Cultural heritage in conflict: a case study on the protection of cultural heritage in Lebanon

Independent Scholar (Austria)

More and more complex warfare that increasingly involves non-state actors and uses people’s identity as a target has posed an emerging risk to tangible and intangible cultural heritage. This has been globally recognized and efforts of the international community have set a legal framework to ensure adequate cultural heritage protection at several levels. However, the implementation of those protection measures is lagging behind as the unstable situation in conflict-affected regions like the Middle East implies a number of further threats, amongst others, war, political turmoil, corruptive institutions, or the lack of basic services such as electricity and waste management. This has resulted in anger and frustration among citizens.

When resilience is needed most, cultural heritage can make a crucial contribution by defining identity, strengthening stability and enhancing self-esteem. Latest examples have shown that if states fail, civil society jumps in as in the case of Beirut’s reconstruction after the port blast 2020. Nowadays challenges and current threats for cultural heritage show that civil society can play an even greater role for its protection in times of crisis.

This paper examines the concept of cultural heritage by looking at its relation to conflict in the specific case of Lebanon, a country that is not only shattered by a blast but currently faces the worst economic crises since the civil war. As the protection of cultural heritage is closely linked to cultural memory and how communities perceive culture and identity to safeguard it and pass on their knowledge to future generations, it is demonstrated how civil society can contribute to cultural heritage protection in order to increase the well-being amongst the citizens.