Posts Tagged ‘Heritage’

ISIS Destruction of Antiquities and Respect for Archaeology in Iran

April 12, 2015

Nimrud Map

Map of Nimrud drawn in 1856 by Felix Jones

The Independent reported today that ISIS had released a video of themselves destroying the ancient Babylonian city of Nimrud. Its destruction was reported back in March, but this is the first time footage has been shown of it. The video shows the terrorists attacking the city and its antiquities with pneumatic drills, anglegrinders and sledgehammers. They then laid explosives, and blew the site up.

Irinia Bokova, the director general of UNESCO, the section of the UN that oversees the world’s cultural heritage, denounced the destruction, saying that the “deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime”.

I couldn’t agree more.

The Indie’s article can be read at: http://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/other/isis-video-shows-complete-destruction-of-ancient-city-of-nimrud-in-iraq/ar-AAaTuAG?ocid=OIE9HP

I’ve already blogged about ISIS’ destruction of Nimrud, and the other cultural treasures of Mosul, and the Christian and Muslim shrines to the patriarch Seth, revered by Moslems as the prophet Sheth, St. George and others. ISIS have claimed that they are destroying these antiquities because they are somehow blasphemous or un-Islamic. In fact, they are attacking them purely because these monuments don’t conform to their own, extremely narrow religious views. They’re a deliberate, calculated assault on the cultural heritage and identity of Iraq’s people. ISIS fear them because they present an alternative, secular national and religious pluralist identity to the absolute conformity ISIS wish to foist on them.

It’s also been suggested that more worldly, venal motives were involved in Nimrud’s destruction. ISIS may have been looting the site to raise money to buy more arms by selling the antiquities illegally. They levelled the city to disguise what they’d done. So their claim that they were destroying the city for religious reasons may have been just a load of lies to disguise what they really are: a bunch of thieves and grave robbers.

Archaeology in Iran

ISIS’ contempt for the region’s heritage contrasts with Iran, where, with some qualifications, archaeology is still valued. John Simpson in one of his books described the way an angry mob was ready to destroy the depictions of the Persian shahs at Naqsh-i-Rustem in the 1979 revolution, but were prevented from doing so by the carvings’ guard. He stopped them by telling them that they were instead depictions of Hassan and Hussein, the two sons of the Imam Ali, the founder of Shi’ism.

In the 1990s there was a minimal Western archaeological presence in Iran, though I believe it has been expanded since then. I once bumped into one of the lecturers in the archaeological department at Uni nearly ten years ago, who had just returned from excavating an early Islamic city in Iran.

And a few years ago the British Museum loaned the Cyrus Cylinder, shown below, to the Islamic Republic.

Cyrus Cylinder

The Cyrus Cylinder records the conquest of Babylonia by the great Persian king Cyrus, or Kourash, as he is known in Persian. After the conquest, he issued an edict permitting the peoples exiled in Babylon to return to their homelands, returned their gods, and assisted in the reconstruction of their temples. These included the Jews, who returned to Israel, for which the Persians are praised in the Bible.

I was taught at College that Islam similarly regarded Zoroastrians as ‘Peoples of the Book’, who, like Jews and Christians, worshipped the one God, and whose worship was therefore protected.

British Museum’s loan of the Cylinder to Iran was of major diplomatic and cultural significance. Firstly, it was party of a general thaw in relations between Britain and the Islamic Republic. Secondly, it also showed the confidence that the Museum in the Cylinder’s safety. The repatriation of cultural artefacts looted by Western scholars from the other cultures around the world is a major issue in archaeology and the heritage sector. Many nations and ethnic groups are rightly angered at the appropriation of valuable or important religious items from their cultures, including human remains. A few years ago, for example, BBC 2 screened a series looking behind the scenes at the British Museum. Amongst the Museum’s other work, it showed the delicate negotiations surrounding the repatriation of the remains of Aboriginal Tasmanians to their descendants.

Other items remain, and their retention is immensely controversial. The Elgin Marbles is a case in point.

The Museum has, however, a policy of not returning antiquities to countries where their safety can’t be guaranteed. The looting and destruction of ancient monuments and archaeological finds is a real problem, particularly in the developing world. And it isn’t unknown here either. There have been digs in Britain, that have been wrecked and the finds looted by Nighthawks. There have also been a number of curators and museum directors, who have been caught illegally selling off objects from the very collections they were supposed to be maintaining.

The loan of the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran, by contrast, showed that the British authorities had every confidence that their fellows in Iran would respect and value it, and that Britain and Iran could have good relations in the exploration of that nation’s ancient past and its treasures.

This is another excellent reason why the Repugs are stupid to want another war with Iran. Apart from destabilising yet another nation and brutalising its people, purely for the profit of the oil and arms industries, it could result in the same destruction of antiquities as in Iraq.

