When Things Fall Apart: War and CivilisationPosted: March 17, 2013
It might seem frivolous of me – and just a tad bourgeois – to talk about ongoing conflicts as though they were entirely removed from human suffering; and I certainly don’t intend that, not by any means. But it’s not just death that dehumanises us. I’m always inclined to remember Heinrich Heine’s old dictum to the effect that “where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people.” Accompanying death in civil degeneration is the assault on art and culture, these being the people’s voices in which is cast the memory of a society before it fell apart.
Dan Snow’s recent documentary for the BBC stressed that Syria was for thousands of years at the heart of civilisation: 2000 years BC stood the city of Palmyra, later Bosra and a few villages to its north, playing host to the cradle of Christian Rome. The fact that modern Syria was sketched about imperial settlements after the First World War should not allow us to forget the crossroad of the great many civilisations on which the nation was established. To think what is being lost.
And then there’s Mali:
It’s easy to forget that – numerically – the most significant victims of Islamic fundamentalism are invariably Muslim: before the French (with British support) liberated Timbuktu, the ancient city was plagued by fanatics in the Al-Qaeda-allied Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) who tore about 15th century mosques among their many cultural blasphemies. Another would include the banning of music,”crushing culture to impose rule”, as the author phrases it. If you want to silence a people’s voice, then you silence what they write and what they paint, and also what they sing.
Not all iconoclasm is bad; the destruction or the mockery of the greatest symbols of oppression can liberate the most captive of minds. But rarely is it so calculated, and calculated for progress. For the most part, remember: the symptoms of war can never be calculated with only cold death tolls.