Industries in Depth

An attack on culture

Nico Daswani
Head of Arts and Culture, World Economic Forum Geneva
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Terrorists have been attacking artists and culture relentlessly. The Charlie Hebdo offices and now the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, the Bardo museum in Tunisia, the Mosul museum and central public library in Iraq, the French Cultural Centre in Kabul, Afghanistan, and archaeological and heritage sites like the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria are some of the many cultural targets of violent extremism in the past 12 months alone. We have now even seen an attack at a football stadium.

These are all places where we create and shape culture; where we share experiences collectively, where we might even experience awe and feel part of something greater than ourselves. By targeting these locations, the terrorists seek to negate those values and to erase our common history.

Terrorist attacks, such as those we just witnessed in Paris, have a double whammy effect on culture. Not only are these venues literally attacked, but to protect its citizens, the government in a state of emergency then temporarily closes its public libraries, cultural spaces and tourist landmarks.

In the aftermath of terrorist acts, artists and communities often come together to create art that expresses solidarity and grief, and that allows us all to further reflect on the unspeakable. The Tribute in Light in New York after 9/11, for example, became one of the symbols of the city’s response, while countless other artistic works take such events and their consequences as backdrop.

These works are political in the sense that they represent an engagement with reality. And as audiences and citizens, nothing can speak louder and be a more political act than us gathering now in concert halls, museums, sites of shared heritage and other places where we celebrate our humanity and diversity.

Whereas the arts and culture are under increasing pressure to demonstrate their economic relevance, there has perhaps never been a more important time to support the arts and culture in their power to shape our collective aspirations and values.

Let’s understand the arts and culture as a public good, essential to the development of strong and democratic societies, and as an essential pillar in countering extremism.

The graphic below is from an Art News story showing the scope of ISIS’ cultural destruction.

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Author: Nico Daswani, Associate Director, Arts & Culture for the Programme Development Team, World Economic Forum

Image: Egyptians light candles as the French and Egyptian flags and France’s national colours of blue, white and red are projected onto one of the Giza pyramids, in tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks, on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, November 15, 2015. The words on the pyramid read: “Solidarity with France”. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

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