And as in Iraq, the world would again be much the poorer.

Private Eye on Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd and the Resurgence of the Aristocracy

April 11, 2015

One of the reviews in the collection of pieces from Private Eye’s literary column, Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion, is of Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd’s The Field Book of Country Houses and their Owners: Family Seats of the British Isles from 1988. Massingberd’s a true, blue-blooded aristo, who wrote a ‘Heritage’ column in the Torygraph. In the book, he made it very clear that he stood for a return of the aristocracy, their power and prestige, after years of Socialism as a ‘social restoration’ under Maggie Thatcher. It’s a view that Private Eye took issue with, and put the boot in accordingly.

Despite being nearly thirty years old now, the review’s still relevant. Cameron is a toff leading a cabinet of toffs – George Osborne, the scion of the baronet of Ballymoney, Nick Clegg, and IDS, who is himself a great landowner, even if he isn’t a member of the titled aristocracy. It is a government that has consistently defended and promoted the interests and power of the rich against those of the poor, and made very sure that the rest of us are kept under their heel.

Their welfare reforms, and the massive curtailment of workers’ rights under the Tories have meant that people with a job now live in fear of being laid off, while those fortunately enough to get jobseekers allowance are effectively treated as helots – state slaves – by the self-described ‘creators of wealth’, who then compete for gaining their free labour on workfare.

It’s a restoration of the old feudal order of serfdom, but under the guise of preparing the unemployed for the labour market, and making them sturdy, self-reliant individuals. As the business leaders imagine themselves to be, all the while they’re demanding more tax breaks and subsidies from the government.

And UKIP are no alternative. They’re further to the Right than the Tories and Lib Dems. The vice-chairman of the Kippers in Wales was a member of the Traditional Britain group. These stand for the restoration of the feudal order, the destruction of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, no immigration and positive no Muslims.

The Eye’s review, then, is a pretty prescient description of the attitudes and motives behind this government, nearly three decades later.

Nob Value

Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd has one great qualification for his line of work. When the toffs he writes about – Cruwys of Cruwys Morchard, Dymoke of Scrivelsby, Fetherstonehaugh-Frampton of Moreton, Houison Craufurd of Craufurdland, Foljambe of Osberton, Steuart Forthringham of Murthly – hear that he is on his way, they must feel pleasantly reassured. For Montgomery-Massivesnob is the only hack in the business with a name as ludicrous as theirs.

It has been the making of him. Massivesnob is no detached architecture critic or social historian. He is himself of the class he portrays: his articles are themselves exhibits in the show, if not the main turn. It is useless to wonder whether or not he realizes that this is why the Telegraph employs him. So much reflection is not in the nature of a nob.

Massivesnob writes a column in the Torygraph called ‘Heritage’. This is the persuasive sales word of our time, signifying anything old and agreeable which might form the basis of a day trip. We have even been encouraged to think that there is such a thing as, contradiction in terms, a ‘national heritage’. Somehow we have accepted that being herded around big houses, behind ropes, by self-important matrons means that we are ourselves the true legatees of the aristocracy.

Massivesnob, quite rightly, has no time for this confidence trick. When he says ‘heritage’ he means it: the inheritance of a name and of a house together, by a private family. He has conducted a long campaign to disabuse us of our belief in a ‘national heritage’ and to reassert the rights of the squirearchy. (His insistence on this has, doubtless, been a reaction to his own family house having been made over to the National Trust before his birth.) And he is admirably purist. These reprinted articles from the pre-lifestyle Field are not about great houses – or interesting people. True squires, they have no other distinction than their success at transmission.

That Massivesnob is now in demand to write similar pieces as a ‘Heritage’ column in a national newspaper says something about the times. For years he snuffled away at family trees as the editor of Burke’s Peerage, scribbling too for the country magazines. he joined the Torygraph as obituaries editor. But now his pieces have become more than antiquarian. Hymns to private property are apropos. The landed are richer than they have ever been in their lives – and even council-house buyers are beginning to feel happier about family seats.

Not that any of this is made explicit. Massivesnob’s appearances in print are winningly slapstick. His own ancestors invariably feature – usually his feminist great-grandmother, who tragically turned the family pub, the Massingberd Arms, into a temperance house. And his ‘robust digestion’ also stars, as he caps each visit by putting himself outside ‘a couple of jumbo cold bangers and a glass of iced lemon tea’, or a large helping of treacle tart. The words ‘ravishing’, ‘luscious’, ‘exquisite’ and ‘engagingly feudal’ exhaust his adjectival resource. Two obsessions recur: Lincolnshire, ‘the still undiscovered Lincolnshire’, and cricket, as played between the big house and the village.

