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In Wake of Terrorist Attacks, France Looks to Fight ISIS with Cultural Preservation

The historic Bataclan theater in Paris (Image via Wikimedia)
The historic Bataclan theater in Paris (Image via Wikimedia)

This week, France announced two plans to fight back against ISIS’s cultural destruction. French culture minister Fleur Pellerin unveiled a $6 million fund that will help France’s cultural institutions recover from the recent attack. And President Francois Holland revealed that the country may enact a law that allows French museums to temporarily house at-risk artifacts from Syria and Iraq. 

Members of ISIS destroying ancient statues in the Mosul Museum (GIFs Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)
Members of ISIS destroying ancient statues in the Mosul Museum (GIFs Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

According to the AFP, Pellerin told France’s General Assembly Wednesday that a new $6 million solidarity fund will help theaters, cinemas, and museums recoup their losses. Following the deadly terror attack, which killed 129 people (including German art critic Fabian Stech and French artist Alban Denuitt) and injured 352 more, the country declared a three-day state of mourning. Many cultural events — including Paris Photo — were cancelled. “France will dance again, sing again, draw new cartoons, and culture will remain proud, insolent and free,” Pellerin told France’s National Assembly.

The news came the same day President Hollande announced France will take in 30,000 refugees over the next two years. The previous day, Hollande told an audience at UNESCO’s General Conference about a proposed law that could allow at-risk cultural heritage objects in Syria and Iraq to be temporarily safeguarded in France. “The right to asylum applies to people,” he said, “but asylum also applies to works, [to] world heritage.” According to the AFP, the country will also adopt UN Security Council resolutions banning the import and trade of looted goods, as well as tighten customs checks at borders to prevent such goods from coming into the country. 

The scheme was conceived in a 50-point plan written by Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez and published Tuesday as well. According to The Art NewspaperPresident Hollande first commissioned the report in June after ISIS destroyed several ancient buildings in Palmyra. In it, Martinez made a number of other recommendations, including the establishment of an endowment for the preservation of world heritage that could finance reconstruction of places like Palmyra; the creation of a European database for stolen artifacts; and a European Monitoring Center that would fight against illegal trafficking in the EU. Martinez also wants to build a memorial at the Tuileries Gardens in Paris to honor “guardians of heritage” like archaeologist Khaled al-Assad, murdered by ISIS in August. 

By preserving culture, France is fighting back against a group that is notorious for destroying cultural symbols and objects it deems idolatrous. Over the course of the past year, ISIS has blown up many important heritage sites in Syria and Iraq, including the 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel in Palmyra and the items in the Mosul Museum in Iraq.

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