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?