Terrorism and Public History

Terrorismus und Public History


Of the many variants that terrorism has adopted during the last two and a half centuries, I will focus on terrorism in the 21st century and its relationship to history, especially public history. Terrorist groups such as Islamic State use the destruction of cultural heritage to rub out historical, religious, and cultural memory. Terrorist attacks reach further than the choruses of outrage in Western countries, which first come to mind, might suggest. This said, there is obviously more to this than just “history of terrorism” or “terrorism in a historical perspective” or “terrorism in history”. Terrorism is an agent of public history.
DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2016-5402.
Languages: English, Deutsch

Of the many variants that terrorism has adopted during the last two and a half centuries, I will focus on terrorism in the 21st century and its relationship to history, especially public history. Terrorist groups such as Islamic State use the destruction of cultural heritage to rub out historical, religious, and cultural memory. Terrorist attacks reach further than the choruses of outrage in Western countries, which first come to mind, might suggest. This said, there is obviously more to this than just “history of terrorism” or “terrorism in a historical perspective” or “terrorism in history”. Terrorism is an agent of public history.

Focus: Public History made by Terrorists

If we consider only the destruction of cultural goods, these would be acts of cultural barbarism, but not more. Effectively, terrorists practice history policy. Their way of acting is simple; the main instrument is using violence against people and artefacts. But they also sell cultural goods with the support of the black market. The murder of people working in the cultural heritage field, the destruction of artefacts, and the decontextualization of artefacts by selling them, — all these ways of acting represent the opposite of what how doing public history is practised in democratic countries.[1]
I refer to known facts. The media report regularly and extensively about all kinds of terrorist attacks. Information on notable cases, such as Timbuktu (Mali), Palmyra (Syria), etc., can be easily accessed by the Internet. Statistics related to terrorism since 1970 are provided by the “Global Terrorism Database”[2]. My aim is to reflect on the interpretation of these facts. What do they really tell us?

Terroristic vs. Democratic Public History?

Physical destruction is the opposite of the preservation of sites of historic interest. Murdering people who work in the cultural heritage field is the opposite of the honour and increasing social recognition that such persons experience in democratic countries. The decontextualization of artefacts make these sense- and useless. In democratic countries, public history conforms to legal regulations and public morality, whereas terrorists subjugate law and morality to violence; they stigmatize history and culture as secular crimes against religion. Their aim is to extinguish history.
At first glance, it seems embarrassing to treat terrorist actions within the framework of public history. But some reasons why we should consider them in this way do exist.

About Terrorism and Public History

(1) Terrorists will not reach their goal of erasing history from society. Therefore, as long as they practice a strategy that consists of opposing, step by step, democratic strategies of public history, they are engaged in an unprecedented type of public history. It clearly differs from all other known types used in authoritarian and dictatorial countries, or as has been the case in earlier times of war.

(2) A precise view of terrorist behaviour with regard to cultural heritage in the Mideast and North Africa reveals what terrorist public history really means. The goal is, first of all, to cut Europe off from its historical roots. Many media complain about the destruction of the cultural heritage of mankind or of Islamic sanctuaries. This is only some of the truth. Palmyra is the most prominent but not the only case that confirms that the historical foundations of European civilization have become a target. Currently, it is difficult to assess the extent of the phenomenon. The “Global Terrorism Database” does not specify attacks on cultural heritage; most appear under the heading of “religious figures/institutions”, but one would need to take a closer look at each attack to determine whether it concerns cultural heritage or not.

(3) Public history, in democratic countries, invites people to participate. Living History, crowdsourcing, Historypin festivals, public commemoration days, exhibitions, museums, visits to cultural sites, and so much more, provide various opportunities and a large choice of what people can do. Tourism at home and abroad is a genuine part of public history. Terrorist attacks that are directed especially against tourists and at highly frequented sites such as, recently, Istanbul, complete the strategy to cut (not only) Europe off from its historical and civilizational roots (not only) in the Mideast and North Africa. Preventing people from being tourists focuses on changing what has become a ‘habitus’ (not only) in democracies and an essential part of Public History. Terrorists try to impede the rich communicative fluxes that are linked to tourism.

