Accepted Paper:

Destruction of Material and Immaterial Cultural Heritage Since Timbuktu  
Rosemarie Bernard (Waseda University (Tokyo))

Paper short abstract:

The destruction of World Heritage Sites at Timbuktu in 2012 caused outrage. In 2016 the International Criminal Court found perpetrators guilty of War Crimes. This paper considers the related problem of destruction of immaterial culture and of anthropological and legal discourses on the subject.

Paper long abstract:

In June 2012 at the Battle of Timbuktu, several important architectural monuments and Sufi shrines, as well as and archives and their documents, were deliberately destroyed. The world was outraged because these were designated World Heritage sites with special significance for the history of Islamic culture in West Africa. The deliberate destruction of Timbuktu was an attack not only on its material culture but on its immaterial culture of Sufism as well, which is also elsewhere a frequent target by radical Islamic groups and by some established conservative regimes, such as Saudi Arabia.

In 2016 the International Criminal Court successfully tried the leader of the perpetrators of the destruction at Timbuktu for the deliberate destruction of 'cultural heritage' as a War Crime.

In this paper I raise the problem of the overemphasis on the material dimensions of culture that has come about as a result of the practice of World Heritage Site designation. I will compare understandings of the relationship between the destruction of material as opposed to immaterial culture in the discourses of Anthropology and of International Criminal Law. How does an Anthropological perspective on the destruction at Timbuktu differ from a legal one in regard to immaterial cultural destruction? Does either approach or a combination of both better allow us to approach critically the materialist basis of our appreciation of 'culture', especially at times of crisis?

Panel P088
Deliberate Destruction of Cultural Heritage