On SAGE Insight: Negative spaces: Terrorist attempts to erase cultural history and the critical media coverage

From Media, War & Conflict

Marking Banned Books Week 2018

This study explores the long-term impact of a deliberate destruction of a cultural ground to understand how these historic sites will come to be perceived after they are gone. In order to effectively predict what might become of the memory of an obliterated site like Nimrud, the research examines the media coverage that followed an earlier act of cultural destruction that occurred in 2001 when the Taliban annihilated the Buddhas of Bamiyan statues.

A content and frame analysis of the Bamiyan Buddhas’ 2001 destruction offers a 15-year vantage point from which to observe how magazine coverage of an eradicated site would evolve over time. The study directed its focus to a group of eight magazines – seven American and one British publication – known for their special attention to subjects of global culture: news, arts, travel, museums, and history. From a search of ‘Bamiyan Buddhas’, or ‘Buddhist statues AND Afghanistan OR Bamiyan’, in each magazine’s database, between March 2001 to March 2016, the research identified 72 articles referencing the lost site.

While it is too early to accurately assess how Nimrud will be remembered in the years ahead, this study of the Bamiyan Buddhas predicts the likelihood that Nimrud will eventually become another touchstone for cultural terrorism, or worse, a story about ISIS rather than a history of Assyria. With that potential in mind, the role of the media storytellers and history keepers becomes paramount to the preservation of these sites. In the face of ISIS’s crusade, it is the media that must assume a more counterhegemonic role in using their resources to remember the story of vanquished sites, like Nimrud, as a means to ensure they do not become just another negated history, as this is precisely what their destroyers had in mind.


The recent annihilation of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud by ISIS represents a disturbing trend in how some terrorist groups are trying to erase historical sites for the cultures they communicate. This study explores how one of these devastated spaces is still expressed in the media years after its destruction by examining another act of iconoclasm that occurred in 2001 when the Taliban annihilated the 1,500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan statues. The research explores the conception of negative spaces in communication and the means by which they are created through warfare and terrorism. A frame and critical analysis of popular magazines then assesses how the Bamiyan Buddhas’ identity has been transformed over time, and some of the journalistic practices that have enabled these renderings. The results reveal how the Buddhas have gradually become journalism’s touchstone for modern cultural terrorism, while in 70 percent of the coverage the site’s actual history has been replaced by the narrative of its destruction.

Read the article in full here

Article details
Negative spaces: Terrorist attempts to erase cultural history and the critical media coverage
Adam Klein,
First Published May 1, 2017 Research Article
DOI: 10.1177/1750635217706726
From Media, War & Conflict





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