(4) Terrorists will not achieve their aim because they underestimate the force and dynamics of democratic public history. Recently, The Economist[3] published a very interesting article on strategies for preserving Islamic manuscripts in Mali. One should, at least as a European, never forget how much Europe benefitted from flourishing Islamic cultures around the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. The preservation of the Timbuktu and other manuscripts owes much to the energy of a single person, Abdel Kader Haidara, but also to UNESCO, St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota (filming and digitization of the manuscripts) and to numerous other supporters and financial benefactors. These agents are representative of people doing public history.
The same is true for people helping to reconstruct Palmyra. The Eremitage Museum, as well as Syrians working on-site or in exile, and many others collects all kinds of documents (photos, visualizations, texts, descriptions, etc.). The aim is to establish a complete documentation on which the future reconstruction of Palmyra and its artefacts will be based.


The conclusion, here, is that the historical web that Europe, the Mideast, and North Africa built up for more than 2000 years, inevitably, has become an issue in Public History. Terrorism attacks this web at that moment when, in Europe, the use of Public History has significantly contributed to overcoming a Eurocentric understanding of history. Terrorism may influence the European vision of history by encouraging, anew, Eurocentric concepts that draw a clear borderline between histories and cultures.


Further Reading

Web Resources

  • The Weblog of Prof Wolfgang Schmale – http://wolfgangschmale.eu (published 8 December 2015) (last accessed at 17 January 2016).
  • Global Terrorism Database, University of Maryland,  http://www.start.umd.edu (last update June 2015) (last accessed 17 January 2016).

[1] I use the term “democratic country” because everything that we normally deal with under the label of “Public History” refers to the context a democratic country provides for its population. Authoritarian and dictatorial countries also practice ‘Public History’ but it is completely controlled and steered by the government’s or the dictator’s history policy. Last but not least, terrorists attack democracy and its liberties. Therefore, we must focus on Public History in democracies versus terrorists’ Public History.
[2] University of Maryland, last update June 2015 (http://www.start.umd.edu) (last accessed 17 January 2016).
[3] The Economist, December 19th 2015-January 1st 2016: Preserving Manuscripts, p. 41-43.


Image Credits

Still from Documentary “The Giant Buddhas” by Christian Frei, Creative Commons, flickr (Last accessed 28.01.2016)

Recommended Citation

Schmale, Wolfang: Terrorism and Public History. In: Public History Weekly 4 (2016) 4, DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2016-5402.

In den letzten 250 Jahren hat sich der Terrorismus sehr unterschiedlich gezeigt. Hier soll es um die Beziehung zwischen Terrorismus und Public History gehen. Terrororganisationen wie der “Islamische Staat” benutzen die Zerstörung des kulturellen Erbes, um das historische, religiöse und kulturelle Gedächtnis zu eliminieren. Terrorakte reichen aber weiter, als es in der allgemeinen Empörung im Westen seinen Ausdruck findet. Es geht um mehr als nur “Geschichte des Terrorismus“ oder “Terrorismus in historischer Perspektive“ oder auch “Terrorismus in der Geschichte“. Terrorismus ist ein Akteur der Public History.

