More than 900 sites have been listed over the years. In 1996, the year of the watch list’s debut, it fingered the Taj Mahal. The Egyptian Valley of the Kings came up in 2000 (and again in 2002), Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis Brown House in 2004 and 2006, and the entire city of Venice in 2014.
The World Monuments Fund isn’t just some scold, however—it offers help with planning, research, finances, and other resources. But its most powerful tool may very well be shame. The nonprofit knows that inclusion on the watch list can result in negative publicity for misbehaving businesses, governments, and individuals, and that the exposure may spur them to change course and take right action.
And what to do when the offending party not only proves indifferent to bad PR, but actively seeks it? This year, the fund has been forced to get extra-creative.
Among the 50 places on the recently announced 2016 watch list is something called the “Unnamed Monument”; intriguingly, its entry on the fund’s website gives no other I.D., no geographic location, no photographs or drawings. The only information that the fund offers is the following brief statement:
The 2016 Watch includes the Unnamed Monument in recognition of the deliberate and calculated damage to thousands of cultural heritage sites in many areas of political and social instability. There are simply too many sites at risk to be included individually on the Watch, and no immediate hope for resolution. The Unnamed Monument "seeks to shift the focus to local populations who are losing their cultural heritage and history, and away from our own outrage, which plays to the propaganda of those who are perpetrating this damage.
You don’t have to be a newshound to know the who, what, and where to which the Unnamed Monument refers. The fund’s decision to name no names is understandable, even admirable, because appearing on the World Monuments Watch list is exactly the kind of reaction that terrorists aim for when they commit a crime. Psychologically and politically, their motivation is simple: Like schoolyard bullies, they do bad things for the attention; they want to horrify enemies and recruit followers. In the minds of these sociopaths, it makes no difference whether they’re machine-gunning the audience at a heavy metal concert, beheading a journalist, or dynamiting an ancient shrine.
It may seem counterintuitive—and it’s certainly frustrating to stifle our righteous indignation—but one of our most effective forms of retribution is to pointedly ignore the misdeed. Therein lies the subtle wisdom of the Unnamed Monument. It refuses to dignify barbarism with a response, or at least not the kind of response that the extremists want, which is their names in lights.