”
Ed Webb

*: Mleeta, The Hezbollah Resistance Museum - 4 views

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    History really matters in the region, and all political actors attempt to manipulate and exploit it, which is just one reason why it matters for us to try to get it right and analyze as dispassionately as possible. I'd like to offer a fieldtrip to check out this museum, and a few like it elsewhere in the region, but I don't see that happening....
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    that would be an epic fieldtrip; sign me up.
Ed Webb

Mystery of the stones: How Lebanon's Baalbek ruins are a site for the gods | Middle Eas... - 0 views

  • Baalbek’s 300 years of Roman rule overshadow its 10,000 years of continuous settlement, its prehistoric origins and its role as the wellspring of the valley’s two major water sources – an epicentre of life and fertility.  Its name is formed from two words: Baal, the Semitic lord of the gods and precursor to Zeus and Jupiter; and nebek, the Aramaeic word for sources. The Romans knew it by its Greek name, Heliopolis, meaning "city of the sun".
  • “Baalbek goes back to the beginning of when man settles and there are not that many that have continuously been settled and had a living history,” says Mahlouji, an independent advisor to the British Museum and London-based curator. “It should not be reduced to the folly of a moment in history when those massive Roman temples were built, and to then embed the story of those epic and awe-inspiring stone structures.” 
  • These foundation stones, particularly those of the Trilithon, are one of the great mysteries of the ancient world. It’s unknown how these heavy blocks - more than 10 times the weight of the individual blocks which make up the Great Pyramid at Giza - were lifted into place. The uphill slant of the mound rules out carts, levers and pulleys.
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  • In the 17th century, the West began its colonial expansion into the region - and Baalbek’s Roman complex was ripe for centuries of orientalist appropriation
  • The economic and political growth of Europe occurred alongside what became a rapid decline of Ottoman power in the 19th century, Mahlouji explains. “The Europeans expand their interests in the roots of their own civilization, beyond the glory of Rome and Greece, into the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia, and by extension claim their own roots beyond Europe."  
  • “They [Europeans] discover the Indo-European languages, which link to Asia, and their notion of Europe expands into Persian, Egyptian, Phoenician,"
  • In 1920, the French Mandate decreed the Bekaa was officially Lebanese territory and the grand Roman complex became the emblem of the new nation. Its pillars appeared on stamps, banknotes and postcards
  • In 2019, the divide between the needs of the ancient site and those of modern urban residents still exists, if less pronounced than in the past.
  • visitors come to the ruins at the north-western edge of the city, yet don’t enter the city proper
  • The Lebanese government has focused on Heliopolis, adding large parking lots and making the site more accessible - but it comes at the cost of the rest of the city’s attractions. 
  • “What needs to be done is to stop the segregation between what is archaeological, and controlled by the Tourism Ministry, and the living city,” Mahlouji explains. “They’re creating wider roads leading to it, fencing off and making a museum city that is detached from the living city.”  
Ed Webb

Exploring the influence of Muslim culture on the West | Arts & Culture | Al Jazeera - 0 views

  • Art from the Middle East is outgrowing its "Orientalist" straitjacket.
  • a major exhibition in London's British Museum called Inspired by the East, that explores the significant - yet often unacknowledged - influence of Eastern culture on the West
  • "People might forget that there has been an exchange between East and West for centuries, much longer than we think and while, of course, some of that has been warfare, a lot of it has been diplomatic relations and artistic exchange. "Looking at this through an artistic medium and showing how there has been this interest in the 'other' from both directions over the years shows that there has been an ongoing dialogue."
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  • Islamic influence in European design endures. "We still see Islamic arches and patterns incorporated into architecture and perhaps we see them so often they seem part of our currency and we have forgotten their sources - whereas in the 19th century they would have seemed far more unusual. "One of the things that is exciting about this exhibition is that it is highlighting that important contribution to art, culture, science and technology made by the Islamic world."
  • Orientalist scenes often evoked a tranquil, settled way of life that contrasted to the disruptive industrialisation in Europe and America.
  • The Islamic faith and figures at prayer became a marker of difference, and the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca was a recurrent theme - as was the harem, with which male European artists took considerable erotic licence.
  • Orientalism was a two-way process - and during the 19th and early 20th centuries Eastern artists began to embrace it in their own distinctive way.
  • "For many years, until very recently, in art historical circles the photography of the Middle East played a very minor role. There was absolutely no knowledge of this body of information. "Soon after the invention of the daguerreotype it was the French who went to Egypt to take photographs of Egyptian antiquity, and very soon there was a massive archive of photography of the region."
  • "It inevitably takes time for these academic ideas to filter into a wider 'popular' level of discourse, but I think it is happening and that exhibitions, like this one, are an important part of bringing these debates to wider and more varied audiences."
Ed Webb