Im Fokus: Public History durch Terroristen

Wenn es sich nur um die Zerstörung kultureller Güter handeln würde, dann ginge es lediglich um barbarische Akte. Tatsächlich machen Terroristen jedoch Geschichtspolitik. Ihre Vorgehensweise ist einfach, hauptsächlich wird Gewalt gegen Personen und Artefakte eingesetzt. Aber es werden auch kulturelle Güter auf dem Schwarzmarkt verkauft. Die Ermordung von Persönlichkeiten, die im Bereich des kulturellen Erbes arbeiten, die Zerstörung von Artefakten und deren Entkontextualisierung durch Verkauf sind Handlungsweisen, die exakt das Gegenteil dessen sind, was in demokratischen Ländern die Praxis der Public History ausmacht.[1]
Hintergrund meiner Ausführungen sind allgemein bekannte Fakten, wie sie den Medien, die ausführlich und kontinuierlich über Terroranschläge berichten, entnommen werden können. Informationen über die Vorgänge in Mali/Timbuktu oder Palmyra/Syrien können problemlos im Internet gefunden werden. Statistische Angaben zum Terrorismus seit 1970 (bis 2014) stellt die Datenbank “Global Terrorism Database“ bereit.[2] Mir geht es um die Interpretation der Fakten. Was sagen uns diese wirklich?

Terroristische vs demokratische Public History?

Die physische Zerstörung steht der Bewahrung und dem Denkmalschutz von Orten mit historischem Interesse gegenüber. Die Ermordung von Persönlichkeiten, die im Bereich des kulturellen Erbes arbeiten, steht den Ehrungen und der Akkumulation sozialen Kapitals, wie in demokratischen Ländern üblich, gegenüber. Die Entkontextualisierung von Artefakten entleert sie ihrer Bedeutung und ihres Nutzens. In Demokratien wird Public History im Rahmen von Recht und Moral praktiziert, während Terroristen Recht und Moral der Gewalt unterwerfen. Sie stigmatisieren Geschichte und Kultur als weltliche Verbrechen gegen die Religion. Das Ziel ist, die Geschichte auszulöschen.
Auf den ersten Blick mag es befremdlich wirken, Handlungen von Terroristen im Rahmen des Themas Public History zu behandeln. Aber einige Gründen sprechen dafür, dies zu tun.

Über Terrorismus und Public History

(1) Terroristen werden das Ziel, Geschichte in einer Gesellschaft auszulöschen, nicht erreichen. Das heißt, solange sie Strategien praktizieren, die exakt den Strategien der Public History in der Demokratie entgegengesetzt sind, praktizieren sie einen bisher beispiellosen Typ von Public History. Sie unterscheiden sich dabei auch von den bekannten Praktiken in autoritären Ländern und Diktaturen sowie von dem, was wir aus vielen historischen Kriegszeiten kennen.

(2) Ein genauer Blick auf Verhaltensweisen von Terroristen in Bezug auf kulturelles Erbe im Nahen Osten und Nordafrika erweist, was terroristische Public History tatsächlich bedeutet. Zuallererst Europa soll von seinen historischen Wurzeln in diesem Raum abgeschnitten werden. In vielen Medien wird von der Zerstörung des Weltkulturerbes oder muslimischer Heiligtümer gesprochen. Das ist noch nicht die ganze Wahrheit. Palmyra ist der bekannteste aber längst nicht der einzige Fall, der beweist, dass die historischen Grundlagen der europäischen Zivilisation zum Ziel geworden sind. Der genaue Umfang von Anschlägen mit diesem Ziel ist schwer zu messen. Die Datenbank “Global Terrorism Database“ weist Anschläge auf das kulturelle Erbe nicht eigens aus, sie sind unter die Zielgruppe “religious figures/institutions“ eingeordnet, aber man muss sich jeden einzelnen Fall anschauen, ob es um kulturelles Erbe geht oder nicht.

