The latest waves of terrorism, from attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris to the damaging of antiquities in the Middle East, have highlighted both an ideological conflict and the central role of imagery. Terrorists have orchestrated their acts of destruction to stage their beliefs of justice, truth and will for political order. Their propaganda attracts followers from all over the world and subjugates and abuses human beings over wide territories. Their image war contests what we hold to be universal values such as the freedom of artistic expression and the integrity of cultural heritage.
These ongoing forms of destruction and terror demand a review of truth and falsity of values in both a reflective and self-reflective mode. The Washington branch of EUNIC and NYU's John Brademas Center approached this disturbing confrontation in four chapters:
Some people have demanded that lines should be drawn with respect to “acceptable” and “unacceptable” forms of provocation. Is there such a thing as “acceptable” or “unacceptable” satire? This question is heavily influenced by political and cultural values and principles. For Europeans, political satire, comics, and cartoons have been integral part of culture since the Enlightenment. Satirical cartoons are an inherent part of culture in France and elsewhere in the world – a tradition at the heart of the legitimate exercise of free speech.
The recent terrorist attacks in Paris against Charlie Hebdo and the controversy ten years ago related to the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons raise some fundamental questions. Does an offensive or disrespectful portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed in a satirical cartoon realize or betray European values of pluralism and multiculturalism? Some media in the US and in Islamic countries refrained from reprinting the international signature cartoon “Je suis Charlie” after the terror attacks. Is this self-censorship a benchmark for an inclusive society or a characteristic lack of freedom of expression?
How do we defend the freedom of secular-artistic expression against other peoples’ religiously-motivated fundamental rejection of such satire? How do we show respect towards those individuals who do not necessarily take part in or support the secular culture of their own country? Finally, how can we successfully integrate two fundamental pillars of transatlantic societies - respect for religious belief/practice and free expression of ideas - to create the open and pluralistic communities towards which we as Europeans and Americans have been striving for centuries?
Propaganda and imagery have always been integral to terrorism. Their production by al-Qaida and Da’esh in the last four years has achieved a competitive quality and displays bewildering resilience to counter terrorist measures. The digital media made available to audiences globally exhibits a new dimension of immediacy of crime and ostentation. Following the searing images of the collapsing Twin Towers, videos of trials, beheadings, fighting and destruction have borrowed formats from video games and documentary films. The execution of people and the destruction of cultural places have been used to produce a self-righteous culture of annihilation. While conventional video games make use of historic events as a source of entertainment, terrorists’ videos can successfully claim the indivisibility of their acts of annihilation and their ownership of the imagery and ideology of this history - not unlike ancient Assyrian historiography. The failure of anti-terror propaganda such as the U.S. State Department’s video “Welcome to ISIS Land” begs the question of how foreign cultural policy can meaningfully respond to negative heritage of ideology and imagery of terrorism.
Fundamentalist groups are waging an international war. Houses, settlements and cities are being destroyed, people murdered, cultural sites ransacked. Militants in Mali damaged shrines in Timbuktu, while members of Da’esh have annihilated the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, including its colossal guardian figures , and many more historical, cultural and religious sites. These acts have caused an outcry among heritage experts, art historians, archaeologists, members of the general public, UNESCO and the United Nations Security Council which condemned the Islamic State’s “latest barbaric acts” in Iraq. “We see clearly how terrorists use the destruction of heritage in their strategy to destabilize and manipulate populations so that they can assure their own domination.”
Given that the images and artifacts being destroyed do not directly represent “Western culture,” their destruction invites consideration of the universal notion of cultural heritage. What turns an ancient objet trouvé into an object of world cultural heritage? Who owns the memory embodied in the artifact? How do we value the aesthetic form of the object itself in comparison to its intrinsic value as a witness of history? How can this memory be saved and protected against loss and for whom? What should be and can be preserved – the material or its meaning?
