The unfolding humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria confronts the scholarly community with some unprecedented practical and ethical challenges. The Islamic State (Da'esh) is remarkably adept at using online social media to disseminate violent imagery and staged atrocities. Videos of the destruction of archaeological sites and the murder of captives are propaganda as well as calling cards for potential recruits. At the same time, Da'esh's control over historically significant territory is providing new revenue in the form of looted and stolen antiquities. We are caught on the horns of a dilemma: how can we avoid amplifying Da'esh's horrific propaganda while still informing the world about what is being done in the region? It is impossible to stand idle in the face of what is being done in Mosul, Palmyra and elsewhere. But threatened cultural institutions and scholars in the region are not well-served by symbolic responses that assuage the conscience without being effective.
On September 24, an international group of scholars, cultural heritage specialists and journalists will convene at Wellesley College to address this ongoing crisis. Participants in this conference, jointly sponsored by the Departments of Religion and History, come from a range of disciplinary, professional and political backgrounds. In two sessions, our speakers will discuss the scope of the crisis in a way that is informative and contextually sophisticated rather than sensationalistic, sharing current intiatives and debating potential responses. The conference will provide a forum for the public to learn not only about the extent of the cultural devastation in the region, but also about its rich history and archaeology. Speakers will address the use of social media by jihadist groups, current conservation and educational initiatives, and the overarching international legal framework that shapes responses to this sort of cultural violence.
Books & Articles
- Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan, ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror
- Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror
- Lawrence Rothfield, ed., Antiquities Under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection after the Iraq War
- Nina Burleigh, Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land
- Nina Burleigh, Mirage: Napoleon’s Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt
- Patty Gerstenblith, "Beyond the 1954 Hague Convention"
- Cole Bunzel, "From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State"
- Anonymous, “The Mystery of ISIS”
- Nicolas Pelham, “ISIS & the Shia Revival in Iraq”