Thursday, November 03, 2011

Article: A Sigh of Relief in Libya

A Sigh of Relief in Libya

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Sigh of Relief in Libya

After months of negative reporting on heritage sites in the Middle East, finally there is some good news from all five of Libya's UNESCO heritage sites. Both the 2,000 year old Roman city of Sabratha and the ruins of Leptis Magna, which had been occupied by Anti-Gaddafi forces since August, sustained little damage. In fact, Fadel Ali Mohammad, Libya's new minister of antiquities, reported minimal damage to Sabratha after his visit in early September.
Anti-Gaddafi forces are committed to preserving heritage sites and preventing looting. The rebels resisted bombing the Tripoli's Libya Museum, even after Gaddafi's officers took up camp in the galleries during the final days of the war, sleeping on mattresses beside marble Roman Venus' and Neolithic grinding stones. Like Augustus Caesar, Napoleon and Hitler before him, Muammar Gaddafi manipulated Libya's ancient history to his own self aggrandizing agenda. Now rebel forces are reclaiming the country's history and re-opening the store rooms of the Tripoli museum, which hold treasures from around the world gathered by Libya's monarchy. They have posted volunteer guards at heritage sites and at Tripoli's museum.
August, Luke Harding of The Guardian newspaper reported dramatic scenes of symbolic liberation in Libya. On August 19 he wrote: "On Friday a small platoon of opposition fighters officially liberated it (Sabratha)-- climbing up the back of the theatre's spectacular colonnaded facade. At the top they tore down the green flag fluttering above the ruins-- a symbol of Muammar Gaddafi's hated regime.... In the Sabratha theatre's giant auditorium the rebels tried to set light to the flag. Behind them were a series of exquisite Roman panels. They depicted muses, gods, three fleshy graces--one with an impressive bottom and another holding an oval mirror and a series of masked comedy actors. The flag failed to catch fire, so the fighters stamped on it instead" ("Libya rebels claim Roman city of Sabratha from regime," August 19, 2011). Harding's August 29 article, "Letter from Tripoli: Inside the museum were hidden portraits of Libyan nationalists, Gaddafi had wanted to be his country's sole hero," recounts his tour of the Libya Museum by volunteer guards. He describes the liberation of the museum as dramatic as a Livy's recount of the Rape of the Sabine Women. Harding writes: "Naiem [one of the volunteer guards] told me how he and other locals liberated the museum on Sunday 21 August-- the day the rebels surged into western Tripoli, and a popular insurrection erupted inside it. The Gaddafi soldiers were armed; the locals had no weapons other than a small harpoon used for fishing trips" (August 29, 2011). It is striking how familiar these scenes appear.
We have heard similar stories since the beginning of historical record. Cultural heritage is constantly at risk simply because of it's innate symbolic power and ability to motivate, or manipulate, popular masses. Although the news of that Libya's cultural heritage sustained little damage during this most recent rebellion is positive and uplifting, vigilance is imperative and justified.

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October 13, 2011 5:26 PM SAFECORNER said...

Read another update here.

October 14, 2011 9:35 AM

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