Cultural heritage and violence in the Middle East | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • According to reports of the activist Facebook group Le patrimoine archéologique syrien en danger, all six UNESCO World Heritage sites in Syria have been damaged, major museum collections at Homs and Hama have been looted, and dozens of ancient tells have been obliterated by shelling. In Iraq, recent media stories recount ISIS fighters’ use of antiquities to raise revenues. So-called blood antiquities function as cash-cows, fetching high prices from unscrupulous collectors and netting a handsome cut for ISIS. As devastating as this news is, Syria and Iraq are simply additional chapters in the long-running story wherein conflict is characterised by a two-fold assault on humanity: human bodies themselves as well as the objects and sites that people create and infuse with cultural meaning.
  • So-called blood antiquities function as cash-cows, fetching high prices from unscrupulous collectors and netting a handsome cut for ISIS.
  • Current scholarly discussion on the Armenian genocide, however, focuses almost exclusively on the human destruction, not taking into consideration the systematic annihilation of Armenian sites and monuments that has taken place since then
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  • The destruction of human communities is incomplete without cultural violence. This was the conclusion of lawyer and human rights advocate Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-born jurist who coined the term “genocide” and fought successfully for its recognition by international legal bodies as a crime. In Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944), he argued: By ‘genocide’ we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group…[It signifies] a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. (Lemkin 1944: 80) Among the “essential foundations” of the life of human societies, Lemkin argued, were cultural sites, objects, and practices. The Holocaust galvanised his human rights work, but it was the tragic case of Turkish Armenians during the beginning decades of the twentieth century that served as the basis for Lemkin’s theory of genocide.
  • Also significant in this context was the systematic replacement of Armenian place names (on streets, buildings, neighbourhoods, towns, and villages) with Turkish names. The erasure of Armenians from collective memory was completed during the Turkish Republic; in their history textbooks, Turkish children hear nothing about Armenian culture or learn simply that they were enemies of the Turks.
  • the Turkish state and its governments have systematically removed all markers of the Armenians’ civilisation
  • This is cultural death, and it is especially dangerous because it legitimates the denial of diversity by authoritarian states and their societies.
  • Historical records document previous erasures of peoples and their culture: the Native Americans and First Nations of north America; the Mayas and Aztecs of Mesoamerica; and the Roman destruction of Carthage (north Africa), which some scholars point to as the earliest recorded organised genocide.
  • the harrowing plight of Syrian journalist Ali Mahmoud Othman, co-founder of Le patrimoine archéologique syrien en danger. Othman was arrested by government forces in March 2012 and has not been heard of since his televised “confession” in May 2012
  • Recurring Internet images of ISIS fighters beheading western men obscure the equally outrageous and horrific acts of sexual violence against women, torture of children, and destruction of homes, markets, churches, Shi’a mosques, and ancient monuments. All of this constitutes the challenging environment in which cultural activists must do their work.
  • Lemkin’s teachings still have something to say to us today: without monuments and cultural objects, social groups are atomised into disaffected, soulless individuals
Ed Webb

Tunis Greets an Ottoman-Era History Long Banished by Its Dictators - NYTimes.com - 1 views