(3) In Demokratien ist die Bevölkerung eingeladen, Public History mit zu gestalten: Living History, Crowdsourcing, Historypin, Festivals, öffentliche Gedenkveranstaltungen, Ausstellungen, Museen, Besuche kultureller Stätten und so vieles mehr bieten verschiedenste Gelegenheiten und Wahlmöglichkeiten, etwas zu tun. Tourismus zu Hause und im Ausland ist ein genuiner Teil von Public History. Terroranschläge, die speziell gegen Touristen und hochfrequentierte Orte wie vor kurzem in Istanbul gerichtet sind, ergänzen die Strategie, (nicht nur) Europa von seinen historischen und kulturellen Wurzeln (nicht nur) in Nahost und Nordafrika abzuschneiden.
Der Versuch, durch Anschläge Menschen davon abzuhalten, als Touristen unterwegs zu sein, zielt darauf einen Habitus zu ändern, der (nicht nur) in Demokratien zu Public History wesentlich dazugehört.

(4) Terroristen werden ihre Ziele allerdings nicht erreichen, da sie die Kraft und Dynamik der demokratischen Public History unterschätzen. Das Magazin “The Economist“ publizierte in der Dezember-Ausgabe 2015 einen interessanten Artikel über die Rettung islamischer Manuskripte in Mali.[3] Als Europäer/in sollte man niemals vergessen, wieviel Europa im Mittelalter und der Frühen Neuzeit von den blühenden islamischen Kulturen rund um das Mittelmeer profitierte. Die Rettung der Manuskripte aus Timbuktu und anderen Orten ist zuallererst einer Person, Abdel Kader Haidara, zu verdanken, aber auch die UNESCO, die St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota (Abfilmen bzw. Digitalisieren der Manuskripte) und viele andere Helfer und Spender beteiligen sich. Diese Akteure sind repräsentativ für die Menschen, die Public History praktizieren.
Dasselbe gilt für jene Menschen, die dabei helfen, Palmyra zu rekonstruieren. Die Eremitage in St. Petersburg, Syrer/innen vor Ort und im Exil und viele andere sammeln Dokumente aller Art (Fotos, Visualisierungen, Texte, Beschreibungen etc.). Ziel ist es, eine vollständige Dokumentation zusammenzutragen, die einer künftigen Rekonstruktion Palmyras und seiner Artefakte dienen soll.


Historisch stellen Europa, Naher Osten und Nordafrika ein Netz (Web) dar, das in mehr als 2000 Jahren entstand und zu einem Thema der Public History geworden ist. Die Terroranschläge auf dieses Netz geschehen just heute, wo Public History viel zur Überwindung eurozentrischer Sichtweisen auf Geschichte beigetragen hat. Der Terror könnte ein Wiederaufleben eurozentrischer Konzepte begünstigen, die scharfe Grenzlinien zwischen den Geschichten und Kulturen ziehen.




  • Das Weblog von Prof. Dr. Schmale – http://wolfgangschmale.eu (veröffentlicht am 8. Dezember 2015, zuletzt am 17. Januar 2016).
  • Global Terrorism Database, University of Maryland (last update June 2015) –  http://www.start.umd.edu (zuletzt am 17. Januar 2016).

[1] Ich spreche von “demokratischen Ländern“ weil der Begriff Public History üblicherweise auf die Geschichtspraxis in einem demokratischen Kontext verweist. Natürlich existiert Public History auch in autoritären Staaten und Diktaturen, ist dort aber im Wesentlichen nur Teil der Geschichtspolitik der Regierung. Terroristen geht es um den Angriff auf die Demokratie und ihre Freiheit. Es geht daher um Public History in der Demokratie versus Public History von Terroristen.
[2] University of Maryland, last update June 2015 (http://www.start.umd.edu) (zuletzt am 17. Januar 2016).
[3] The Economist, December 19th 2015-January 1st 2016: Preserving Manuscripts, p. 41-43



Ausschnitt aus dem Film “The Ginat Buddhas (2005) von Christian Frei, Creative Commons, flickr (zuletzt 28.01.2016)

Empfohlene Zitierweise

Schmale, Wolfang: Terrorismus und Public History. In: Public History Weekly 4 (2016) 4, DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2016-5402.

