On Libya’s cultural heritage

“Libyan cultural and educational institutions usually have a Rip Van Winkle quality, with decades-old signage, little Web presence, and an insular orientation”, wrote Ann Marlow in an article titled After Gadhafi, Hope for Modernity for The Wall Street Journal. While Marlow appreciates that people like Fatheia al Howasi, the director of Libya’s National Museum are working hard to maintain and restore the cultural heritage of Libya, she is quick to notice that Howasi’s english is “serviceable”.

The National Museum which, according to Marlow, contains “no classical pieces of earth-shattering importance” is being restored to meet international standards and will be reopening for the Libyan public soon. However, she reports that Howasi “admits that the reason so few of the Arabic signs are translated into English is that the museum “was not allowed to write by English” during one period” during Gadhafi’s regime. Furthermore, while Marlow was visiting “Ms. Howasi was unable to find any English guide or catalog to the museum.”

Marlow also doesn’t refrain from judging the general quality of Libyan cultural and educational institutions which, in her opinion, “usually have a Rip Van Winkle quality”. The Islamic artefacts fail to meet Marlow’s standards and “probably reflects the fact that Libya was a backwater for most of the postclassical period”.

William Y. Brown, on the other hand, considers Libyan cultural heritage as rich, deep, and a potential binding force for the people in post-conflict Libya. He sees beauty in 1,200 year old rock art, Berber music, art, architecture, food coexisting with the Arab society, as well as Libya’s distinct desert plant species. Libya’s heritage and World Heritage sites are decaying from neglect and the harsh environmental elements, admits Brown, and natural resources are endangered because of overexploitation. He then provides some suggestions on how Libya can develop a strong structure for protecting and managing its cultural heritage for social and economic prosperity based on successful examples from other countries of the world

Both articles approach Libya’s cultural heritage from different perspectives, compared with Brown’s ideas, Marlow’s report seems to be almost mocking Libyan culture and the people’s “serviceable” English. To her credit, Marlow does acknowledge that one of the reasons that why there are no significant artefacts in Libya is because “fair amount of Libya’s classical heritage made its way to Italian and other European museums during the Italian occupation”. However, it’s Brown who believes in the importance of the link between Libya’s culture, politics, and economic future.



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