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Who will protect our cultural heritage?

Last updated: Saturday, June 22, 2013 11:45 AM
Who will protect our cultural heritage?

Samar Fatany

The conservation of our national heritage and investment in it is in the interest of the nation and its economy. Government programs to raise public awareness about the cultural values of work ethics and quality productivity can  influence change and create a better world for the younger generation.
The rigid societal norms that dismiss cultural values with contempt are among the major factors that have affected the appreciation of the public for historical and cultural heritage. Activists are called upon to address negative attitudes and the extremist ideology that have eroded our true cultural heritage.

Heritage sites and resources are continuously threatened due to the influence of some hardliners, the lack of public appreciation and the failure to promote the importance of these sites and resources. Government agencies have not been able to muster enough support for the protection and preservation of archaeological sites that represent our cultural heritage. The business community has also failed to support the preservation of heritage sites, a glaring example being the old city of Jeddah.  Although the government has invested heavily in the preservation of  archaeological sites and has paid increased attention to our heritage resources, the influence of some hardliners continues to undermine its efforts to preserve our rich archaeological heritage.

The media, the mosque, academic institutions and the private sector should play a bigger role in supporting the national program for the rediscovery, renovation and development  of our national heritage. Community involvement and education can effectively promote cultural understanding and address the negative influence of some extremists.

Social scientists stress the need to increase public appreciation for all kinds of cultural activities in order to create a more cohesive society. Awareness campaigns should be energized to make culture an essential part of our national interest. Effective  government initiatives that support partnerships with schools, universities, and the private sector can support the preservation of our Arab and Muslim heritage.

Educational campaigns are also needed to develop cultural intellect within society. The preservation of our Islamic values of tolerance along with public support for diversity can create a more harmonious and prosperous society.  The  government has provided funding for programs that promote cultural diversity and understanding. However, in order to create social cohesion it is important to address the cultural divisions and sectarianism that exist in sections of our society.

The Saudi art scene continues to be vibrant. There are many talented artists who have contributed to the promotion of our culture abroad.  They have succeeded in reaching out to other cultures and in sharing common ground within the global community. However, domestically we need to educate the public about the important role of art as a universal language that can promote cultural understanding and peaceful coexistence.
The emergence of Saudi cinema and theater is a positive trend that should be commended and given more support and encouragement.  Young talented filmmakers are making waves despite a few disappointing setbacks. Several Saudi films and plays  in the Kingdom and abroad have inspired enthusiasm and a vibrant debate among the young. They project a reflection of Saudi society — its heritage, values, challenges and lifestyle. They need more government support to enhance their cultural  influence nationwide. 
More effective national  campaigns can enhance public  appreciation for cultural style and beauty. Educators have a responsibility to upgrade the general taste for artistic skills as a whole.  There should be more support for the emerging interest among young Saudi men and women to introduce new trendy styles inspired by our own culture and traditions. The artistic introduction of color and design into our lifestyle is a reflection of the mood of the younger generation that  no longer adheres to the rigid lifestyle imposed by hardliners. The new trend of stylish and colorful abayas is one example.

Let us involve our children in book fairs and literary clubs and revive our academic and literary circles. The arts and cultural events need grassroots appreciation and not lip service approval. Talented Saudi artists should not feel rejected or criticized. There should be more awareness within our society to honor poets, craftsmen, folk artists, photographers, calligraphists and painting and sculpture artists. 

Developing a taste for quality and standards is another issue of high priority. Enhancing public appreciation for our cultural heritage from food, clothing and lifestyle to music, painting and architecture, is a national responsibility that we should all be involved in. Young people today need to be encouraged to show more appreciation for their heritage and acquire  respect for cultural ideals. Families have a responsibility to enrich the scope of the artistic cultural experience of the younger generation.

The Janadriyah Festival in Riyadh and the Okaz Souk festival in Taif are positive cultural activities. They include folklore, music and dance, antiques exhibitions, folk dances, handmade Bedouin products, plays and live theater productions and poetry recitations and competitions.

The protection, conservation and renovation of cultural heritage should be viewed as a national responsibility. An understanding of our cultural heritage can contribute to our national well-being and enhance an economically sustainable and cohesive society. We need to develop public appreciation for our rich culture in order to ensure that our cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced. Government agencies, reformers, educators and concerned citizens have an obligation to upgrade the intellectual level of society in order to preserve our rich Arab and Muslim heritage.

— Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. She can be reached at

Disclaimer: Writers’ and readers’ opinions do not necessarily reflect Saudi Gazette’s views unless otherwise stated.
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