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Categories: 4 (2016) 4
DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2016-5402

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5 replies »

  1. Beyond Remembering vs. Destroying

    This is an exciting and inspiring article. Wolfgang Schmale tries to understand terrorist attacks on historical sites as a form of Public History: Terrorist history policy is based on a form of public history that is opposed to democratic forms. Terrorists fight against everything that is typical for public history in democratic societies. Schmale is optimistic about the strength of public historians fighting for the world’s historical heritage. Nonetheless, he fears the development of “Eurocentric concepts that draw a clear borderline between histories and cultures”.

    Are these legitimate fears? Schmale’s pessimist view is based on a rigid dichotomy between the democratic remembering and the terrorist destroying. What happens if we differentiate this “clear borderline”? Is not every form of remembering also an act of destruction and forgetting? Is not every form of destruction and forgetting an act of remembrance?[1] On the one hand, remembering a “cultural heritage” reduces the history of a society to an interesting and admirable “culture”. On the other hand, the islamist destruction of historical sites activates a historical narrative about a passed sinful society.[2]

    What does the complex relationship between forgetting and remembering teach us? Perhaps, we have to think more about complex interactions between terrorist public history and democratic forms. It does not have to end up with a “clash of civilizations” (Huntington), as Schmale fears. Fundamentalist forms of “damnatio memoriae” and memories of a sinful past can force us to remember and rethink our cultural relationship to ancient cultures in North Africa and the Mideast. This is one more reason why the terrorist destruction of historical sites does not reach its goals: The destruction as a remembrance reminds European societies of its entangled histories with the “Orient”. And it might even remind us that “heritage” is much more than lovely cultural monuments to be documented by public historians and to be visited by tourists.

    [1] See Michel de Certeau: The Writing of History, transl. by Tom Conley, Columbia 1998.
    [2] For the case of the Taliban destroying of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Slavoj Žižek argued that the Taliban took the buddhist gods more serious than the tolerant Western reception. See Žižek, Slavoj: The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity, Massachusetts 2003; in German see also Žižek, Slavoj: Gefährlicher Glaube. Die westliche Toleranz verfehlt das Wesen der Religion, in: Die Zeit, 11.03.2004, Nr. 12.

  2. Wolfgang Schmale raises an interesting point on the entanglement of fundamentalist and violent de facto-governments like ISIS and their role in the ever-changing historical narratives. Given that we accept the term “Terrorism” as an umbrella word for organizations such as ISIS and the Taliban, he correctly states that “Terrorism is an agent of public history”. Even more so, the perception of the physical destruction of sites of historic interest as “the opposite of preservation” is correct from a Public Historian’s view, which is not as trivial of a thought as it may seem at first.

    However, his argumentation lacks some clear definitions and sets up dogmas that are at least questionable. First, Schmale implicitly creates a distinction between Terrorist Public History and the Public History of dictatorial countries but fails to explain any differences. Given that he describes the aims of Terrorist Public History as the “destruction […] and the decontextualization of artefacts”, there’s not much that separates this from authoritarian or totalitarian regimes that have extensively tried to enforce their own historical master narrative.

    Second, Schmale, who draws a dystopian image of a new eurocentric concept in his conclusion, seems to succumb to his very eurocentrism himself when he states that the goal of the artefact destruction “is, first of all, to cut Europe off from its historical roots”. This is a strong point to make that, in my opinion, overestimates the role of history in foreign and military western policy, and simultaneously underestimates the policy such terrorist organizations try to follow regarding the soil they act on – the middle east and northern Africa, that is. The destruction of historical sites, as prominent as they may be, won’t cut off Europe from its roots in that region – in fact, it raises awareness of the existence of those sites in the general public. Palmyra might have been a big name among Middle East aficionados, but its German and English Wikipedia articles only gained popularity and volume after it was threatened by ISIS, as the respective version history shows. On the other hand, the destruction of those sites might have been a way to enforce ISIS’ own historical narrative to the organization itself and the people now living under its power more than to the Western World. Apart from actual academics researching those sites, the value of Palmyra for the popular conception of history isn’t lost through its destruction, because the proof of its existence and its presence in popular media suffices.