  • Dictatorships have a way of manipulating historical narratives. So alongside any of the most pressing issues of the day, the past, too, is in play.The struggle to shape the past, and give it new authenticity, can be witnessed all around the Tunisian capital.Last summer, the Tunisian government restored a statue of Habib Bourguiba, the founder and first president of the republic, to its original place on the capital’s main avenue.
  • Mr. Bourguiba’s statue had replaced a humiliating symbol of colonialism: an image of the colonialist politician Jules Ferry with a Tunisian woman at his feet proffering an olive branch, he reminded Tunisians.“That used to be the symbol of colonialism, and Bourguiba is the symbol of freedom, of independence and of the modern state,” he said at the unveiling.
  • “Usually history is written by the victors, but this is the opposite,” said Adel Maizi, the president for preservation of memory at the commission. “These testimonies will reveal the truth.”
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  • “Dictatorship always tries to keep things secret,” he explained. “These kinds of testimonies are against forgetting. They will preserve memory for the country and serve as a way to guard such things happening in the future.”
  • Ridha Moumni, a curator of the exhibit, insists it is not political, but a matter of history. Yet he is displaying events that Tunisia’s dictators sought to suppress.“We have a very rich heritage that no one knew about,” Mr. Moumni said. “Our goal was to show that Tunisian modernity did not start with independence or colonization.”
  • it provides a history lesson on the significant reforms of the era — the founding of the army, the drafting of a constitution and development of diplomatic relations — that helped forge a nation
  • Among the original documents on display, one abolished slavery in 1846 — before the United States did so
  • a constitution drafted in 1860 that recognizes the rights of all citizens, including Christian and Jewish minorities, and census registers, in Hebrew and Arabic, belonging to Tunisia’s ancient Jewish community
  • Another discovery is the diversity of Tunisia’s leaders — from the Christian foreign minister, Giuseppe Raffo, to a Circassian general, Kheireddine Pasha, and the former slave Mustapha Khaznadar, who married into the royal family and rose to become the bey himself.
Alana Garvin

Egypt cuts links with Louvre over 'stolen' artefacts | World news | The Guardian - 0 views

  • The Egyptian government said today that its antiquities department had severed ties with the Louvre in Paris because it had refused to return "stolen" artefacts. The Louvre has said it is open to returning the four reliefs from the tomb of the noble Tetaki, though it is awaiting a decision from a committee of experts and final approval from the culture ministry. The ruling means that no archaeological expeditions connected to the Louvre will be allowed to work in Egypt. Among the Supreme Council of Antiquities' other targets is the Rosetta Stone, pictured, which is in the British Museum.
Ed Webb

Kuwaiti activists targeted under GCC security pact - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middl... - 0 views

