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Can the damages of colonial power in museums be reversed?

Museums continue to hoard the history of colonized countries

Since 1802, the Rosetta Stone has been on display in the British Museum after being taken from Egypt during Napoleon Bonaparte’s occupation. 

The Rosetta Stone, along with thousands of stolen historical artifacts, is symbolic of the long lasting effects of colonialism still being suffered today. It serves as a reminder of the ways colonialism lives on, and how museums promote it through their unethical practices.   

The Stone is inscribed with text from three different languages: Ancient Greek, Demotic, and Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. It was used to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs for the first time, unlocking a plethora of new information about Ancient Egypt. 

Two hundred years later, Egypt still suffers the loss of this piece of their history. It makes me rethink how these stolen artifacts and colonizer attitudes disrupt national identity and pride. 

Last year, Egyptologist Dr. Monica Hanna launched a petition urging the public to speak up for the artifact to be returned. Zahi Hawass, Egyptian archeologist and former minister of state for antique affairs, has been working tirelessly since 2002 to repatriate stolen artifacts and put an end to the unethical purchasing of artifacts by museums. 

The Concordian spoke with University of Southern California researcher Jumana Behbahani about the Rosetta Stone being kept in the British Museum. She criticized the display as a result of a history of cultural violence: British visitors can celebrate a piece of history as if it’s their own, while Egyptians remain stripped of their accessibility to a vital piece of their history.

“Keeping these artifacts in western countries, in a way, represents the ways in which these countries stripped the areas they colonized of their respective cultures.” 

As social historian and Concordia professor Dr. Lucie Laumonier noted, “Back then, Egypt was culturally plundered and its stolen historical artifacts inundated the European markets […] the return of the Rosetta Stone to Egypt would be a way, from the English side, to acknowledge this colonial cultural plunder.” 

However, some have argued that the British Museum is the best location for the Rosetta Stone, claiming that Egypt is a vital part of European heritage, and crediting European historians with deciphering the Stone which would have otherwise not been possible.

Dr. Laumonier criticizes this line of thinking. “The people who belong to the country from which artifacts were stolen during the colonial times deserve as much, if not more, to be able to access these artifacts,” she said. “Historical artifacts are essential in asserting national identity and pride, and to be aware of one’s history.”  

Along with that, many of the artifacts in the British Museum’s possession were taken forcibly, and nearly all of them aren’t even on display but are instead kept in the museum’s private archives that the public doesn’t have access to. 

The British Museum is no unique case of the capitalist incentive of museums profiting from colonial power. The idea of displaying historically significant artifacts somewhere other than their country of origin seems inherently colonialist, especially when it signifies a period of struggle and war crimes. 

Museums such as The Getty in Los Angeles, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York,  the Louvre in Paris, and the Humboldt Forum in Berlin are notorious for hoarding looted artifacts and claiming entitlement over them because they are “the spoils of war.” This doctrine, however, has been rejected by international law. 

These museums can look to other institutions for compromises over stolen artifacts. 

Museums around the world have displayed efforts of decolonization, unveiling possibilities of engaging with colonized communities with their permission and respect granted. For example, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago invited Indigenous artists to showcase their work in their Native American galleries. Indigenous communities can be celebrated and studied without taking away from them. 

The Australian Museum in Sydney rethought its relationship to the artifacts in their museum when they shifted ownership of the artifacts to the “custodians of those collections, with an obligation to the peoples who created the objects and stories, and to their descendants,” as stated by former Museum Director Frank Howarth. 

The display of these artifacts appears enriching and informative to its visitors, but when the items are a byproduct of cultural violence, charging people to come see them is exploitative in its nature. The Rosetta Stone should be housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where Egyptian people can celebrate and engage with their history and culture. It belongs to them and not strictly to those who have the luxury of flying to London and visiting the British Museum. 

