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The War on Music. Heritage, Islam and Peacekeeping in relation to the Islamist attacks in Mali

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WARMUSIC (The War on Music. Heritage, Islam and Peacekeeping in relation to the Islamist attacks in Mali)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-12-31

This project has offered a critical approach to the recent phenomenon of the Islamist attacks on cultural heritage. Its objectives have been to analyze 1) the performative and musical dimensions of Islamic identity during conflicts and 2) the global protection policies of the so-called “intangible heritage”. The research developed around a central case-study: the attacks on music (formal interdictions, threats to musicians, destruction of musical instruments) that occurred during the Northern Mali occupation by armed groups claiming to be Islamists in 2012, and the intangible heritage protection and reconstruction programs implemented by the Malian Government, UNESCO, UN peace force and the European Union.
The enquiry, based on an ethnographic methodology, developed around two specular sections. The first one was dedicated to the musical negotiations of Muslim identities during the insurgency and the local perceptions of international cultural aid. The second one focused on the conceptual frame and concrete protection measures defined by heritage institutions in the context of Malian peacekeeping. This double focus enabled a comparison between two different ontologies, “religion” and “development”, for a broader understanding of the reasons why culture have been targeted, banned and reconstructed as a result of the confluence of current trends in conflicts and globalization. Finally, the project intended to enlarge the academic debate concerning the recent Islamist cultural attacks, encouraging new forms of collaboration with international organizations.
The work carried during the reporting period successfully followed the work-plan detailed in the proposal, even though the project was shortened from 24 months to 8 months due to the researcher’s obtainment of a permanent position as Lecturer in France. In the 8 months dedicated to the action, the researcher achieved theoretical background about music and Islam, heritage and conflicts working with specialists from the host university King’s College London but also from other prestigious universities as University College London, SOAS and Royal Holloway. The researcher dedicated to data collection through a research fieldwork in Mali on the plural meanings and uses of music within the current conflict, in the frame of Islamist attacks of 2012. Data were collected successfully in Mali through interviews and field recording with musicians and cultural actors and networking with heritage institutions that work to protect and restore the intangible heritage in the context of Malian peacekeeping strategies. The data have been decoded, analyzed and the findings have been verified with Supervisor. Even if the earlier termination of the action did not allow full exploitation of the results as foreseen in the application, the researcher engaged in a dynamic of dissemination that will be implemented by new applications to French and European research schemes.
The issues of Islamic violence increasingly concern EU institutions and the images of cultural destructions expand the feeling of a threat to Western values among the European citizens. In such a delicate international context, the ongoing work and the results of this research are useful to answer to public concerns. The participation of the researcher to international conferences in UK and France contributed to arise interest in the academic sector for the role of music in the definition and mobilization of Muslim identities in the context of current conflicts. The articles published in academic and non-academic journals in Europe ccontributed to improve a broader understanding of the stakes of cultural conflicts and to stimulate a wider recognition of the role of musical expressions in the so-called “war on culture”.