  • Kuwaiti civil society is one of the most vibrant in the Gulf, hence its early rejection of the GCC Internal Security Pact, which was interpreted as yet another attempt to silence dissent in their own country. Many Kuwaiti activists resented Saudi hegemony, which the pact is meant to strengthen not only in the small emirate but the other ones, too. It is evident now that criticizing Saudi Arabia is taboo, the violation of which definitely leads to perhaps several years in prison. Kuwaiti apprehensions were not unfounded but they couldn't do much about the treaty that was ratified by their parliament. Several opposition groups boycotted the elections that eventually produced a docile body. On the other side of the border, there was no debate or controversy related to the pact as Saudis are completely disenfranchised. The only consultative council they have is appointed by the king and has no power to discuss security pacts with the GCC or other countries.
  • there is more to the recent detentions at the request of Saudi Arabia than simply freedom of speech. Regardless of their ideological affiliations, all the detainees belong to tribes that have historically lived between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Also all the detainees have gone beyond their Bedouin way of life to acquire education, political visions and determination to be part of states established when they were lacking skills. The governments of most GCC countries prefer the tribal Bedouin population to remain as part of folklore. Their ancient tents, camels and coffee pots are a reminder of a pure Arabian heritage, lost under the pressure of globalization, foreign labor populations and the ethnic diversity of the coastal states. So Gulf leaders, including the Kuwaitis and Saudis, prefer the Bedouin to be in the museum and the folklore heritage festivals rather than in public squares, demonstrating against corruption and calling for true citizenship
  • Today, not only Saudi Arabia but also Kuwait have to manage a different citizen, namely the "tribal moderns” who speak the language of human rights, freedom of speech, civil society, accountability, anti-corruption, elections and democracy. Such slogans are written on placards, chanted in demonstrations in Kuwait and virtually circulated in Saudi Arabia, as demonstrations are banned.
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  • The tribal moderns may endorse Islamism, or liberal democracy, but the fact of the matter remains constant. From the perspective of regimes, they are a dangerous bunch, simply because if they invoke tribal solidarities, they may be heeded by their fellow cousins, both imaginary and real.
  • No doubt, activists in Kuwait and other GCC countries will fall under the heavy weight of a pact designed above all to control, monitor and punish dissidents. The GCC itself may not move from cooperation to unification in the near future but it has certainly become yet another mechanism to silence peaceful and legitimate opposition across borders. Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/03/saudi-gcc-security-dissident-activism-detention-opposition.html Madawi Al-Rasheed Columnist  Dr. Madawi Al-Rasheed is a columnist for Al-Monitor and a visiting professor at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She has written extensively about the Arabian Peninsula, Arab migration, globalization, religious trans-nationalism and gender. On Twitter: @MadawiDr !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs'); function target_popup(a){window.open("","formpopup","width=400,height=400,resizeable,scrollbars");a.target="formpopup"}
Ed Webb

When rescue at sea becomes a crime: who the Tunisian fishermen arrested in Italy really... - 0 views

  • On the night of Wednesday, August 29, 2018, six Tunisian fishermen were arrested in Italy. Earlier that day, they had set off from their hometown of Zarzis, the last important Tunisian port before Libya, to cast their nets in the open sea between North Africa and Sicily. The fishermen then sighted a small vessel whose engine had broken, and that had started taking in water. After giving the fourteen passengers water, milk and bread – which the fishermen carry in abundance, knowing they might encounter refugee boats in distress – they called the Italian coastguard, who told them they’d be coming soon. After hours of waiting, though, the men decided to tow the smaller boat in the direction of Lampedusa – Italy’s southernmost island – to help Italian authorities in their rescue operations. At around 24 miles from Lampedusa, the Guardia di Finanza (customs police) took the fourteen people on board, and then proceeded to violently arrest the six fishermen. According to the precautionary custody order issued by the judge in Agrigento (Sicily), the men stand accused of smuggling, a crime that could get them up to fifteen years of jail if the case goes to trial. The fishermen have since been held in Agrigento prison, and their boat has been seized.
  • Criminalising rescue, a process that has been pushed by different Italian governments since 2016, will continue to have tragic consequences for people on the move in the Mediterranean Sea
  • Among those arrested is Chamseddine Bourassine, the president of the Association “Le Pêcheur” pour le Développement et l’Environnement, which was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year for the Zarzis fishermen’s continuous engagement in saving lives in the Mediterranean.
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  • The fishermen of Zarzis have been on the frontline of rescue in the Central Mediterranean for over fifteen years. Their fishing grounds lying between Libya – the place from which most people making their way undocumented to Europe leave – and Sicily, they were often the first to come to the aid of refugee boats in distress. “The fishermen have never really had a choice: they work here, they encounter refugee boats regularly, so over the years they learnt to do rescue at sea”, explained Gammoudi. For years, fishermen from both sides of the Mediterranean were virtually alone in this endeavour.
  • In the months following the revolution, hundreds of boats left from Zarzis taking Tunisians from all over the country to Lampedusa. Several members of the fishermen’s association remember having to sleep on their fishing boats at night to prevent them from being stolen for the harga. Other fishermen instead, especially those who were indebted, decided to sell their boats, while some inhabitants of Zarzis took advantage of the power vacuum left by the revolution and made considerable profit by organising harga crossings. “At that time there was no police, no state, and even more misery. If you wanted Lampedusa, you could have it”, rationalised another fisherman. But Chamseddine Bourassine and his colleagues saw no future in moving to Europe, and made a moral pact not to sell their boats for migration.
  • the association also got involved in alerting the youth to the dangers of boat migration, as they regularly witnessed the risks involved and felt compelled to do something for younger generations hit hard by staggering unemployment rates. In this optic, they organised training for the local youth in boat mechanics, nets mending, and diving, and collaborated in different international projects, such as NEMO, organised by the CIHEAM-Bari and funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Directorate General for Cooperation Development. This project also helped the fishermen build a museum to explain traditional fishing methods, the first floor of which is dedicated to pictures and citations from the fishermen’s long-term voluntary involvement in coming to the rescue of refugees in danger at sea
  • When we see people at sea we rescue them. It’s not only because we follow the laws of the sea or of religion: we do it because it’s human”,
  • The situation deteriorated again though in the summer of 2017, as Italian Interior Minister Minniti struck deals with Libyan militias and coastguards to bring back and detain refugees in detention centres in Libya, while simultaneously passing laws criminalising and restricting the activity of NGO rescue boats in Italy. Media smear campaigns directed against acts of solidarity with migrants and refugees and against the work of rescue vessels in the Mediterranean poured even more fuel on already inflamed anti-immigration sentiments in Europe.
  • the fishermen opposed wholeheartedly the racism propagated by the C-Star members, and that having seen the death of fellow Africans at sea, they couldn’t but condemn these politics. Their efforts were cheered on by anti-racist networks in Sicily, who had in turn prevented the C-Star from docking in Catania port just a couple of days earlier. It is members from these same networks in Sicily together with friends of the fishermen in Tunisia and internationally that are now engaged in finding lawyers for Chamseddine and his five colleagues.
  • The fishermen’s arrest is the latest in a chain of actions taken by the Italian Lega and Five Star government to further criminalise rescue in the Mediterranean Sea, and to dissuade people from all acts of solidarity and basic compliance with international norms. This has alarmingly resulted in the number of deaths in 2018 increasing exponentially despite a drop in arrivals to Italy’s southern shores. While Chamseddine’s lawyer hasn’t yet been able to visit him in prison, his brother and cousin managed to go see him on Saturday. As for telling them about what happened on August 29, Chamseddine simply says that he was assisting people in distress at sea: he’d do it again.
Ed Webb

