The War Diaries

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Archive for the ‘Cyrene’ tag

The Intrinsic Value of Ancient Sites

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I visited Luxor six years after the massacre at the temple of Hatshepsut which killed 62. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

I visited Luxor six years after the massacre at the temple of Hatshepsut which killed 62. The vicious killing of dozens was believed to have been carried out by al-Gamm’a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group). Their interest was in murdering human beings rather than destroying the idolatrous statues evoking Egypt’s ancient past. But that was pre-interent radicalism. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

New York- As the faux caliphate referring to itself as ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyyah (Islamic State) continues to smash the shared human heritage of Iraq and Syria, the world watches in revulsion with no strategy to halt it. The threat posed by salafi-jihadis to precious sites is nothing new unfortunately. In 2012 and early 2013, a jihadi outfit in northern Mali called Ansar Dine destroyed Sufi shrines and graves to prevent any form of veneration that they believed diverged from the purest monotheism. These groups style themselves as purifying movements that are merely carrying out the will of god as if they have no choice in cultural destruction. The demolition of nodes of Sufi culture in Libya has also been taking place but to far less condemnation globally as it is categorized as sectarian strife for which the outside world has no authority to judge as it doesn’t retain the Sunni jurisprudence of a particular ulama. The head of UNESCO or President Obama condemning a particular act carries no weight among the militants. It likely only further emboldens them.

Egypt, with its plethora of what seems like the world’s most famous ancient sites per square kilometer from the Sudanese border to Cairo, has been spared the large scale devastation occurring elsewhere in the region. Terrorism in Egypt has concentrated on mass casualty attacks on places frequented by Israelis or presently on security forces, most often in the Sinai peninsula.Egypt’s hulking monuments owing the pharaonic period have survived the erosion of time, vandalism eons ago by Islamists (possibly), and hordes of tourists for countless decades. When priceless monuments have been wrecked by salafis in recent years, or Deobandis in the case of the Bamian buddhas, they are attempting to erase the complexity of the lands they temporarily control. Their use of the internet to disseminate these acts is entirely hypocritical but one can be sure they have cherry picked a way to justify doing so.

When I visited the magnificent ruins of Cyrene while taking a break from covering the war in Libya in 2011, they were totally unprotected. I doubt this has changed significantly if at all. Naively, I viewed Libya’s past as being a possible key to its post-Qaddafi future. With places like Cyrene, Leptis Magna and Sabratha situated not far from sprawling beaches, Libya could’ve theoretically developed a nascent tourist industry just south of the EU. Instead, Libya is mired in a factional, fratricidal  war with no effective legitimate government. At present these spellbinding sites are under threat. With Cyrene’s proximity to Derna, it may be first on the list.

I fear for the near term future of the Graeco-Roman ruins of Cyrene. To get there four years ago I had to go through Derna which is now considered to be in control of a tentacle of the Islamic State in coastal North Africa. The statues are already headless. But the pre-Islamic history of this region may be destroyed under the rubric of IS’s online propaganda machine. UNESCO would be powerless to stop this from happening. ©2011 Derek henry Flood

I fear for the near term future of the Graeco-Roman ruins of Cyrene. To get there four years ago I had to go through Derna which is now considered to be in control of a tentacle of the Islamic State in coastal North Africa. The statues are already headless. But the pre-Islamic history of this region may be destroyed under the rubric of IS’s online propaganda machine. UNESCO would be powerless to stop this from happening. ©2011 Derek henry Flood

As I mentioned in a previous post, there is this concept that somehow the plight of human lives and historic places are in some twisted competition for the world’s attention. This is an immense oversimplification of international affairs. It is framed as if the world community has to choose between UNESCO or UNHCR. All these challenges must be met simultaneously. The idea of the issues are somehow at moral parity is offensive to some but the two priorities really aren’t in any acutual competition. Most of this perception comes from media’s emphasis of events.

The ruins of the ancient world have the capacity to surpass the petty politics that isolate and entrap us in the present. These ancient marvels can bridge an understanding that predates our present impasses. Therein lies their intrinsic value to all humankind.

The Arg-e-Bam in Kerman Province in southeastern Iran. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

The Arg-e-Bam in Kerman Province in southeastern Iran. Not all threats to historic riches are by man, Sites are in peril from nature itself which can do far greater damage than salafis who know how to operate a bulldozer. An earthquake on December 26, 2003 leveled this glorious mud brick complex while killing tens of thousands in the adjoining town.  Tehran is now attempting to at least partially rebuild the citadel in a slow going process. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

March 21st, 2015 at 5:56 pm

Posted in Egypt,Libya,Mali

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Portraits of Libya

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Barcelona- I finally was able to upload this Libya mash-up video I had been working on in NYC from here in Catalunya. For technical reasons beyond my knowledge or control, I was having a devil of a time getting the thing onto Youtube before. I had wanted to get this online before the Friends of Anton benefit event at Christies in Manhattan on May 15. Not that I had anything to do with the event of course, but I was one human degree of separation from Anton Hammerl and I simply thought it would be something nice to do. I’m off to the next conflagration in the shattered Republic of Mali and wanted to get this up beforehand.

This project is obviously not a documentary or scripted television package. These are memories from Libya in total upheaval in 2011. This is my Libya mash-up, dedicated to those photographers that arrived in Libya to tell its story and never made it out. I want to reiterate how grateful I am to the people of both eastern and western Libya. Without their immense hospitality this project would never have been possible. War throws people together in such an odd way who would otherwise likely never have met.

!الثورة والحرية

Written by derekhenryflood

May 22nd, 2012 at 4:19 pm

When In Roman Libya…

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Imagine having acres and acres of ruins to yourself. So many countries at war are also places of stunning antiquity. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Cyrene- Took a long, spectacular trip in the opposite direction of the fighting today to “the Athens of Africa,” an ancient Greek-and later Roman-city called Cyrene in the verdant Jebel al-Akhdar region about midway in between Benghazi and Tobruk. The site was spellbinding and was also an interesting excuse to assess the rebels’ defenses in central Cyrenaica but I’ll be saving that and some other more juicy details for an article. I think I can say virtually all of the journalists have come to Libya for a myopic, ‘soda straw’ view of the country purely through the lens of war. If one looks at Libya’s vastness on a map, the areas where the fighting is concentrated probably make up less than 1/10th of 1% of the country’s land area.

As of today, this place has chewed up a spit out a lot of journos with van loads of them making a break for Egypt after burning themselves out with non-stop frontline coverage. This country, any country for that matter, is so much more than its wars. Taking a journey into the temples and ampitheatres of classical Libya today really gave me a bit of perspective and calm that is sorely lacking in the grind of Benghazi. Paranoia is starting to creep through the city now a bit since people have realized that Qaddafi has people in place here as the apparent assassination of the Al Jazeera camerman today shows. Spending a day in Libya’s green uplands was well worth it. I wish everyone could see the country the way I saw it today. A Libya at peace.

Scope the intense grain in the marble. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Sound check, check, check... Incredible acoustics. These guys knew what they were doing alright. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Look at the detail in this flooring! Italian tiling boutiques in SoHo have nothing on this place. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Bulky, snarling cattle just roaming around the Gymnasium/Forum, the closest thing to tourists here. . ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

I reckon I'm the first person to visit this place without a government minder since 1969 or so. It's a privilege to be here. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Toga party! (Sorry couldn't resist that one) ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

March 12th, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Posted in Libya

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