It is a human tendency to preserve the tangible and intangible world for future generations. In recent months, media have once again turned their lens onto the thriving market of looted cultural objects coming into Europe and the US. The connection between this trafficking and the resulting financial income which supports terrorism has not yet been addressed. Legislation in the US and the EU suggests that trafficking is the illegal appropriation of property belonging to humanity. How can we understand the market and the financial aspects of these transactions? Who benefits from this trade? When can the trade of sculptures, coins, papyri and manuscripts be equated with trafficking and other illicit activities? What are the consequences for our shared world heritage? How does the trafficking harm "other people's" heritage, and why is this business growing?
NYU Washington, DC hosted this final panel, which provided an overview of the lessons learned from over twenty years of interacting with Islamic fundamentalism. How do we bridge the gaps in trust and understanding? How do we build dialogue and cooperation on an equal level? What can the arts or other means of cultural interaction contribute to overcoming the bottleneck of dialogue? How can we successfully use social media for such ends?
This panel concluded the series Iconoclash 2015/2016, organized by EUNIC Washington DC in collaboration with the British Council and supported by the EU Delegation to the U.S.
Archaeological sites and historical artifacts are property that belongs to all of mankind. Preserving them and keeping them accessible are prerequisites to ensuring people can learn about and from history. Their material existence constitutes an important foundation of our self-awareness as human beings. Ancient history is a collective good which belongs to everyone and requires the protection of local officials. For the most part, they accept the role of protecting the splendor of their ancient heritage against collectors’ greed. However, recent political turmoil has led to the ransacking and trafficking of antiquities in the Middle East on an immense scale.
This panel brought new voices into the current discussion. NYU Washington, DC welcomed Iris Gerlach and Tess Davis, who talked about trafficking as the irreversible appropriation of cultural properties which contribute to humanity’s richness. Their destruction and, to no lesser degree, their trafficking destroy invaluable foundations in the self-awareness of mankind’s history and development. How can reproductions replace the fundamental contribution of the originals? How does the growing demand for antique cultural treasures impact preservation and protection? How does private ownership relate to common property in terms of U.N. standards?
Salman Rushdie is the author of twelve novels: Grimus, Midnight’s Children (which was awarded the Booker Prize in 1981), Shame, The Satanic Verses, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Moor’s Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Fury, Shalimar the Clown and The Enchantress of Florence, and Luka and the Fire of Life. His most recent novel, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, was published simultaneously around the world in the English language in September 2015.
He is also the author of a book of stories, East, West, and four works of non-fiction – Joseph Anton – A Memoir, Imaginary Homelands, The Jaguar Smile, and Step Across This Line. He is the co-editor of Mirrorwork, an anthology of contemporary Indian writing, and of the 2008 Best American Short Stories anthology.
He has adapted Midnight’s Children for the stage. It was performed in London and New York by the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 2004, an opera based upon Haroun and the Sea of Stories was premiered by the New York City Opera at Lincoln Center.
A Fellow of the British Royal Society of Literature, Salman Rushdie has received, among other honours, the Whitbread Prize for Best Novel (twice), the Writers’ Guild Award, the James Tait Black Prize, the European Union’s Aristeion Prize for Literature, Author of the Year Prizes in both Britain and Germany, the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, the Budapest Grand Prize for Literature, the Premio Grinzane Cavour in Italy, the Crossword Book Award in India, the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, the London International Writers’ Award, the James Joyce award of University College Dublin, the St Louis Literary Prize, the Carl Sandburg Prize of the Chicago Public Library, and a U.S. National Arts Award. He holds honorary doctorates and fellowships at six European and six American universities, is an Honorary Professor in the Humanities at M.I.T, and University Distinguished Professor at Emory University.
He has received the Freedom of the City in Mexico City, Strasbourg and El Paso, and the Edgerton Prize of the American Civil Liberties Union. He holds the rank of Commandeur in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres – France’s highest artistic honour. Between 2004 and 2006 he served as President of PEN American Center and for ten years served as the Chairman of the PEN World Voices International Literary Festival, which he helped to create. In June 2007 he received a Knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. In 2008 he became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was named a Library Lion of the New York Public Library. In addition, Midnight’s Children was named the Best of the Booker – the best winner in the award’s 40 year history – by a public vote.
His books have been translated into over forty languages.
A film of Midnight’s Children, directed by Deepa Mehta, was released in 2012.
