Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 November 2020
I first met Nassrine Azimi in 2006 at an international conference in Japan. She was at the time Director of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Office for Asia and the Pacific, in Hiroshima. The discussion focused on international affairs and the role that culture plays in promoting peace through understanding. Many speakers waxed eloquent over those two days, but one stood out for her passionate plea to accept and promote those whose cultures are ignored or found strange or unworthy, and how horrific it is to abuse and diminish them. I have followed Nassrine's development of these ideas since then, both through informal conversations and her many writings found in publications such as the New York Times and her 2015 book, Last Boat to Yokohama.
Throughout her life, we find a person who appreciates and relishes the dynamics of local histories and cultures, but ties these seamlessly to the global. Nassrine is known by all who connect with her, whether personally, professionally or virtually, as a force guided by expansive curiosity and knowledge tied to a passion for cultural heritage protection, peacebuilding and peacekeeping. Born in Iran, later becoming a Swiss citizen, and now residing in Japan, Nassrine begins her day wondering how the world, all of it, will shape her, and how she can help shape it by connecting us all. This book is but one of her most recent contributions in this journey to which she invites us, her latest contribution extolling the importance and the power of culture in our lives, and the need to protect it.
The Introduction to this book is titled, ‘Occupation is Not War’. Here we are reminded of the destructive power of cultural stereotypes as represented through the racist caricatures used by both the American and Japanese propaganda machines, the very machines that encouraged the horrors perpetrated during the war in the Pacific. Nassrine then leads us to the back rooms of a small number of far-sighted American officials and scholars who understood that the protection of the enemy's deeply revered and matchless cultural properties, be they sacred sites or treasures, public spaces or traditional architecture, held the potential to heal both sides, eventually to right the ship from hatred to understanding. It shows an enlightened appreciation for the humanity of the very people these Americans had only recently been killing.