Can debt relief save the Red Sea's coral reefs? - 0 views

  • despite contributing little to greenhouse gas emissions, debt-laden developing countries appear likely to suffer the costliest effects of global warming.
  • A landmark deal in Belize may provide a path for the Arab world’s poorest countries to tackle these vexing challenges in tandem, combining debt relief with climate change mitigation. The Nature Conservancy, an environmental organisation with global reach, helped Belize obtain over $350 million to service its government debt in exchange for the Central American country dedicating more resources to environmental protection and marine conservation.
  • Beyond the significance of a developing country receiving debt relief for toughening environmental policies, Belize oversees a series of coral reefs whose preservation the Nature Conservancy coded into the historic agreement. Arab countries such as COP27 host Egypt likewise have a number of coral reefs, among them species that have demonstrated impressive resilience against global warming.
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  • saving Egypt’s coral reefs will require greater action, likely from world powers
  • A 2019 study found that climate change could cost Egypt as much as 95 percent of its revenue from tourism to the coral reefs, so world powers will likely have to come up with millions or even billions of dollars more. Egypt hardly finds itself alone. In the first half of 2022, the government debt of Jordan—home to its own prized set of coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba—reached $41 billion, 88.4 percent of the kingdom’s gross domestic product. Meanwhile, in Tunisia, coral reefs near the resort destination of Tabarka appear set to suffer as climate change batters the country and the Tunisian economy falters, depriving authorities of the funds necessary to fund marine conservation.
  • pairing debt relief with marine conservation, as well as more general measures for environmental protection and climate change mitigation, a boon for Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, and other coral-rich countries in the Arab world
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