The Ground Beneath Her Feet, in which the Orpheus myth winds through a story set in the world of rock music, was turned into a song by U2 with lyrics by Salman Rushdie.
Propaganda and imagery are integral to terrorism. Their production by Da’esh in the last three years has achieved a competitive quality and displays bewildering resilience to counter terrorist measures. The digital media made available to audiences globally demonstrate a new dimension of immediacy of crime and ostentation. Videos of trials, beheadings, fighting and destruction have borrowed formats from formats such as video games and documentary films. The execution of people and the destruction of cultural objects and places have been used to produce a self-righteous culture of annihilation and implement an overall claim to a lasting change of the course of history in the Middle East and beyond.
One year ago, on January 7, 2015, terrorism attacked freedom of expression with the assault on the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. The slogan “Je suis Charlie” became ubiquitous. All of Europe showed its solidarity with France. Many citizens living in capital cities placed garlands of flowers in front of the French embassies. The European media reproduced caricatures as a show of solidarity.
European cultural organizations hold on to the belief in the freedom of expression, and refuse to avoid difficult topics. Four caricaturists accepted our invitation to participate in a discussion about these questions: Steven Degryse (LECTTRR) from Belgium, Ann Telnaes (The Washington Post), Kevin Kallaugher (The Economist), Matt Wuerker (Politico).
In cooperation with the Embassy of Belgium and the House of Flanders, New York.
This Iconoclash program was also supported by the Delegation of the European Union to the United States, the British Council, the Embassy of Slovenia, the Austrian Cultural Forum, the Goethe-Institut, EUNIC and New York University.
Tasoula Hadjitofi is the Founder of *Walk of Truth* and a former Honorary Consul of Cyprus in The Netherlands and Representative of the Church of Cyprus.
This event was the second in the series of several events to be held at NYU Washington, DC. This program was in partnership with the Goethe-Institut and the European National Institutes of Culture (EUNIC).
Tasoula Georgiou Hadjitofi
Born in Cyprus, Hajitofi served as Honorary Consul of Cyprus in The Netherlands where she sought justice for the looting of Cyprus’s cultural heritage through repatriation of its stolen religious artefacts. A refugee of the 1974 Turkish Invasion of Cyprus, Hadjitofi began her work repatriating stolen objects in the early 1980s and is best known for orchestrating the *Munich Case*, one of the largest art trafficking sting operations in European history. Her efforts led to the arrest of the Turkish art smuggler Aydin Dikmen and the confiscation of over $60 million' worth of looted artifacts from Cyprus and around the world. Hajitofi is a former Representative of the Church of Cyprus and is the founder of *Walk of Truth* project.
Slavoj Žižek, senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana in dialogue with Ulrich Baer, professor of German and Comparative Literature, was appointed Vice Provost for Faculty, Arts, Humanities and Diversity.
Opening Event! This event was the first of the series to be held at NYU Washington, DC. This program was in partnership with the Goethe-Institut, European Union Delegation to the U.S., European National Institutes of Culture (EUNIC) and the Slovenian Embassy.
Slavoj Žižek, Ph.D., is a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and a visiting professor at a number of American Universities (Columbia, Princeton, New School for Social Research, New York University, University of Michigan). Slavoj Žižek received his Ph.D. in Philosophy in Ljubljana studying Psychoanalysis. He also studied at the University of Paris. Slavoj Žižek is a cultural critic and philosopher who is internationally known for his innovative interpretations of Jacques Lacan. Slavoj Žižek has been called the ‘Elvis Presley’ of philosophy as well as an 'academic rock star'. He is author of The Indivisible Remainder; The Sublime Object of Ideology; The Metastases of Enjoyment; Looking Awry: Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture; The Plague of Fantasies; and The Ticklish Subject. Slavoj Žižek's work can be characterized as vibrant, full of humor, blatant disregard for distinctions between high and low forms of culture and his work and presence has gathered him critical acclaim as a superstar in the world of contemporary theory.
"Iconoclash, is when one does not know, one hesitates, one is troubled by an action for which there is no way to know, without further inquiry, whether it is destructive or constructive," Bruno Latour, Curator's Concept of Iconoclash