The British Museum has been called upon multiple times to return The Rosetta Stone, but have yet to respond to requests.
The matter extends beyond the value of a tangible object; it’s a concern of national identity being stripped away in the name of colonialism. The Stone symbolizes the colonized world and its relationship to the colonizer, one that arguably still exists.

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Hear me out Opinions

Hear Me Out: Adult Friendships As Told By A Former Socially Anxious Child

Breaking down the science of meeting people in a post-pandemic world

People are everywhere, and introducing your name, age, favourite colour, and field of study eventually becomes muscle memory, right? But there is something daunting about sharing more than just that.

By now, you must have come to the realization that while meeting people is easy, making them friends is hard.

As someone who had to beg their sisters to order food for them as a child, I sometimes feel that my past fears manifest themselves into life over and over again. Anxieties that once revolved around having no one to play with during recess and being told to “pick a partner” in class creep their way into adult interactions.

I find that the socially anxious child inside me never went away — they now live on, wearing adult-sized clothing. It’s a phenomenon that transpires in crowded lecture halls and house parties alike; and as I grow older, I question the idea of friendships even more.

Vulnerability can be scary, but opening your arms and the doors of your home to others is what builds friendships. The one thing I have in common with my current friends is the moments of vulnerability that we’ve shared: when I show them my weaknesses and they show me theirs. 

When coming face to face with new friends, being vulnerable is the only hard step to overcome. Confiding in people and showing them your weaknesses can be scary, but it’s necessary for human connection.

The past two years of our lives have transformed the way we view friendship and our yearning

for connection. After the pandemic, friendships appear to be a scarce resource that we forgot how to maintain. Being chronically online and out of touch with reality has arguably transformed the relationship many of us have with making friends. Many of us can no longer sit still in a classroom and daily ventures consume more energy than they used to.

How do we overcome our fear of socializing in a post-pandemic environment? How do we maintain a friendship amidst packed schedules and obligations?

More importantly, how many times do we have to bump into each other at the grocery store to go from “acquaintances” to “friends”?

The naivety of our youth makes friendships easy. We don’t think about why or who we want to be friends with. We see the same people at school everyday, have the same idea of fun, and have so little to lose.

The more awareness we gain of our surroundings, the more filters we put in place for the people we let into our lives. This can be very enriching yet lonely and anxiety-inducing.

There are a few things that helped the socially anxious little child inside me, and I find myself

resorting to them time and time again.

First, aim to like people and not for them to like you. You should have a genuine interest in the people you’re friends with while constantly looking for the good in them. This takes the pressure off yourself to need validation and you’ll want to get to know people (bonus points because people love talking about themselves).

I often ask for confirmation of my delusions. There should be one person in every room you can depend on to shake you and tell you, “No, you don’t look stupid in that shirt.” All it takes to break a self-conscious thought in a social setting is to say it out loud, so you can realize that it’s only scary inside your head.

I remind myself that I’m not the only one who feels like this. It may be hard to believe but everyone is in the same boat. We yearn for friendships and companions, and we all get moments of self-doubt and self-consciousness. It helps when you think of other people as… well, people.

Adult friendships are the most beautiful addition to your life once you overcome the scary steps. I found sisterhood with people not related to me, and have people in my life who my children will be hearing stories about. 

We all deserve soulful and healthy friendships. We gain so much from the people around us and for that, we have to train ourselves to put our walls down.

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Opinions

Palestinians deserved Netflix’s Mo

Why Mo Amer’s new Netflix series is the most culturally significant thing you’ll watch this year

Mohammed Amer is a Palestinian-American comedian, and co-creator of Mo on Netflix, along with Golden Globe-winning Egyptian-American actor Ramy Youssef. 

The A24 series follows Mo Najjar as he navigates his life as a Palestinian refugee in Texas. The series is heavily autobiographical and the events are based on the experiences of Mohammed “Mo” Amer.  

In one scene, Mo puts down a bottle of olive oil on the dinner table, freshly made by his mother, Yusra. “It’s nothing like the stuff back home,” she says.

