Saturday, April 13, 2013

What is "Cultural Security?"

What does the phrase "cultural security" mean? How would you define it?
Here are a few examples of usage.
In Australia, the phrase is used when speaking about how modernization threatens to change the way of life of Aborigines. In China, political officials have employed the phrase as policy to guard against the "negative" influence of foreign pop culture. In Africa, leaders have applied the phrase in voicing concerns over the impact of development on local traditions.
It get's more complex when talking about how a community or society might protect its culture abroad as in the global market for antiquities and tribal art. For example, a recent sale of Hopi masks in Paris caused emotional reactions that transcended current cultural property laws. Shared cultural heritage, such as UNESCO World Heritage sites, also expands the meaning of the phrase. When monuments on the World Heritage list are threatened by natural erosion or economic development, cultural security has global significance.
There seems to be a common thread in meaning that "cultural security" is the challenge of preserving cultural identity in the face of modernization and globalization.
But it's no longer quite that neatly defined.
In some cases, property and traditions are deliberately targeted with the intent of undermining or even eliminating a culture. In World War II, Nazi destruction of Slavic heritage and illicit acquisition of art from Jewish collectors are poignant examples. More recently, the demolition of the giant statues of Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan terrorized locals and shocked the world as did the destruction of Sufi shrines in Timbuktu, Mali. In each case, the destruction of cultural property was related to violence against an ethnicity or religion. In each case, the targeted destruction undermined a sense of security.
As a result, the security of cultural property is now also related to how safe individuals feel, and so the phrase "cultural security" has taken on new meaning. The Director-General of UNESCO has even cast cultural heritage as relevant to international security. Simultaneously, a lucrative market for cultural artifacts from emerging nations attracts the attention of organized crime and, thereby, adds a dimension to cultural security.
The expanding meaning of the phrase suggests that culture will play an increasingly important role in global politics, economics, and security.
What do you think "cultural security" will mean in the 21st century?

Monday, January 14, 2013

politics and cultural security

When we highlight cultural security in the political sphere our primary difficulty is defining culture.  We need to flesh out what culture can mean in relation to politics.  This is not easy.  We all know what culture is but when pressed for a definition it’s tough to nail down.
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Thanks to Buzan and Co. we’re able to acknowledge the widened, broadened definition of security, which has come to include culture without question.  But we’re still without a definition of what culture means according to security when it comes to tougher issues like its use in foreign policy decisions. The role of politics in maintaining cultural security or insecurity is both cause and effect of our foreign policy.  Tabling the issue or treating it lightly does not mean it’s less significant:  the cultural aspects of security more and more influence and define international relations today.

A NY times article about US troops in Afghanistan after the NATO mission ends in 2014 mentions narrowing our forces to decrease the “footprint” that we’ve been imprinting there this past decade.
A decade is a long time.  What are we facing here:  the troops coming home at last?  Or the return of sovereignty to a nation for so long controlled by others besides themselves?  Yes and yes.

But there’s more, isn’t there?  The rest is so obvious that we hesitate to verbalize and assess it:  American culture’s remaining influence on Afghanistan government function, the presence of the military affecting Afghani foreign policy decisions - our very large and beautiful footprint left in the sand that no wind could ever blow away.
Do all these things left behind after all these years – not just by us, but by all the others before us – “become” their culture?  How much conscious determination will or do the Afghanis have regarding the maintenance and protection of whatever they may consider their own culture, tradition, or security?

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These are the kinds of queries that lead to deeper thoughts about politics in cultural security – the requirement to define culture; the need to acknowledge its influence on foreign policy; the role of culture in maintaining security; and the function of culture in softening, contributing, or confusing the political issues at hand.