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Cultural Terrorism and the Theory of 'Ruin Value'

Jonahs tomb taken from ISIL in Eastern Mosul / In July 2014, the Tomb of Jonah was destroyed by ISIS.

Photo: Getty Images

Leave the sites of destruction, in a state of ruination……

The rising international interest with regards, the effects culture terrorism has on global heritage and post conflict nation-building processes after a conflicts, in this case the destruction in Iraq, has sparked the (a somewhat western-centric ) argument of 'Restoration versus Anti-Restoration'.

Since the nineteenth century, the debate over restoration versus anti-restoration has dominated conservation theory. However, this debate played-out within a particularly western context, so perhaps, a contemporary debate is required, An introduction of new ideas and methods, from which to adapt and evolve whilst engaging other cultures and alternative theories.

As it stands, International Agencies are applying European approaches to Middle Eastern issues of memory and heritage. Since the 19th century, restoration focused on the recording and reconstruction of structure championed by the Frenchman Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, infamous for his rigorous, stylistic and often brutal restoration works. Anti-Restoration on the other-hand, argued that to restore the architecture to a fictitious past, destroyed the structure’s authenticity and historic fabric. This theory was championed by Englishmen, William Morris and John Ruskin, who founded the Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings [SPAB] in1877.

“Neither by public, nor by those who have the care of public monuments, is the true meaning of the word restoration understood. It means the most total destruction which a building can suffer: destruction out of which no remnants can be gathered; a destruction accompanied with false description of the thing destroyed. Do not let us deceive ourselves in this important matter; it is impossible, as impossible as to raise the dead, to restore anything that has ever been great or beautiful in architecture”. Ruskin John, [180-1989]

However, Ackerman hints to an altogether more sympathetic approach to post conflict architectural destruction and that is, one of 'Ruination' thus exploring the buildings Ruin Value.

WMF Executive Vice President Lisa Ackerman explains to the Architectural Digest (AD), “there are equal numbers of people advocating for leaving it as a reminder of the destruction and those who wish to see it rebuilt.”

Whatever the tactic - These types of acute incidents of destruction continue and require an authentic approach which also considers the more prosaic (but equally as impact-full) issues of the administrative vacuum left by regime change.

Ackerman offers the example of Libya, “governance remains uncertain after the removal of Muammar Qaddafi, Cyrene (the ancient Greek colony in Libya) has become threatened not necessarily because of a risk of an act of destruction, but, rather, by a gradual and incremental encroachment of infrastructure. “Libya doesn’t make the news anymore,” said Ackerman, “but its Department of Antiquities just doesn’t exist anymore, so people have begun building roads and housing right next to the site, and once those are in place, it becomes hard to remove them again.” (Ackerman)

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