    Furthermore, Schmale describes the violence against tourists and touristic sites as a means “to cut (not only) Europe off from its historical and civilizational roots”. This, again, overestimates the importance of the authentic historical site or its Benjaminian “Aura” for the building of a narrative in Public History. No citizen of a Western civilization will forget its roots in Istanbul, Syria or Northern Africa because his Department of State issues a travel warning. The underlying motive seems to be plain and simple: ISIS (or other Terrorists) wants to target Western Civilians, and there’s no greater chance for them to find those targets as to aim for Tourist hot spots.

    The last important reservation I have to make is Schmale’s flattering image of Public History in democratic societies. We as Public Historians certainly like to hear about all the great offers we deliver to the public and that their role in the formation of a historical narrative can’t be overestimated. Admittedly, though, we as a loosely-defined group of Workers in the Vineyard of the Past are far from perfect and similarly far from acting under perfect circumstances. For example, the fact that a large majority in our societies may have never heard of Palmyra and its historical significance before ISIS sheds a questionable light on our work and bears the insufferable question whether the destruction of artefacts is a better way to make them prominent as our old and new tools of Public History.

    Schmale’s initiative to discuss the role of Public History in undemocratic orders and the role of undemocratic orders in Public History is to be appreciated. As the concept of Public History is one of the Modern Western World, it needs to be adapted for other cultures and state forms. There’s little reason to make a distinction between Terrorism and Totalitarianism in History Politics, however. We, as Public Historians in a democratic environment, need to find ways to interact with others without giving up our principles. With the rise of unfree nations on a global scale, this debate has only begun.

  3. Wolfgang Schmale names problems and an overall-situation of Europe and the regions it is primarily (geographically and culturally) intertwined with that is of great importance for today’s and our futures culture. Terrorist public history is a new phenomenon that forms “kind of” a structure within our cultural and political networks, most of all using digital and social media to perform its practices. Like this, we have, from my point of view, to address some very basic questions.

    (1) We have to ask, what the word and term “history” – and public history as as a cultural discourse of our time – does mean. So far, since the eighteenth century and the professionalization of historiography as a scientific discipline of its own, in a European-regional and global context, we refer to “history” as a scientific practice givig meaning to our past by putting it into the framework of rational thought; we put it into the framework of “logos”, going back to the very roots of European culture – whatever we want to see as European culture.

    (2) What terrorist public history does is very different from this, but, at the same time, does take up the rational constructions of scientific historical discourse – mediawise. In terrorist public history the past is cut off from its rational and “Western” form – it becomes an entitity of violence. Like this, here we face a very different form of historical-cultural metaphysics: the past becomes a means of violence. Moreover, history as our form of telling and envisioning the past becomes contested. In terrorist public history discourse we face the identity of history and violence – which is construed via digital media culture.

    So, this leads up to a new focus of research needed for these questions: We have to come to terms with history as violence. Recent research on violence, the history of violence is a very good starting point for the tasks lying ahead. We have to ask ourselves as historians what forms violence does take in the 21st century, and, what we can do to re-adapt our professional discourse in face of a situation where the past as historical storytelling (and we should be very aware of the difference between the past and history as science) becomes a means of violence.

  4. Terrorism would be about public history and has something to do with history and policy? This is a strong and provocative reasoning! Should we share Wolfgang Schmale’s strong assertion, totally, partially, not at all?

    I would answer not at all: terrorism is not an “agent of public history”. Public history is done by historians able to engage with the many public and communities worldwide on very different aspects of their pasts because of their knowledge and skills; knowledge and skills sometime shared between historians, mediators and these communities.