The olive oil is a piece of home in Texas, so he holds on to it everywhere he goes as he juggles the intricacies of being Muslim and Palestinian in America.

The TV we consume shape our mindsets, paired up with research and an open mind, some TV shows that shine the spotlight on Muslim and Arab communities are a good place to start. `

Mo is the representation Palestinians have been craving.

My Palestinian family and I watched it from our living room in Kuwait and have never felt more seen because finally, we got a show with accurate Arabic dialogue and relatable family dynamics. 

My family comes from a city by the coast of Palestine called Haifa, but after the occupation of Palestine my grandparents fled to Kuwait, where I was born and raised. I had grown up so far away from what I felt resonated with my identity as a Palestinian. 

Similarly, Mo’s parents were forced out of Haifa by the Isreali Defense Force (IDF), leaving them with no passports or residency anywhere. They ended up living in Kuwait, but had to leave after the Gulf War in 1990, the same war my parents endured as teenagers. 

The details of Mo’s life felt so familiar it kept my family and I enticed for all eight episodes of the series, because watching something so relatable was so gratifying. The main character is undeniably flawed, authentic, and hilarious. 

He juggles his relationship, illegal immigrant status, the weight of providing for his family, and the tragic death of his father as we watch his mental health deteriorate. Despite being a fictional character, the issues and struggles he represents are very real.

Alongside his traumatic flashbacks and nightmares caused by his father’s death, I found it insightful that an Arab character overcomes substance abuse issues on-screen. Mo develops an addiction to lean (a mixture of cough syrup and soda), shedding light on an important scope in Muslim and Arab communities that is often dismissed.

Drug addiction and substance abuse are prominent within our communities (almost everyone I know has a nicotine addiction), but cultural and religious stigma stop us from confronting the uncomfortable reality of it.

Even withdrawal symptoms are portrayed in the series, when Mo sits in the waiting room of the courthouse the day of their asylum case, sweating, vomiting, and struggling from a lack of sleep.

Yet the series remains funny and lighthearted, and comedy television seems to be the only thing that humanizes these groups to the Western world.

There is something refreshing about laughing at the jokes of a main character who resembles your cousins and uncles, and remains a Muslim Arab character who isn’t battling loss and confusion with their identity.

Unlike the familiar tropes Muslims and Arabs are confined to in the media, Mo seems to reject the common Islamophobic plotlines we have become used to.

I would compare Mo’s character to other Muslim characters in the media depicted as terrorists or victims of oppression. For example, in Netflix’s teenage drama Elite, one of the Muslim characters takes off her hijab to “liberate” herself from her religion. However, Mo refuses to distance himself from his religious and national identity. 

We have grown tired of two-dimensional and misrepresented Muslim and Arab characters. 

We must recognize that the issue with such limited representation of Palestinians in the media is that it has granted the power to the straight male diaspora to be the voice of Palestine.

The amount of screen time our communities get is what provides us our voice and platform, although we must be wary of who exactly is the face of that platform.

This leaves room for misrepresentation or misinformation. For example, Mo comments on the borders set in Palestine in 1967 after the Six-Day War.

He says, “I’d be really happy if we’d go back to 1967 borders.” This neglects the reality of Palestinians living in Palestinian territory in 1948. He refers to a time when Palestine was still actively under occupation, and Palestinians were being displaced from their homes.

It was refreshing to watch someone who speaks, eats, and prays the way I did growing up, and who carried a bottle of olive oil with him in an effort to hold onto his roots. It stressed the simplicity of taking our home with us no matter where we are.

I think we can agree that Mo is a face of Palestine, but definitely not the only one. The next step is a less Hollywood-washed, Westernized face of Palestine. One that acknowledges the struggle of Palestinians in Palestine and represents women, queer people, and stateless individuals who identify as Palestinian. Soon we will all be carrying our metaphorical bottle of olive oil everywhere we go.

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