THE BLOG

After Paris: Why Culture Matters More Than Ever

23/11/2015 23:06 GMT | Updated 23/11/2016 10:12 GMT

The attacks in Paris highlight a supposed culture clash in which Da'esh propagates to support their ideology. By targeting bars and restaurants they were marking their victims out as others, they weren't people enjoying a Friday night, but, in Da'esh's words, attenders at a "profligate prostitution party". People were targeted indiscriminately - an act of war, but underlying this was the threat that the culture of France is incompatible with the essentialised interpretation of Islam which Da'esh adheres to.

By targeting culture Da'esh are honing an excellent tool for propaganda and recruitment. Such attacks are an easy way into the minds of young people suffering an identity crisis. Research shows that a confusion of one's identity, place in the world, and the proper way to live are utilised to manipulate vulnerable young people who may be at risk of radicalisation. In Iraq and Syria attacks on culture are a quick way to subjugate local populations: erasure of local identities makes recruitment of the young easier, and attacking culturally distinct communities creates scapegoats which reinforce their supposed supremacy.

In the months since February, when ISIS attacked the Mosul museum and the ancient city of Nineveh, stories of destruction in museums and archaeological sites have peppered news pages throughout the world. Quite rightly the heritage community has decried this destruction; destruction of heritage sites erases human history, removes reminders of where we have come from, of times when differing cultures melted together and nuanced one-another. The destruction of mosques and shrines throughout the Middle East reminds us that Da'esh is an enemy of all humanity, not just 'the West'.

However when the tragedy of human loss is so viscerally brought to face us it is, quite rightly, easy to forget the destruction of our history. The murders of 132 people in Paris, 45 in Beirut, and 224 over Sinai makes Palmyra pale in comparison. What is bricks and mortar in comparison to blood and bone? When a family is fractured who should care about a statue or ruin? However these two types of savagery are intrinsically linked.

By destroying heritage and homogenising culture Da'esh divides communities and enforces their ideology. Writing in Dabiq, their English language magazine, Da'esh said of February's destruction in the Mosul museum:

The kuffār had unearthed these statues and ruins in recent generations and attempted to portray them as part of a cultural heritage and identity that the Muslims of Iraq should embrace and be proud of.

The message here is clear: an interest in anything other than our interpretation of culture makes you a bad Muslim, an agent of the West.

When twisted by Da'esh heritage it becomes an agent of polarisation, but their dialogue is blind to reality. The pre-Islamic history they so vehemently seek to destroy is not only of interest to Western audiences, the thousands of Muslims currently risking and losing their lives to preserve artefacts and sites is testament to that. By drawing attention to the heroic actions of these people we can prove that Da'esh lacks control in their own back yard.

Cultural interplay between Europe and the Middle East extends for over a thousand years; it is thanks to the efforts of generations of scholars in Baghdad that the works of Aristotle have been preserved for the world. This cultural interplay continues to this day, it strengthens our societies and makes them open and diverse.

Da'esh are ignorant to the history of the world, and the things that make it bright. By exploring the nuances of global culture and heritage we can bring communities together in understanding of our commonality.

In response to the Paris attacks Charlie Hebdo contrasted Da'esh's hypocritical nihilism with a stoic bon viveur: "Balls to their weapons, we have champagne", however perhaps that should be amended "Balls to their weapons, we have culture".