    What is the relation with the past terrorists are bringing with their destructions and killings?
    What we see with ISIS for instance is total cancellation of different pasts, different memories and all forms of heritage, Islamic, western, Indo-European, etc. This kind of terrorism is about nihilism built on an enormous ignorance of mankind and the complexity of our societies and their pasts.

    To try to compare a “democratic public history” with a “terrorist public history activity” selling pieces of heritages is not only inappropriate up to me, it is profoundly wrong even if we would refer to a kind of post-colonial form of public history: these killers in the area of the old Mesopotamia and Syria finance their wars against the whole humanity. It does no matter what they sell, it matters how much they get from what they sell: petrol and art. Is this by any means possibly linked to creating knowledge with the past and communicating it, any kind, even the softest? No, these people perform the most horrific actions in the polis human being are capable to do.

    Destructing pieces of heritage is a form of non-democratic public history? I don’t think so: public history and public use of history were activated in many historical dictatorships during the 20th century: Nazi and Fascists used all possible references to a past that was giving them legitimacy. ISIS do not want the past and not even the present, looking at a paradise yet to come after death and self-destruction.

    So, yes it is extremely “embarrassing to treat terrorist actions within the framework of public history”. This is maybe one of the few sentences I would share of this post. The so-called Islamic State is not attacking only what the author calls democratic public heritage (Roman Empire?) but all other forms of Middle Eastern heritage present in this area that has not to be rooted to “western heritage” only. They look at erasing all traces of history the same way they would like to suppress the feminine part of humanity aiming at a paradise yet to come full of submissive virgins. ISIS blind terrorism is perpetrated all azimuth against Islamic heritage, Mediterranean and western heritage, in Turkey like in the Sahel and other African countries. They do not accept Western music, yes, but they do not accept any kind of musical culture nor the root of Islamic music in Mali.

    So, the only paragraph I share in this blog post is the last one and his conclusion: humanity at large dedicates passion and men and women dedicate sometimes their life to preserve all memories and cultural roots. This is the reason why public history activities and the role of culture as such will beat obscurantism and win against these killers with no past and memories and a precarious present.

  5. Author’s Reply | Replik

    I’m grateful to all commentators for their suggestions and critique. I would maintain the distinction between destructions of memory caused by terrorist acts, on the one hand, and destructions, as Philippe Weber argues, that constitute an inevitable consequence of each type of remembering cultural heritage, on the other hand. I did not quote Huntington, and I didn’t quote him because I do not adopt his ‘theory’. I agree with Weber that terrorists’ acts of destruction may motivate ‘us’ “remember and rethink our cultural relationship to ancient cultures in North Africa and the Mideast“.

    Moritz Hoffmann is asking whether the distinction between terrorist destruction as public history and destructions due to dictatorships is meaningful. Dictatorial or totalitarian regimes are constructing their version of history by creating narratives, myths or by building monuments. Of course, they also destroy historical buildings or change massively historical narratives. But, at least, they do not deny history and historical culture or cultural heritage in the same way as terrorists do. We should bear in mind these distinctions.

    We cannot underestimate the role of tourism today. For millions of people, who have visited historical sites in the Mideast or in northern Africa, or who know by catalogues that it would be possible to travel there (actually not, of course) if they only desired to do so, these historical regions are part of their historical consciousness. To cut tourists off from the sites’ visits or to strike them like in Istanbul needs reflection with regard to the consequences during the coming years as Peter Pichler shows in his comment. I don’t see that this argument deals with Eurocentrism (Hoffmann). Pichler is arguing that we should look at history through the perspective of “history as violence”. This seems to me a promising approach to go further on.

    Serge Noiret privileges the role of historians with public history. I think the contrary is true. Public history, first of all, is an agent of the public. Historians enter that public with their professional knowledge but they are secondary agents. Noiret’s comment is, as to say, “anti-Schmale”. Okay! But I don’t share his one-dimensional view on terrorist action. There is more than pure violence in it.

    For further information please have a look on Wolfgang Schmale’s weblog.

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