The appearance of this buffoon must be entrancing to the proprietors of what he enthusiastically calls ‘the dimmer sort of seat’. Here is someone who sincerely thinks nothing in the world so fine as ‘the proud distinction of being, say, Fulford of Fulford, Fursdon of Fursdon, Kelly of Kelly or Spurway of Spurway’, who, quite fantastically, is as gratified as they are themselves by their own existence.

Any further qualities are beside the point, though squirearchical accomplishments are loyally applauded. Burrell of Knepp Castle’s appointments ‘have included the chairmanship of the North West Sussex Water Board’; Staunton of Staunton is ‘an enthusiastic beagler’; Sir Anthony Milbank of Barningham is ‘an enthusiastic Gun and enjoys fishing’; while Robert Scrysoure Steuart Forthringham of Pourie and Murthly is a wizard with a bow and arrow.

Clearly the social system that supports such accomplishments must be maintained. As Cookson of Meldon, owner of a measly 5,000 acres, somewhat laboriously explains: ‘If the people of this country wish houses such as Meldon to continue to exist as part of the heritage – especially when the occupants are of the family for whom the house was originally built – then more consideration must be paid to them financially to help keep the system in being.’

Absolutely. And it will be, partly because the National Trust, ostensibly a democratic movement, has transformed public perception of what big estates represent. The houses were the pretty part of the whole social organisation; they are the only part now on view; the system itself is thus glamorized by them. For himself, Massivesnob is quite unembarrassed to state that the fortunes of the Hobhouses of Hadspen were founded on slavery.

Conveniently for the National Trust, those who traipse round the houses, or buy picture-books like this, do so in order to fantasize about themselves as owners, not as scullions. Massivesnob, more lucidly, responded to the ‘euphoria’ of the budget earlier this year with an article looking forward to the return of servants, jovially reminiscing about the days when drunken gamekeepers could be shot.

The ‘heritage’ mania has softened us up for a return to inherited wealth. Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd may be a richly Wodehousian figure, but his book, lauding the privately owned, is symptomatic. It is the correlative to Peregrine Worsthorne’s recent articles about the desirability in short of ‘a social restoration’. Come the day, of course, Massivesnob knows where he will be – in his seat again. But the fans of his snufflings seem curiously unaware of where that leaves them: which is sat upon.

Paid Internships in the Cultural Sector in Bristol

November 26, 2013

And now something rather more positive, I hope, after the news of yet another death due to ATOS.

I’ve been going on a course here in Bristol at ‘M’ Shed, one of the City’s many fine museums. It’s run jointly by the museum and South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, and is designed to give people some of the employment and job seeking skills they need to get them back into work, as well as the opportunity to do some voluntary work at the Museum. I’m aware how close it is to workfare, but nevertheless I decided to go on it as I’m interested in working in the heritage/ museum sector. I’ve met a lot of very interesting people on the course, who’ve come from a variety of backgrounds and with different skills. And it’s been extremely interesting hearing their experience of the current job situation, and their views on the disgusting policies of the government. The lecturers running the course are by no means blind to the failings of various employers. When a few of the people on the course started discussing the truly terrible and exploitative employers they’ve had, one of the lecturers joined in with some other tales of bad employment practice, though diplomatically naming no names.

Yesterday they announced that they, along with the other museums and art galleries in Bristol, including the Arnolfini, had come together to form a scheme that has created 72 paid internships for young people in Bristol aged between 18 and 24, who wish to work in the heritage/ cultural sector. They urged us to spread the word about it, and pointed to one of the lads, who was assisting them on the course, as one of the interns.

I have to say that I have very strong reservations about internships. All too often they’re simply a way for already wealthy firms to profit from the unpaid labour of idealistic young people wishing to work in that industry. Private Eye has run several pieces in its ‘Street of Shame’ column covering the use of internships and extremely poorly paid junior posts in newspapers like the Times, which enable Murdoch to award himself the vast pay rises he and the rest of his board and senior editorial staff enjoy. The worst offender for this is actually the supposedly Left-wing Guardian, which is presumably trying to use them to stop it from losing even more millions by actually having to pay its journos. These internships are paid, and so, I hope, different from these other exploitative schemes.

I don’t really know much about them, apart from the fact that they exist, and are for people between 18 and 24. Thus they don’t benefit middle-aged people like me. Still, they may offer someone else a start in the museums and cultural sector, and so I thought they were worth mentioning.

The Arts Council page reporting the establishment of the scheme is at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/news/arts-council-news/creative-sector-offers-new-employment-opportunitie/.

They give the following websites for finding out more about apprenticeships, internships and applications for wage funding cep@ccskills.org.uk and http://www.creative-employment.co.uk #sthash.QojyaxEU.dpuf.

Also according to the website, more information on Bristol’s Creative Employment Programme can be found from Sam Thomson at sam.thomson@uwe.ac.uk.