Jean-Pierre Perrin, writer-journalist, former major reporter for Liberation, specialist in the Near and Middle East, has devoted, at intervals of a few months, two books to these regions in chaos that he has traveled for a long time. The first, Threats to the memory of humanity (Hoebeke 2016), is a beautiful book on architectural wonders of the past, now destroyed or at risk of being so. The second book, Jihad against Alexander's dream (Le Seuil 2017), lies between the essay and the travelogue on Afghanistan. Two books therefore very different both in appearance and content but which nevertheless appear to us to be intimately linked by a great and strong guideline: History.
Jihad against Alexander's dream. In Afghanistan, from 330 BC. AD to 2016
Whether it is by following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great or by escaping the attacks of Soviet helicopters, whether it is alongside the mujahedin or the French army, the author has tirelessly traveled through this country which has become the cradle of Jihad. global when the Macedonian prince dreamed of merging East and West. Reading the first pages confirms Jean Pierre Perrin's passion for Afghanistan, a passion between adventurous exploration, journalistic reporting and romantic reverie. He therefore tells us what he has seen and experienced for more than 40 years in these regions now shattered by the Taliban and terrorism but which in reality have always been a theater of war, betrayals and massacres. Because more than a book of testimonies, it is a history book looking back on some 2,400 years of conflict in Afghanistan.
Between Alexander and the Taliban, there was of course the Soviet invasion but also the Mongol hordes or the British army which led multiple campaigns until the exploitation of raw materials today by China. Of this country that we know very little if at all apart from its bloody topicality, we discover its thousand-year-old history but also its customs and traditions. Let us quote for example the Pashtunwali, code of honor offering hospitality and protection to foreigners and which paradoxically will benefit both Bin Laden and Marcus Luttrell, American soldier hunted by the Taliban - this is the story of the film Blood and Tears released in 2013.
Constantly juggling through paragraphs between past and present periods, Jean Pierre Perrin makes the dreams of Alexander the Great coexist with those of Commander Massoud, the fear of a Greek soldier with that of a French soldier. He delivers an interesting comparative history while summoning sociology, his travel stories, without forgetting poetry and geopolitics. A difficult and clever exercise - let's admit that we sometimes have to cling to the author's erudition - which turns out in fine original, intelligent and rhythmic. Joseph Kessel Prize at the Étonnants -Voyageurs literary festival last June, the author thus offers us the captivating and melancholy discovery of a country which continues to sink into devastation and devastation. Jean Pierre Perrin concludes his book with a sad and touching account of the destruction in 2001 by the Taliban of the Buddhas of Bâmiyân. It is with the same emotion that his second work begins with an interview with one of the destroyers of these magnificent and irreplaceable Buddhas.
Threats to the Memory of Humanity: Endangered Sites from Afghanistan to Syria
War kills! It kills men, but it also kills heritage and culture. Today, many large archaeological cities have been looted, sacked and even razed to the ground in the Near and Middle East. We have mentioned the Buddhas of Bâmiyân returned to nothingness by the action of the Taliban. More recently it was the pearl of the desert, Palmyra, suffering the atrocities of the Islamic State. From Afghanistan to Syria, via Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan or Mali, etc. many archaeological sites are victims of destruction constituting a real loss for memory, for our memory. Well helped by rich illustrations and photographs, Jean Pierre Perrin retraces the history of his various and illustrious ancient cities. But beyond this story, the author also gives us a very interesting geopolitical analysis of this heritage, an invaluable witness to past civilizations, which sometimes continues with the greatest indifference as in Yemen, to disappear.
Indeed, Jean Pierre Perrin explains to us that the destruction of these sites is often a "jihad" aimed at removing all traces of the past or the culture of religious minorities. It is not for nothing he reminds us that the destruction of the nine mausoleums of Timbuktu has been qualified as "crimes against humanity" by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. A symbolic decision but insufficient, especially since if this destruction is political, religious and cultural, it can also be economic. The Mes Aynak site in Afghanistan is a prime example. Ancient city founded by Alexander the Great, Mes Aynak is today threatened not by the mortars and explosives of the Taliban but by the bulldozers of a Chinese company exploiting its basement where the second largest copper mine in the world is hidden. .
Thus, whether they are famous or little-known archaeological sites, the threats to our heritage are real today. And while new technologies like 3D imaging and printing can come to our rescue by recreating what is no more, any destruction is nonetheless an irrecoverable loss for humanity.
Jean Pierre Perrin, Threats to the memory of humanity: Endangered sites from Afghanistan to Syria, Paris, Hoebeke, 2016.
Jean Pierre Perrin, The Jihad against the dream of Alexander. at 2016, Paris, Le Seuil, 2017.